Becoming a Physician

by Julia McDonald


In order to become a physician, you must complete a three or four year Medical Doctor (MD) degree program at an accredited university, followed by family medicine or specialty post-graduate training. Subsequently, completion of the qualifying examinations of the Medical Council of Canada and licensing by the provincial or territorial licensing authority are required. This means a commitment of seven to nine or more years. Some medical schools require two to three years of pre-med while others may require a bachelor's degree. After the MD degree, you may choose between Family Practice (2 years minimum) or other medical specialties (at least 4 years) and will spend your time as a resident physician training for certification while being paid (currently about $35,000 a year) to care for patients.

In general, the factors affecting acceptance to medical school include the following:

  • Successful completion of certain undergraduate courses. The required courses vary from one institution to another. In general, courses in Biology, Mathematics, Organic and Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, and English are recommended.  Some universities suggest studying Humanities and the Social Sciences in order to have a broad academic background. A well rounded education helps develop desirable qualities in a physician such as an understanding how society works and excellent communication skills.
  • A high grade point average.
  • Results of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
  • Extracurricular activities - especially those reflecting public or health-related service, volunteer work, and other evidence of your initiative.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • Personal interviews with medical school admissions committees.

Nearly all pre-medical courses may be taken at Athabasca University. View a list of our courses.

The following is a list of individual science courses that seem to be the 'most popular' for students who are trying to get into a medical school or prepare for taking the MCAT.

Suggested AU Courses:

BIOL204 Principles of Biology I
BIOL205 or
Principles of Biology II
BIOL 235 or
BIOL 230
Human Anatomy and Physiology OR
Human Physiology
BIOL325 Introductory Microbiology
CHEM217 Chemical Principles I
CHEM218 Chemical Principles II
CHEM301 Biochemistry
CHEM350 Organic Chemistry I
CHEM360 Organic Chemistry II
ENGL155 Developing Writing Skills (for the MCAT essay)
ENGL255 Introductory Composition (also for the MCAT essay)
PHYS200 Introductory Physics I
PHYS201 Introductory Physics II

*Please consult with a Student Advisor when selecting your courses.

* Please note: many pre-med students at AU are "preaccepted" to a professional school, as long as they complete some of these subjects. AU's courses also allow a student to quickly fulfill the one or two prerequisites they might have missed in their previous education.

It is often recommended that you have an alternate career in mind in case you are not accepted into a medical program. Some students complete either our general Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree or the BSc with a major in Human Sciences. For more information on the BSc please visit the Centre for Science.

You may wish to do a different bachelors degree, for example a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Commerce. You need to make sure that you include the required medical school courses in your program plan.

See our degree programs.

*NOTE: Information in this tip sheet is general in nature. Admission requirements to medical schools vary across Canada. It is your responsibility to ensure that the courses or degree you take will be accepted at the medical school you wish to attend. You should contact the medical schools admissions offices to make sure you have all the necessary pre-requisites.

View a list of all medical schools in Canada and the U.S.

Next Steps

1. Research career information on physician, general practitioner, or different types of specialists.

The following links contain useful information on duties, working conditions, skills, education, salary, employment prospects and opportunities plus a whole lot more:

2. Contact the medical school admission offices about transferable credit information and entrance requirements.

3. For additional information, you may wish to check out these web sites

4. Contact an AU Counsellor

A counsellor can provide you with more information on this particular career path and make sure the program you choose meets your goals. You can contact a counsellor by e-mail at, book a telephone appointment by calling 1-800-788-9041 ext. 6723 or use the online appointment form.

5. Contact an AU student advisor.

An advisor can help you select courses and develop a program plan for studies at Athabasca University. (For courses or programs at another institution, you must contact that institution directly for further assistance.)  You can e-mail an advisor at or call 1-800-788-9041.For more information on this service, visit the Advising web page.

Once you completed these steps, you are ready to become an AU Student.

If you have further questions regarding this career path or wish to book a telephone appointment to speak with a counsellor.


Alberta Learning Information Services (2004). Alberta Occupational Profiles. Retrieved October 5, 2004 from

Association of American Medical Colleges (2004). Colleges Considering a Career in Medicine. Retrieved October 5, 2004, from

National Occupational Classification (2001). 3112 General Practitioners and Family Physicians. Retrieved October 5, 2004 from

University of Toronto: Preparing for Medical School. Retrieved October 5, 2004 from

Updated February 26 2019 by Student & Academic Services