How to become a doctor in the Philippines

The medical profession is an enviable one and one of the most delicate professions in the world. Thus the high quest to know how to become a doctor in the Philippines by many aspirants. 

As kids, we got quizzed about our prospective profession and I am sure that the majority answered with an ear-deep smile – a doctor!

Overview of how to become a doctor in the Philippines

If you still have that dream intact and you are willing to achieve it, then you have made the right stop. The admission processes for becoming a doctor vary in most countries but the curricula in most medical schools are similar.

The common base tethered towards achieving a medical career is high/secondary school education.

Subjects like Chemistry, Biology, Physics and sometimes Mathematics are core to the study of medicine. High school is usually the first step.

Among the Philippines (the epicentre of this article), a set of requirements must be met and they follow a chronological order.

The information contained in this article, is a step by step analysis of the steps to becoming a medical doctor in the Philippines. Hence, this article will divulge meaningful information about;

  • The steps to becoming a doctor in the philippines.
  • Medical schools in the Philippines
  • The course division in med school
  • The duration of study
  • Some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about becoming an MD in the Philippines.

Medical doctors are the most sought-after, career-wise. The demand for MDs has become even higher due to the pandemic. Before you become the super-hero MD that you envision in the Philippines you must observe and meet these things.

The steps to becoming a doctor in the Philippines

Like in other countries, there are specific steps to becoming an MD. Generally, completing high school is the preliminary step.

High school education foregrounds the basis for the study of medicine. It offers foundational education for all professional courses. After high school, one must ensure to fulfill the following to become a medical doctor in the Philippines;

  • Obtain a pre-medical degree
  • Take and pass NMAT
  • Apply for medical school
  • Take the physician licensure examination
  • Apply for medical residency

Obtain a pre-medical degree

The next step after high school is to pursue a degree in any medical-related field. It is a crucial step to actualizing your dreams of becoming a doctor. A pre-med course could take a maximum of 3years.

Pre-med courses may include Biology, Microbiology, Nursing etc. The pre-med school prepares you for the real med school. It also allows you time enough to evaluate your decision and help groom your emotions for what lies ahead. A piece of noteworthy information is that the medical doctors are front liners. So, yeah! You will need as much training as necessary to become an expert.

Take and pass NMAT

Upon graduation from pre-med school, acquiring a degree in medicine is a close call. However, being qualified for med school is overly dependent on your percentile rank in the NMAT. The National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) is a standardized screening test for qualified candidates vying for a medical degree.

So, until you have been scrutinized by sitting for and passing the NMAT, you will not be considered for any medical school in the Philippines. Strict? Well, as it should be.

You would not want to place a bet on your life at the expense of quacks, trust me. So, the strict measures put up by the Philippines’ Medical Authority (PMA) is witty and worthwhile. If you are about graduating from pre-med school, you are also eligible for the NMAT.

The NMAT is structured to measure your success in med school, however, it is not a 100% predictor and should not be taken for levity.

Apply for med school

From high school to college, then NMAT and finally med school. Med school should be the zenith of your medical career. Well, not exactly.

You will find out soonest. In med school, lectures and laboratory work are mandatory exercises as well becoming a junior intern in a hospital. You get firsthand experience in hospital duties and the constant work shifts.

These activities will go on within four years. In your fourth year, you get awarded a medical degree. Phew! Easy-breezy.

