Medical Careers for International Students in the US

Career Options & Salaries for International Medical Graduates in the US

The demand for healthcare professions has been on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the shortage of medical professionals the world over. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an addition of 2.6 million jobs in the medical fields between 2020 and 2030. Furthermore, according to a 2022 report by Medscape, the salaries across 29 specialties in the U.S. have increased up to 13%.

Such statistics are great news for aspirants enrolling in American medical universities. The U.S. offers immense opportunities for licensed and unlicensed medical professionals. This article explores the various career options medical graduates have in the US. Read on to know more about how international students can become doctors in the U.S. and how one can make a career in medicine even without a medical degree.

Best medical jobs in the US

The professions in this list are ranked per the number of openings projected for 2020-2030 by the U.S. BLS.

Profession Projected Openings* 2021 Median Salary
Registered Nurses 194,500 77,600
Physician Assistants 12,200 121,530
Speech-Language Pathologists 15,200 79,060
Physicians 22,700 208,000
Respiratory Therapists 10,100 61,830
Veterinarians 4,400 100,370
Occupational Therapists 10,100 85,570
Dentists 5,000 163,220
Chiropractors 1,800 75,000
Pharmacists 11,300 128,570

*Openings are projected for each year on average for the decade 2020-2030

How to become a doctor in the US?

The MD, or the Doctor of Medicine, is among the sought-after professional degrees in the US. For the academic year 2020-2021, 53,000 people applied to medical school, and only 22,230 applicants were accepted. The numbers are further slim for international applicants. The 2019 application cycle has only 1890 international applicants, of which 272 matriculated into med school.

The route to graduating a medical school requires a heavy monetary investment. It can take a student 10-14 years before practicing as a licensed doctor in the US. Becoming a doctor in the US entails the following steps

Getting an undergraduate degree 

The MD program in the U.S. states an undergraduate degree as the basic eligibility for admissions. The undergraduate degree should cover the coursework required for medical schools. Most students prefer majors in Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, and Psychology. Degrees from relevant majors can help gain pre-medical education and prepare students for med school.

International students should note that most universities in the US prefer an undergraduate degree from the US, UK, or Canada.

Taking the MCAT

Medical College Admission Test is the standardized entrance exam for medical schools across the U.S. and Canada. The MCAT tests students’ eligibility to participate in the MD program by testing them in 

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour.
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Applying and attending Medical Schools 

Primary applications to medical schools are made through the AMCAS portal. Medical universities require a secondary application made directly to the university. Evaluation letters, CVs, MCAT scores, and academic transcripts are a few documents needed during applications. MD is a four-year full-time program concentrating on theoretical and practical training.

Graduating Medical School and Residency

Students explore residency opportunities in their preferred specialization during the third year. Students submit applications to match with residency programs. Once graduated, students undergo residency, which can take three years to complete.

Passing USMLE and obtaining the medical license

The U.S. Medical License Examination (USMLE) has three parts. The USMLE allows medical graduates to obtain a license to practice as a doctor. The first exam is usually taken during the third year and the second part in the fourth year of the MD program. The final exam is taken after residency.

Once a medical graduate obtains the state-governed medical license, they can apply for jobs as a doctor at any public or private organization.

Average salaries of doctors in the US

According to U.S. News, Physician ranks 6th in the best-paid jobs. The average annual salary range of physicians is USD 126,470-208,000.

Salary ranges depend heavily on the state of practice. Doctor’s salaries in the best paying states are

State Annual Salary in USD
Maine 279,700
Montana 271,560
South Dakota 269,100
Alaska 266,200
Wyoming 263,540

The salary range also depends on the specialization. Some high-paying specializations for physicians are

Specialization Annual Salary in USD
Plastic Surgery 576,000
Orthopedics 557,000
Cardiology 490,000
Otolaryngology 469,000
Urology 461,000
Gastroenterology 453,000
Dermatology 438,000
Radiology 437,000
Ophthalmology 417,000
Oncology 411,000

Source: Medscape

Scope of Nursing in the US

The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics forecasts registered nurse job openings of 194,500 each year until 2030. This job growth is among the largest in all of the healthcare professions.

After the completion of an accredited nursing program or an accredited bachelor’s degree, nurses can move into roles of

  • Administration
  • Consulting
  • Teaching
  • Research

The average salaries of registered nurses in the best-paying states in the US are

State Annual Salary in USD
California 120,560
Hawaii 104,830
Massachusetts 96,250
Oregon 96,230
Alaska 95,270

Scope of Pharmacy in the US

Pharmacists are among the most well-paid medical professionals in the United States. Becoming a pharmacist is conditional on completing relevant education, passing the NAPLEX, and receiving training through employment.

Popular specializations in Pharmacy are 

  • Clinical Pharmacy
  • Community Pharmacy
  • Industrial Pharmacy
  • Pharmaeconomics
  • Pharmacoepidemiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Gerontology

The best American states to work as a pharmacist are

State Annual Salary in USD
Alaska 147,040
California 146,070
Oregon 136,700
Maine 134,100
Vermont 131,910

Scope of Dentistry in the US 

The American Dental Association regulates dentistry in the US. Students who have completed their dental education in the US and acquired a license for professional practice work in the following areas

  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Endodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry

The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics has predicted a slow growth of 5,000 jobs a year until 2030 compared to other popular medical professions. Yet, it is among the well-paying medical professions. Dentists will find it most profitable to work in the following states

State Annual Salary in USD
Rhode Island 258,920
Vermont 254,190
Alaska 242,850
Maine 236,060
New Hampshire 222,430

Medical careers in the US without an MD degree

The MD program is highly competitive. As a result, MD aspirants may not be able to secure admission to their desired medical universities. Although many universities advise re-applying, it is always wise to have a backup plan.

Students can continue on alternative career paths in medicine by acquiring the necessary certifications, training, or work experiences. 

The following professions do not need an MD. Still, they may need short-term certifications or a long-term course

  • Biochemist/Biophysicist
  • Microbiologist
  • Clinical Research Associate
  • Drug Safety Specialist
  • Health Educator
  • Medical Interpreter
  • Medical Transcriptionist
  • Community Health Worker
  • Occupational Health Specialist
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Paramedic
  • Epidemiologist
  • Radiation Therapist

Frequently Asked Questions

International medical graduates can become doctors in the US. Foreign graduates should meet the eligibility requirements and pass the USMLE.

Most medical universities in the US suggest re-applying. You could get your application assessed by a professional. Alternatively, you can pursue a different career relevant to your undergraduate major.

The American Dental Education Association states that international students can apply to most dental schools. However, international students must prove their English proficiency through IELTS or TOEFL.