Preventive Medicine Physicians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Many years of study is required before being admitted to preventive medicine physician practice. Be sure to enroll in college preparatory courses if available, and take courses in English, languages, the humanities, social studies, and mathematics, in addition to courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. Also take computer science classes. For future work in the medical field, it is important that students take advanced placement or honors classes and strive to achieve high grades, ideally graduating in the top of the class.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor's degree from an accredited undergraduate institution is the first of many steps in the medical field. Some colleges offer a premedical course, but a good general education, with as many science courses as possible and a major in biology or chemistry, is considered adequate preparation for the study of medicine. Courses should include physics, biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, English, mathematics, and the social sciences.

College students should begin to apply to medical schools early in their senior year, so it is advisable to begin your research into schools well before that and prepare to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). All medical colleges in the United States require this test for admission, and a student's MCAT score is one of the factors that is weighed in the decision to accept or reject any applicant. The examination covers four areas: verbal facility, quantitative ability, knowledge of the humanities and social sciences, and knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics.

You are encouraged to apply to at least several institutions to increase your chances of being accepted by one of them. Approximately one out of every two qualified applicants to medical schools is admitted each year. To facilitate this process, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) will check, copy, and submit applications to the medical schools you specify.

In addition to the traditional medical schools, there are several schools of basic medical sciences that enroll medical students for the first two years (preclinical experience) of medical school. They offer a preclinical curriculum to students similar to that which is offered by a regular medical school. At the end of the two-year program, you can then apply to a four-year medical school for the final two years of instruction.

Although grades are a determining factor in admitting a student to a medical school, it is actually only one of the criteria considered. Admission is also determined by other factors, including an interview, emotional stability, integrity, reliability, resourcefulness, and a sense of service. Extracurricular activities and awards are a great way to display these traits.

During the first two years of medical school, studies include human anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. Most instruction in the first two years is given through classroom lectures, laboratories, seminars, independent research, and the reading of textbook material and other types of literature. Students also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and recognize symptoms.

During the last two years in medical school, students become actively involved in the treatment process. They spend a great deal of time in the hospital as part of a medical team headed by a teaching physician who specializes in a particular area. Others on the team may be interns or residents. Students are closely supervised as they learn techniques such as taking a patient's medical history, conducting a physical examination, working in the laboratory, making a diagnosis, and record-keeping.

As students rotate from one medical specialty to another, they obtain a broad understanding of each field. They are assigned to duty in internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and other specialties. They also continue to take course work and are responsible for assigned studies and independent study.

Most states require all medical school graduates (M.D. or D.O.) to complete at least one year of postgraduate training, and a few require an internship plus a one-year residency. The  preventive medicine residency is a two- to three-year program. For medical students who do a traditional clinical residency, the preventive medicine residency is for two years. Medical students who go straight from medical school into preventive medicine must complete a three-year residency program. The American College of Preventive Medicine offers a residency directory for preventive medicine programs; find it and other information at https://www.acpm.org/education-events/residency-program/. Also, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education offers a list of accredited post-M.D. medical training programs in the United States at its Web site, https://www.acgme.org.

Students must pass a specialty board examination to become a board-certified physician. The residency years are stressful—residents often work 24-hour shifts, putting in up to 80 hours per week while earning a small salary. Additionally, some physicians who are interested in practicing in a subspecialty, such as gastroenterology, a subspecialty of internal medicine and of pediatrics, participate in fellowships that last one to three years. For a teaching or research career, students may also earn a master's degree or a Ph.D. in a biology or chemistry subfield, such as biochemistry or microbiology.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

New physicians who have received the M.D. or O.D. degree are required to take an examination to be licensed to practice. All states mandate that physicians be licensed in the state in which they practice. The licensing exam is conducted through the board of medical examiners in each state. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states so that a physician licensed in one state may be automatically licensed in another without being required to pass another examination. Find out about licensing procedures before planning to move.

Preventive medicine physicians may receive voluntary board certification, to demonstrate their expertise in a specialty or subspecialty of medical practice. The American Board of Preventive Medicine offers board certification to preventive medicine physicians who have a current, valid license to practice in the United States or a province of Canada; who have completed an approved training program, have required practice experience, and who pass a certification exam. Find more information at https://www.theabpm.org/become-certified. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Clinical training in medical college as well as a two- to three-year residency is required before becoming a licensed preventive medicine physician. Education is ongoing in this profession and success requires staying current on research. Preventive medicine physicians must be sensitive to their patients' needs. They must have active listening skills, be understanding and helpful, and be adaptable and flexible to everyday changes in the workplace. Physicians must be analytical thinkers, able to gather and analyze information and make recommendations for treatments and solutions. They must also be honest and ethical. Interpersonal skills are important, since preventive medicine physicians work closely with patients as well as other medical professionals. Those that own their own practice must have business skills and the ability to properly supervise staff members.