It’s a lot easier writing about it than actually experiencing it. At every stage, there are requirements. So as you apply for med school, ensure that the following documents are on ground;

  • birth certificate
  • official transcript of records
  • certificate of candidacy from your college
  • NMAT percentile score
  • certificate of good moral conducts/ police clearance
  • recommendation letters from professors

After tendering the enlisted, you may be required to sit for an entrance exam or be interviewed, based on the admission requirements for the med school you have selected. More so, in selecting medical schools in the Philippines, you may have to consider the following;

  1. The NMAT percentile cutoff for your preferred med school: This will help you determine your chances of acceptance or admission. Thus, if your percentile score is below the standard or average score for the institution of your dreams, you would have to consider med schools with lower cutoff marks.
  2. The minimum number of units for specific college subjects: Most med schools have a standard chart for the units required for a specific course in pre-med schools. It is either you make the minimum unit or you score above it.
  3. Tuition fee: Medical school is not cheap and it is not free for all. It is important to take this into account. Seeing that a lot of medical students in the Philippines struggle through medical school due to finances, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) offers cash grants to medical students enrolled in state universities and colleges (CGM-SUCs). Students who benefit from the fee relief are to render one year of service in the country.
  4. While selecting a med school, you should also consider the performance scale of your preferred med school. Check for the ones that has recorded and maintained excellence in board exams.

Take the physician licensure examination

Med school awards you are degree but does not give you license to practice. The physician licensure examination is what gives license to practice.

As a fresh graduate of medicine, your Doctor of Medicine degree is ultimately the most valuable but passing the PLE is what makes it valuable to you and to other people – patients and people around you.

The physician licensure examination takes place twice in a year, in March and September. The examination is administered by the Board of Medicine (BOM), under the supervision of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).

An average rating of at least 75% and scoring nothing below 50% in any of the subjects under the two categories from which questions will be culled from is what helps you ace the physician licensure examination. These categories are;

  • Basic sciences: subjects under this category are anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology.
  • Clinical sciences: subjects under clinical sciences are internal medicine, obstetrics & gynecology, pediatrics, surgery, legal medicine and preventive medicine.

Once you pass the PLE, you can begin General Practice (GP), officially and legally.

Apply for medical residency

Applying for medical residency is tantamount to applying for a job. The PLE gives you license to study as a General Practitioner (GP) but if you would want to become an expert in specialized areas of medicine.

Then residency is a good call. While general practice is rewarding, the major disadvantage is that GPs earn lesser income compared to a specialist.

Residency could take three years or more, depending on the area of specialty you have selected. The table below indicates residency programmes and the number of years required for training;

Residency Programme Duration (years)
Internal medicine 3
Obstetrics & Gynecology 4
Pediatrics 3
General Surgery 5
Emergency room (ER) medicine 3
Radiologic Oncology 4
Radiology 4
Rehabilitation medicine 3
Psychiatry 4
Pathology 4
Orthopedics 4
Ophthalmology 3
Dermatology 3
Surgery 4-5
Family medicine 4
Otolaryngology 4

Once you have met all the necessary requirements, you will be able practice freely.

Medical schools in the Philippines

There are a lot of options to select from, however, I would be listing med schools with the best performance in board exams. They include:

  • Ateneo de Manila University school of Medicine and Public health, Pasig city, Metro Manila : had a 100% passing rate in 2019 & 2020 and an above 90% passing rate from 2015-2018.
  • Cagayan state University, Tuguegarao, Cagayan: had an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2017, 2019 & 2020.
  • Cebu Institute of Medicine, Cebu city, Cebu: had a 100% passing rate in 2015, 2017, 2019 & 2020 and above 90% passing rate in 2016 & 2018.
  • Davao Medical School Foundation, Davao city, Davao del Sur: had a 100% passing rate in 2020 and above 90% passing rate from 2015-2019.
  • Far Eastern University – Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation, Quezon city, Metro Manila: had an above 90% from 2015-2020.
  • Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Intramuros, Manila: had a 100% passing rate in 2016 & 2019, and an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2017 & 2018.
  • Saint Louis University, Baguio, Benguet: had an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
  • Silliman University, Dumaguete, Negros Oriental: had a 100% passing rate in 2015, 2017 & 2020 and an above 90 percent in 2018 & 2019.
  • Luke’s College of Medicine, Quezon City, Metro Manila: had a 100% passing rate in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020 and an above 90% passing rate in 2018.
  • University of Santo Tomas, Sampaloc, Manila: had an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
  • University of the East – Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Quezon city, Metro Manila: had an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
  • University of the Philippines – Manila, Ermita, Manila: had a 100% passing rate in 2015 and an above 90% in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
  • West Visayas State University, Iloilo city, Iloilo: had a 100% passing rate in 2019 and 2020 and an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
  • Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental: had a 100% passing rate in 2018, and an above 90% passing rate in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

