How to Become a Palliative Care Physician

How to Become a Palliative Care Physician

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

To become a palliative care physician, you must first earn a bachelor's degree. It would be a good idea to take a pre-med program course in college as you will need pre-requisites in math and science.

The courses differ depending on which path you choose, but some of the courses are the same, mainly the math, sciences, and some psychology courses.

You need to make sure you get the proper pre-requisites for medical school. A course load for pre-med might look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Introduction to Kinesiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

Be sure to keep your grads high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

You have two program choices in medical school to become a palliative care physician: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program.

Each degree focuses on the same methods of treatment, but a DO degree also focuses on osteopathic manipulative medicine. Whichever path you choose, you are facing 4-5 years in medical school.

Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on more specific areas in which you want to work.

4. Complete a Residency Program (4 Years)

After medical school, you have to complete a residency program in one of ten specialties.

These specialties include the following:

  • Family practice
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • Internal medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Emergency medicine
  • Anesthesiology
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Surgery
  • Psychiatry

During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you practice independently.

Throughout your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.

5. Complete a Fellowship Program (1 Year)

After residency, a minimum of a one year Palliative Care fellowship must be completed that's accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Once you complete the fellowship, you can take an exam to become board certified. Fellowship programs in hospice and palliative medicine provide practitioners the opportunity to advance their knowledge of the field.

Programs are available for Allopathic and Osteopathic Professionals in internal medicine, family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychiatry and neurology. In addition, programs are available for allopathic professionals in anesthesiology, surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine, radiology, and obstetrics and gynecology. Some programs include an additional track in research, geriatrics, or public health

6. Earn the Required License and Certification

After you complete medical school you have to apply for your Medical License and Board Certification. If you graduate from a MD program, you can take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

If you graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) recognized palliative care in 2006 as a medical subspecialty.

Because of this, physicians can obtain board certification in hospice and palliative medicine by successfully completing the ABPM examination after their fellowship.