If you’re here then you probably want to know what it takes to become a doctor in Canada. Given the importance and intensity of this profession, its understandable why becoming a licensed physician in such an enourmous feat. To help you understand what lies on the orad ahead, we’ve compiled all the need-to-know information on becoming a medical doctor from earning an undergraduate degree and a medical degree to passing the medical college admission test and completing your residency training.
( P.S. Medical school is expensive! Discover more about how opening an RESP account can help you or your child, on the path to becoming a doctor in Canada.)
An overview of how to become a doctor in Canada
Before we dive into the specifics of becoming a doctor, we want to provide a general overview into the process which begins with applying for post-secondary education:
- Apply for post-secondary education: Once you’ve obtained a highschool diploma you’ll want to apply to any undergraduate program in Canada. This is a necessary step to becoming a doctor as you’ll need an undergraduate degree to enroll in medical school. (You can learn more about choosing the right post-secondary path here.)
- Medical degree: In order to practice medicine anywhere in Canada, you will need to earn an MD (medical doctor) degree from a recognized university.
- The Medical Council of Canada’s Physician Credentials Repository (PCRC): Next, the medical degree that you earn will need to be source verified by the Medical Council of Canada’s PCRC (Physician Credentials Repository). To have your degree verified, you will need to provide a set list of documents. After being verified, your documents will be permanently stored in the repository.
- The Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination: To become a doctor, you will then need to demonstrate your medical knowledge by taking and passing the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination (MCCEE).
- Language: If you are an international medical graduate, then an additional step you must take is to show proof of language proficiency. Depending on what Canadian province you live in and what country you came from, you may be required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the TSE (Test of Spoken English). Please note that in Quebec, all international medical graduates must also take the French examination of the Office Québécois de la langue française.
- Residency training: Completing a residency program is the next step in the process of becoming a doctor. Residency programs are an important part of postgraduate training and must be completed through an accredited medical school in Canada. Residency programs usually last between three and seven years, depending on the type of medicine being practiced (two years for family medicine and four to five years for other specialties).
- Certification examinations: Once you have completed your residency program, you must pass the following examinations if you want to become a doctor in Canada:
- the College of Family Physicians of Canada Certification Examination for family medicine
- the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Certification Examination relating to your specialty
- Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada: Finally, in order to become a licensed physician in Canada, you must become a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC). This can only be done after you completed at least one year of your postgraduate training, also known as your residency program. To become a licentiate, you will need to pass two more examinations: the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination Part I (MCCQE Part I) and the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination Part II (MCCQE Part II). Once you have passed both you will receive a Certificate of Registration.
The steps to becoming a doctor in Canada
Now that you know a little bit more about the process, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of becoming a doctor in Canada. Continue reading for a step-by-step guide on how to become a medical professional in Canada.
1. Get a high school diploma
The first step is to get a high school diploma. You usually don’t have to know that you want to become a doctor at this stage, though it might be worth consulting with a guidance counsellor to see what types of high school courses can best prepare you for medical school.
2. Earn a bachelor’s degree
The second step to becoming a doctor in Canada is to earn a bachelor’s degree. To earn a bachelor’s degree, you will need to apply to university undergraduate programs. In order to later attend medical school, completing an undergraduate program is a must. Typically, medical schools do not require a bachelor’s degree in a specific department. That said, if you intend on applying to medical school, it is best to complete your studies in physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. The idea of making an education plan is especially important when you want to enter a highly specialized profession, like a doctor.
3. Volunteer in healthcare settings
While not a requirement, during your undergraduate degree is a great time to volunteer in various healthcare settings to gain experience in the field. For example, many students choose to volunteer in hospitals or medical clinics, as this can help them decide if pursuing a career in medicine is right for them.
4. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
Step number four is to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) upon graduating from an undergraduate program. As of right now, there are 17 Canadian medical schools that prospective medical students can apply to. No matter which you choose to apply to, you will need to take the MCAT. As with the LSAT or any other type of admissions test, the goal is to score as high as possible. The higher your score, the better your odds of getting accepted to the medical school of your choice.
The MCAT is a rigorous test, in which students are evaluated on topics like organic chemistry, general chemistry, physics, and biology. The exam takes approximately nine hours to complete and combines a mix of problem-solving, writing, and verbal reasoning skills. If you do not achieve your desired score the first time you take the MCAT but still wish to pursue a medical degree, you can retake the MCAT up to a maximum of three times per year.
