We Honor Our Physicians

Doctors Day: March 30, 2016

March 30, 2016


March 30 is Doctors’ Day. It’s a day celebrated once a year throughout the United States to recognize the contributions of physicians to their patients and their communities.

“We appreciate the physicians of Penn Highlands Healthcare,” Dr. Gary DuGan, chief medical officer. “They bring a wealth of knowledge to provide the best care to those who are hurting and ill....it takes true dedication to be a physician.”

But many people don’t realize the steps it takes to become a physician, and the amount of work that goes into the process.

The education of physicians in the United States is lengthy and involves undergraduate education, medical school and graduate medical education, including residency and fellowship, according to the American Medical Association.

A young person starts off his or her medical career with undergraduate education. That means four years at a college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree, usually with a strong emphasis on basic sciences, such as biology, chemistry and physics.

During a student’s junior or senior year, he or she can take a specific test to get into a medical school. The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a computer-based standardized examination for prospective medical students in the United States, Australia and Canada. It is designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking, written analysis and knowledge of scientific concepts and principles. Scores from this test are used when applying to medical schools.
After a school is interested in a student who has applied, tours and student interviews are set up. Finding the right match for a school is an important step as it shapes the student for the rest of his or her life.

Medical school is considered undergraduate medical education. It is four years of education. In the U.S., medical schools are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, LCME. Four years at one of the LCME-accredited U.S. medical schools, consists of preclinical and clinical parts. After completing medical school, students earn their doctor of medicine degrees or MDs

Or a student may choose to attend a college of osteopathic medicine. These students also complete four years and receive a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree or DO.

They may be called doctor, but they are far from done. They must complete additional training before practicing on their own as a physician.

First, is the residency program which is considered graduate medical education. This, too, takes applications, visits and interviews. Through a national matching program, newly graduated doctors enter into a residency program that is three to seven years or more of professional training under the supervision of senior physician educators. The length of residency training varies depending on the medical specialty chosen: family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics, for example, require three years of training; general surgery requires five years.

If a doctor chooses to specialize, residency is followed by a fellowship which also requires application and interviews. A fellowship is one to three years of additional training in a subspecialty, such as gastroenterology, a subspecialty of internal medicine or child and adolescent psychiatry, a subspecialty of psychiatry.

After completing undergraduate, medical school and graduate medical education, a physician still must obtain a license to practice medicine from a state or jurisdiction of the United States in which they are planning to practice. They apply for the permanent license after completing a series of exams and completing a minimum number of years of graduate medical education.

The majority of physicians also choose to become board certified, which is an optional, voluntary process. Certification ensures that the doctor has been tested to assess his or her knowledge, skills, and experience in a specialty and is deemed qualified to provide quality patient care in that specialty. There are two levels of certification through 24 specialty medical boards, and doctors can be certified in 36 general medical specialties and in an additional 88 subspecialty fields. Most certifications must be renewed after six to 10 years, depending on the specialty.

Learning does not end. Physicians must complete yearly coursework and receive a certain number of continuing medical education, or CME, credits per year to ensure the doctor's knowledge and skills remain current. CME requirements vary by state, by professional organizations, and by hospital medical staff organizations.

“Becoming a physician takes time away from friends and family in order to focus on science and medicine – all with the goal of helping people you haven’t met, yet,” DuGan said.

“We thank our physicians for being here, and we hope that our region realizes how lucky we are to have such dedicated individuals,” DuGan said.