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US Medical License & International Graduates

International medical graduates who meet specific requirements can obtain a medical license in America.

A US medical license is a government-issued certificate that permits someone to practice medicine in the United States. The license is proof that an individual has completed the study and training necessary for a career in medicine.

It is required for both domestic and international students.

Medical License State By State

In the US, each state maintains its own medical board that determines how licenses are issued and to whom. This means that professional licensure requirements vary from one state to the next, and you should contact the medical board of the state you wish to practice in for more details.

In general, however, state boards only issue a medical license if you meet the following criteria:

  • Graduated from an accredited or otherwise approved medical education program
  • Completed a medical residency or fellowship program
  • Passed all three sections of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
  • Received certification from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) — for international graduates only

International Students and Certification

Graduates of medical programs outside the US need to be certified by the ECFMG.

This is a private, nonprofit organization that gauges an international graduate’s competence to enter a US medical residency program. It is the required first step toward obtaining a medical license.

Applicants can apply for certification online. To be eligible, you must have graduated from or currently be attending (for at least two years) a medical education program that is listed in the International Medical Education Directory. You also must submit your education credentials and/or English translations of your transcripts at the time of application.

After Applying: The USMLE

Once you have applied for certification, you must take the USMLE. This exam is required for anyone wishing to practice medicine in the US. It is a comprehensive test divided into three parts.  Individuals must pass all three parts before they will be granted a medical license.

Part 1 is the medical sciences section. It measures a graduate’s understanding of medical concepts in both the general and procedural sense. Topics covered include anatomy, behavioral science, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology.

Part 2 is further divided into two subsections: one tests clinical knowledge and the other tests clinical skills. The clinical skills test is only administered in Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Finally, part 3 assesses whether a graduate can apply biomedical knowledge to the unsupervised treatment of patients.

Residency and Medical License

After certification and successful completion of the USMLE, individuals then enter a residency program in an approved US medical facility. Residency periods vary from state to state, but are usually 2-3 years for international graduates.  Only one state, Wisconsin, has a residency requirement of less than 2 years.

International graduates can apply for a medical license once they have satisfied their residency obligation.