Employment Prospects


Approximately 756,800 physicians are employed in the United States. Physicians work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, managed-care offices, prisons, schools and universities, research laboratories, trauma centers, clinics, and public health centers. Some are self-employed in their own or group practices. In the past, many physicians went into business for themselves, either by starting their own practice or by becoming a partner in an existing one. A minority of physicians are choosing to follow this path today. Often, the costs of starting a practice or buying into an existing practice are too high. Most are choosing to take salaried positions with hospitals or groups of physicians.

Jobs for physicians are available all over the world, although licensing requirements may vary. In developing countries, there is great demand for medical professionals of all types. Conditions, supplies, and equipment may be poor and pay is minimal, but there are great rewards in terms of experience. Many doctors fulfill part or all of their residency requirements by practicing in other countries.

Physicians interested in teaching may find employment at medical schools or university hospitals. There are also positions available in government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Pharmaceutical companies and chemical companies hire physicians to research and develop new drugs, instruments, and procedures.

Starting Out

There are no shortcuts to entering the medical profession. Requirements are an M.D. or D.O. degree, a licensing examination, a one- or two-year internship, and a period of residency that may extend as long as five years (and seven years if they are pursuing board certification in a specialty).

Upon completing this program, which may take up to 15 years, physicians are then ready to enter practice. They may choose to open a solo private practice, enter a partnership practice, enter a group practice, or take a salaried job with a managed-care facility or hospital. Salaried positions are also available with federal and state agencies, the military, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, and private companies. Teaching and research jobs are usually obtained after other experience is acquired.

Advancement Prospects

Physicians who work in a managed-care setting or for a large group or corporation can advance by opening a private practice. Their progress consists of advancing in skill and understanding, in numbers of patients, and in income. They may be made a fellow in a professional specialty or elected to an important office in the American Medical Association or American Osteopathic Association. Teaching and research positions may also increase a physician's status.

Some physicians may become directors of a laboratory, managed-care facility, hospital department, or medical school program. Some may move into hospital administration positions.

A physician can achieve recognition by conducting research in new medicines, treatments, and cures, and publishing their findings in medical journals. Participation in professional organizations can also bring prestige.

A physician can advance by pursuing further education in a subspecialty or a second field such as biochemistry or microbiology.

Tips for Entry

For a fascinating and educational glimpse into the real-life experiences of doctors, watch NOVA Online's special feature, "Doctors' Diaries," at

Learn more about medical school by visiting the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Web site at

You will need to take the MCAT to get into medical school. Learn more about the test by going to

Visit the "Choosing a Medical Career" section of the Association of American Medical Colleges' Web site,, which includes useful tools for planning your career from pre-med through residency.