Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

What is this job like?

Doctors make people healthier. When people get sick, doctors figure out why. They give people medicine and other kinds of treatment. They also give advice about diet, exercise, and sleep.

Doctors use science to figure out what is making people sick. Doctors examine people, listen to them describe their health problems, and do tests to see what is wrong.

There are many kinds of doctors. Family and general practitioners are often the first doctors that people go to when they get sick. These doctors treat common problems. They also send patients to other doctors, called specialists. Specialists are experts in different types of health problems.

For example, internists focus on problems with internal organs. Pediatricians care for children and babies. Surgeons perform operations, like fixing broken bones or transplanting organs.

Most doctors are doctors of medicine (M.D.). They treat all kinds of diseases and injuries. Some doctors are doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). They focus on muscles and bones.

Many doctors work long hours, at all times of day and night. Over one-third of physicians worked more than 60 hours a week in 2004. But doctors who work in small offices often have more time off. Doctors sometimes have to rush to the hospital to deal with emergencies.

How do you get ready?

Becoming a doctor requires more training than most other jobs. It usually takes at least 11 years to become a doctor: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years working in a hospital. For some specialties, doctors may have to work in a hospital for up to 8 years before they are trained.

To become a doctor, you should study biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English. It is not easy to get into medical school. You have to do very well in college and on medical school entrance tests.

Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in labs and classrooms. They take lots of science courses. They also learn to ask patients the right questions and how to examine them. They learn how to tell what sickness a patient has. In the last 2 years, students work with patients and doctors in hospitals and clinics. After medical school, doctors go to work in a hospital for a few years. They are called residents. To be a resident, you must take a test.

If you want to be a doctor, you should like to help people. You should be willing to study a lot.

You have to know how to talk to sick people. And you should be able to make decisions and handle emergencies.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
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