Everything You Need to Know About Getting Your Medical License

Ask any parent what their number one career ambition for their children is, and across the board, it will be for them to become a doctor. People associate a career in medicine with loads of money, power, and prestige. However, they ignore the years of stress, study, and legal forms that go into getting started in medical practice.

If you’ve decided to pursue a career in medicine, whether of your own volition or due to external pressure, you understand how tricky it can be to obtain your medical license. Here’s what you need to know to give yourself the best chance.

Why Getting a Medical License Is Important

This should go without saying, but without a medical license, you cannot practice medicine. If you choose to practice medicine without a license, you could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time. Then, you’ll need to speak with a professional licensing lawyer to make sure you don’t lose your ability to practice medicine forever.

What Do I Need to Get a License?

According to the AMA, in order to get a medical license, you need to complete a medical doctorate either from within the US or internationally. You’ll also need a certificate of completion from an Accredited for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) program regarding your medical residency.

Becoming board-certified on top of this requires different things in different states, so you’ll need to research your specific state’s requirements to know what you need. However, regardless, you will need to complete a three-step examination through the United States Licensing Medical Examination, or USLME.

How Many Steps Is the Licensing Exam?

As mentioned above, the USMLE is an examination in three steps that will test your knowledge of and ability to practice medicine. Each step will test you on different subjects, so let’s examine that in further detail below.

What’s On the Step One Exam?

If you’ve completed a full circuit at medical school, you’ve likely already taken Step One of the licensing exam. This step usually gets administered at the end of the second year of med school. Step One tests your knowledge of the sciences behind medicine.

The sciences tested can include anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, behavioral sciences, immunology, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology. The exam also covers nutrition, aging, and genetics. All questions on this one-day exam are multiple-choice.

What’s On the Step Two Exam?

Again, if you’ve completed your time in medical school, you’ve most likely already taken Step Two of the USMLE. This exam most often gets administered at the end of the fourth year of medical school. It lasts two days and has two key components.

The first day of the exam is multiple choice and focuses on your Clinical Knowledge. To pass, you must successfully answer questions regarding pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and internal medicine.

The second day of the examination focuses on your Clinical Skills, or your ability to diagnose on the fly. To pass this exam, you’ll diagnose actors that pose as patients with various conditions. Since this exam relies on in-person analysis, you’ll need to travel to one of the five testing centers in the nation to complete it.

What’s On the Step Three Exam?

The step three exam falls after you complete your first year in residency. This exam also takes place over a two-day period and is your final assessment to prove that you can practice medicine unsupervised. Step three combines many aspects of step two, focusing on your ability to diagnose patients through multiple-choice questions and computer-simulated patient care.

How You’re Scored on the USMLE

Given its subjective nature, your Step Two exam has no numerical score. Instead, you’re graded on a pass-fail basis, based on how well you’re able to communicate, gather diagnostic information, and write a cohesive report of the visit.

Steps One and Three, however, have numerical scoring systems. You are graded by the number of questions you answer correctly, converted into a three-digit and two-digit scale. There are two scales to report your scores because different schools want their scores reported in different ways.

In order to pass, you must make a score of seventy-five or above on the two-digit scale. While medical school alone offers the basic training you need, you’ll also need to spend some time studying for the exam externally.

What to Do to Prepare for the Exams

Since passing your USMLE is key to obtaining your medical license, getting a good score is critical to your success. In order to get the required scores on your exams, you need to ensure you’re thoroughly prepared. Here’s how you can practice and prepare accordingly:

Start Studying Early and Often

When you decide to enter medical school, you should already begin reviewing for Step One. The earlier you get a head start on studying for the USMLE, the better your preparation will be. Set aside time throughout your medical school career to study for these exams, as they’ll arrive sooner than you think.

Don’t Ignore Your Mental Health

However, if you burn yourself out before you take the exam, you won’t be able to get good results. Don’t let your mental health take a back burner for the sake of a better final score.

Practice Questions Are Your Best Friend

Think back to the standardized tests of your high school career. Chances are, to get this far, you took many practice exams and answered countless practice questions to prepare for the exams and ensure good scores. The same principle applies to the USMLE.

Let’s Review

Getting your medical license is key to joining a medical practice or beginning your own. However, in order to obtain said professional license, you must first get through medical school and pass the USMLE. Once you’ve passed all the appropriate exams, so long as you conduct yourself accordingly, you’ll maintain your medical license for the rest of your life.

If you’re looking for more tips to give your career a jump-start, check out our blog today for more information!