5. Earn a medical degree from a Canadian medical school
After taking the MCAT, you can start applying to medical schools. Assuming you get accepted into one, a requirement if you want to become a doctor in Canada, you must complete the program and earn your medical degree. Medical school programs in Canada typically last four years. The first two years are more theoretical, involving courses taken in a classroom setting and laboratory. This is followed by two years of hands-on experience where students work directly with patients under the supervision of a qualified doctor. Medical school aims to cover a wide range of disciplines within the field, such as pharmacology, pathology, anatomy, biochemistry, neurology, and radiology. The purpose of medical school is not only to equip students with the knowledge they need to become excellent doctors but also to help them identify whether they have what it takes to become a doctor (e.g. if they can work under pressure and have good bedside manner), as well as help them decide what type of residency program they wish to apply to after graduation.
6. Pass the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination
Upon finishing your four-year medical school program, you must then pass the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination (MCCEE), which is a mandatory licensing examination. This exam is known to be far more challenging than the MCAT, testing students on their knowledge and competency in the medical field.
7. Apply for residency programs
Applying for a residency program is the next step if you want to become a doctor in Canada. Residency programs can be applied to through CaRMS. Before applying, make sure that you meet the admission requirements for residency programs in your province. Many programs have specific requirements that must be met. Further, to become a medical resident in Canada, you are required to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada.
8. Finish your residency training
Finishing your residency training is another vital step if you want to become a doctor in Canada. Most residency programs take between three and seven years to complete. They vary in length depending on the specialty. Regardless of what type of residency program you are accepted into, you must prepare for it to be a challenge. Long hours and stressful situations are commonplace in these types of training programs. The purpose of residency training is to get medical students used to the reality of working in the medical field and to help them develop the necessary skills they will need to be successful in their careers.
9. Become a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada
Step number nine is to become a Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC), which can only be done after completing at least one year of your residency training program. Becoming a licentiate is a process in and of itself that involves two examinations: the MCCQE Part I and the MCCQE Part II. Once you have passed both exams, only then will you receive your Certificate of Registration.
10. Obtain the necessary certifications in your province
After your licensing exams are complete, one of the last steps to becoming a doctor is to obtain the necessary certifications in your province. To work as a doctor in Canada, you must be certified by the regulatory authorities in your province or field of study. For example, you can become certified via the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), or the Collège des médecins du Québec (CMQ). To become certified, you will need to pass another exam.
11. Start practicing medicine
Guess what? You did it! After completing all of the steps above, it’s finally time to start practicing medicine because you’re officially a doctor. Beginning your career as a physician can be daunting. However, you will have many options when it comes to the type of medicine you want to practice, as well as where you want to work, e.g. a hospital, clinic, or your own practice. Given the ample experience you have under your belt at this point, you should have a good idea of what type of doctor you want to be. You should also have developed strong connections with other doctors during your residency and medical degree that can help you obtain a job.
Tips for applying to medical school in Canada
If you’re worried about getting into medical school in Canada, follow the tips below to increase your odds of being accepted.
- Grades are important: A high GPA is a strong foot to start your application off on. Although hitting a certain GPA does not guarantee acceptance into the medical school program of your choice, it can certainly increase your chances of earning a spot.
- Achieve a high MCAT score: An MCAT score is another factor that weighs heavily into the medical school admissions process. Study rigorously for this exam. Take practice tests and do as much research as you can so that you have a true understanding of what you will be tested on. If you don’t achieve an ideal score the first time around, consider taking it again. Remember that applicants can take the MCAT up to three times in one year.
- Be candid and honest in your personal statement: Almost all medical schools require applicants to write a personal statement. When preparing to write your statement, think critically about why you want to become a doctor and how your life experience thus far makes you a good fit for this profession. Writing from the heart is key when drafting a personal statement for medical school.
- Double-check your application: There’s no denying that applying for medical school can be stressful. Do yourself a favour and double-check your application before submitting it to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
- Don’t rush the process: Since medical school admissions are holistic, i.e. the admissions team will consider all aspects of your experience and background beyond your grades and MCAT store, you may wish to consider postponing your application if you don’t have the necessary experience. For example, if you don’t have enough experience in the field prior to applying, it might not be worth the hassle. Instead, take a few months or a year to gain the necessary experience and improve your MCAT score, and apply when you can submit a stronger application.
Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.