Getting your license to practice medicine

August 10, 2015

There are a lot of steps to becoming a doctor. After earning a four-year degree including all the required science classes, you have the lengthy process of applying to med school. The process includes gathering letters of recommendation, transcripts, taking the MCAT and completing the application. If you are successful and get accepted into medical school, you have four years of classes and clinical rotations. But even after you graduate you are still not ready to practice medicine. Before you can work as a doctor, you have to become licensed in the state you wish to work.

State requirements may be different

The licensing process can vary from state to state. Some states are a bit more difficult to navigate. For example, the time you have to take the second part of the medical licensing exam varies. Also, some state medical boards require a personal interview before they grant licensure. The American Medical Association has an annual guide listing individual state licensing requirements, which is very helpful.

Common requirements

Applicants for a license to practice medicine are required to graduate from a medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee of Medical Education. Accreditation allows graduates to be eligible to take the medical licensing exam and obtain a residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Applicants for licensure also need to complete all steps of the United States Medical Licensing Exam. All states also require a minimum of one-year post-graduate training as an intern or first year resident. Although it is important to understand, many states require more than one year of residency before you can become licensed.

What you need for initial licensure

Individual states license medical doctors, which means if you want to work in two states, you need to obtain both state licenses. Each state requires an application and fee be submitted to the state licensing board.

Although it will vary by state, there are also several documents you need to gather and submit for your medical license. Typically, applicants for licensure will be required to submit proof of their medical degree. A copy of your post-graduate training certificate is also usually required. Proof that you passed the medical licensing exam is also required.

State medical boards also conduct a background check on applicants. Licensing boards want to ensure doctors are of good moral character. A background investigation usually includes fingerprints and criminal history. If you have something in your past, which may raise a red flag, licensure will likely be delayed. Although background checks are performed prior to med school admission, state licensing boards may have different standards.

The amount of time it takes to obtain a license from start to finish also varies by state. Some states complete the process quickly, and a license can be obtained in four or five weeks. In other states, the process can take several months. In order to speed things up, make sure you review all the requirements in your state. Failure to complete the application as directed will slow down the process and delay your license.