Course division in Medical School

You are expected to complete a number of courses; theories and the practical aspect. I will be listing the courses in a chronological order;

First Year: the first year in med school is usually more of classroom activities with laboratory work. Courses to be taken by Freshmen include;

  • Biochemistry
  • Preventive medicine
  • Community health
  • Human anatomy and Physiology
  • Psychiatry and medical practice 1

Second Year: Sophomores are exposed to the hospital experience as most medical schools in the Philippines, place med students in hospitals as lecture base. At this stage, they take or record a patient’s medical history. The following are the core and required courses in the second year of med school;

  • Pharmacology
  • Microbiology and Parasitology
  • Pathology
  • Medicine and Surgery
  • Medical economics
  • Psychiatry II

Third year: The whole of your third year will be centred on clinical management of common and rare medical conditions. Usually, the focus is on disease management and you will be required to familiarize;

  • pathophysiology

Fourth year: In your fourth year you will become a junior intern at a hospital. The fourth year is the final year in med school, thus internship is required. You will be putting to practice all that you have learnt thus far. The fourth year is what helps you bag a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Most importantly, you will required to write a thesis, undergo a practical exam or carry out an independent research project at the end of the second or third year before you transition to clinical clerkship (internship).

The Duration or Length of Study

To be recognised legally as an MD takes about 7-8 years, if you would only want to go into General Practice (GP).

Pre-med courses take up 3years, med school is usually for 4years. After graduating, you will transition to post-graduate internship and will work closely with medical professionals while under the supervision of an ‘attending physician’.

Those who may likely become specialists, would spend a minimum of 10 years. This is because residency programmes take between 3-5years.

FAQs

Do med schools offer a condense medical programme?

Yes, there are and there are only a few where

you can study medicine within 6-7years. This means that the medical programme offered by the specific medical schools have been constringed to run within a shorter period from the usual. In the Philippines, programmes that make this possible are;

University of Philippines’, Intarmed

De La Salle Unversity’s, Bachelor of Science in Human Biology

De La Salle University in Dasmariñas

University of Santo Toma

Is the post-graduate internship mandatory?

Yes. Without completing internship hours, you will not be qualified for the Physician Licensure Examination (PLE). The post-graduate internship is the last phase of internship.

Will I be eligible for NMAT, seeing that my college grade is poor?

Of course, you are. However, you should put in an extra effort for the NMAT. Although, college grades and the NMAT percentile score is a requisite for med school. You should still make the effort.

Can I apply for medical school without the NMAT?

No. The NMAT is a standardised test that measures your eligibility for med school. Even if you have sat for NMAT, you must wait to receive your score. Otherwise, wait or sit for an NMAT if you have not.

How long does it take to get my NMAT score?

It takes about 20 business days after the examination date.

Do I need to pay an application fee?

Yes, you do. After tendering the required documents in the med school you have selected, it is imperative to pay an application fee. Application fees could cost P150 – P3000. An application fee is not the same as a tuition fee.

What pre-med courses makes me eligible for med school?

Pre-med courses like Biology, Nursing, Psychology, Medical technology, Pharmacy, Public health, Physical therapy etc.

Conclusion

In considering a career path in medicine, you must be prepared for everything. Medical school entails a lot and a degree in medicine is usually attained with rigor not to mention the expenses. However, in the Philippines, grants are offered to medical students to subsidize the tuition fee.

One interesting part about becoming a doctor in the Philippines is that you stand a greater chance for employment as there is always a need for MDs.

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