Educational requirements to become a physician include an undergraduate degree, typically with a focus in an area of basic science such as chemistry, medical school and residency, which is graduate medical education, explains the American Medical Association. Some aspiring physicians in specialized fields undergo a fellowship to further their education.
Medical school, or undergraduate medical education, takes four years, according to the American Medical Association. Students complete preclinical and clinical courses, and upon finishing, get doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees. However, they cannot practice alone until they complete further education. Residency programs serve as graduate education, giving newly minted doctors three to seven years of professional education and training under the guidance of experienced physicians. A doctor who wants to work in pediatrics or family practice usually has a residency of three years, while those who plan to work in general surgery need to set aside five years.
Fellowships are necessary for doctors who want to enter specialized fields such as gastroenterology or child and adolescent psychiatry, explains the American Medical Association, and these take one to three years. Even after finishing a residency or fellowship, doctors need continuing education to stay current in their fields. Requirements vary by state, professional organization and hospital. Physicians must also be licensed, and many become board-certified.