our everyday life

Sequence of Degrees to Become an MD With Specialty

by Steve Lander, studioD

If you want to be a doctor, you're going to spend a long time training. Much of your training is spent in pursuit of two degrees: an undergraduate degree with specific coursework requirements, and your medical degree. Becoming a specialist usually doesn't require you to get another degree. Instead, you'll have to learn your specialty in the field through a residency.


Before getting into medical school, doctors complete undergraduate pre-medical training. While your actual degree doesn't matter, and it's theoretically possible to get into some medical schools without completing a four-year degree, completing the pre-medical sequence is usually required. While requirements vary by medical school, you'll usually need at least one year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and physics, all with labs. You may also need training in advanced mathematics or statistics, advanced biology, or behavioral and social sciences. While you don't have to major in pre-med or in a related field, many medical students do.

Medical School

One you get into medical school, it's typically a four-year program. Your first two years are spent in classroom training. Ordinarily, you spend the first year learning about the normal structure of the body, and the second year learning about when things go wrong. Your last two years are spent in clinical rotations. You'll get a year's exposure to general skills as well as spending time in different subspecialties so that you get broad exposure to the field. After completing medical school and passing the three-step United States Medical Licensing Examination, you'll earn a Doctor of Medicine degree, designated as M.D. If you go to an osteopathic school, you receive a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, designated as D.O.


Getting an M.D. or D.O. degree doesn't mean that you're ready to practice as a specialist. To learn a specialty, you'll need to go through a residency. Residencies are usually held at hospitals and can last anywhere from three to 11 years, depending on the specialty you choose and whether or not you also choose a subspecialty. Typically, residencies last up to five years, but fellowships can extend your time. After you've completed your residency and fellowship, you're eligible to sit for your state board's exam and officially become a specialist. While you won't get a degree for doing this, you will technically be called a diplomate of your board.

Additional Degrees

Some doctors choose to get additional degrees. If your eventual goal is research or teaching at a medical school, you may choose to get a Ph.D., which you can sometimes earn during medical school. Other doctors choose to earn a Master of Public Health degree to give them a broader community-level view of health care or to prepare them to work in specialties like epidemiology.

About the Author

Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images