What Every Physician Should Know About Getting a Medical License

Graduating from medical school, completing your residency, and acing your medical licensing examinations is only part of what it takes to become a physician in the United States. Even when all of those elements of your training are complete and your exams are behind you, there’s still one more thing you have to do before you can work as a physician:

Get your medical license.

The medical licensure process is a complicated one, but the more you know about the process, the easier it will be.

Whether you’re about to apply for your first license or want to obtain a license in a new state, here are seven things every physician needs to know about getting a medical license.

Know the Licensing Requirements in Your State

Different states have different requirements for state licensure, so it’s important to understand the regulations before you apply for a license in your state. You can learn this information by visiting your state government’s website or by reading articles such as how to get your medical license in the state of Texas.

Each state has their own application timeline as well. Make yourself familiar with those dates so that you don’t miss any deadlines. 

You’ll Have to Submit Multiple Pieces of Documentation

The medical license application process requires that you submit a variety of different documents to your state licensing board. In addition to submitting a completed license application form you’ll also need to provide:

  • Your birth certificate or passport
  • An up-to-date copy of your CV
  • Exam scores from all parts of the USMLE (or comparable test)
  • Medical school diploma and transcript
  • Proof of existing hospital privileges
  • Proof of residency and postgraduate training programs
  • Professional references
  • Any current licenses you hold or any past licenses you’ve held

Many licensing boards won’t even look at your application until all documents are received. Make sure that you submit all documents on time and that every section of your application is 100% complete.

State Licensing Boards Run Background Checks

Some state medical boards run background checks on candidates that apply for a license.

If you have any questionable prior history that will show up on a background check, you’ll want to disclose that information up front in what’s referred to as a “summary of derogatory information.” If you fail to disclose this information on your own and the board uncovers it as part of a background check, they can deny you licensure.

Prepare to Pay Some Fees

In order to obtain your medical license, you’ll need to pay some fees. From application fees to registration fees to licensing fees, the cost of a medical license ranges from as little as $150 to upwards of $1,000, depending on your state.

It May Take Several Months to Get Your License

It can take several months for your license to be issued. Processing times vary by state governments and can take as little as three weeks and as long as six months.

You won’t be able to start a job as a physician without your official license, so as soon as you are eligible to apply, do so. Some state boards allow you to apply for your license while you’re still in residency, though they won’t issue it until your residency training is complete.

You Can Get Licensed in Multiple States Through the IMLC

Want to obtain your medical license in more than one state?

The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact makes it easy to do.

In order to apply for multiple state licenses, you’ll need to first hold a license in the primary state in which you live and/or work. If you have a state license from an IMLC member state of principal licensure, it’s easy to apply for more licenses in other IMLC states. At this time, there are only nine U.S. states that are not already a part of the IMLC or in the process of joining.

Stay Up to Date on License Renewals

Medical licenses expire, and every state of licensure makes you renew your license (for a fee) about every two years. Biannual renewal is the norm, though some states require license renewal annually and some require renewal as little as every four years.


Getting your medical license can be complicated, but if you take the time to research your state’s requirements and do your due diligence in submitting your documents, it can be a smooth process.

Just remember to pack your patience. Processing licenses takes time, and it could be several weeks or several months before you can start working legally in your state.

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