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How to Become a Doctor in France

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According to figures from the French government, there were 208,000 practicing doctors in the country at the beginning of 2007. However, estimations projected that over the next 10 years, this number would drop by 10 percent. Fearing a shortage of doctors, the French government has increased its "numerus clausus," the number of students who are allowed to enter the second year of medical studies, to 8,000 for 2011. By comparison, the number was 4,100 for 2000-2001. Medical studies in France are organized in three steps and take eight years for general medicine or 11 years for specialties.Following medical studies in France is not the only route to becoming a doctor there. It is possible for foreign doctors to practice medicine, thanks to a system of accreditation.

Medical Studies in France

Start with PCEM (Premier cycle d'études médicales), a two-year cycle open to French candidates with a baccalaureate. In addition, each faculty of medicine is allowed to admit up to 8 percent of international students from outside the European Union. About 20 percent of students pass the exam at the end of the first year. Students who fail the exam are allowed to repeat the first year of study once. In the second year of PCEM, students must complete a nursing internship.

Continue with the second stage called DCEM (Deuxième cycle d'études médicales). It takes four years to complete. During the last three years, students start receiving a monthly stipend of a few hundred euros. They must complete 36 months of hospital internships in several specialties and be on call 36 times in three years. At the end of that period, students must pass several tests on theoretical medical knowledge. Successful candidates are allowed to enter a specialized program. Their score on the exams determine the specialty and residency location.

Choose between general medicine or another specialty among 30 available in the third year of medicine. Students must perform full-time hospital functions including six-month periods in various departments. They are paid between 1,336 and 2,052 euros a month as well as an additional fee when on call. After a three-year residency, students in general medicine receive their degree, called the DES or diploma of specialized studies. For residents in other specialties, the training takes four or five years. Once they have received their DES, residents must defend a thesis before a jury. Only then do they receive the diploma in medicine. However, they are unauthorized to practice medicine unless they register with the "Ordre des médecins," the French national medical association.

Continue your medical studies in France after starting in a country outside the European Union. You must complete the first year of PCEM and pass the exam. Once they pass this exam, foreign students who have followed medical studies abroad can enter the curriculum at a level equivalent to their level in their home country as determined by an examination of their academic record. The DES is open to doctors from outside the European Union. Eligibility tests can be taken in Paris or in French embassies and forms are downloadable on the site of the Centre National de Gestion. However, this is a steep road, as only 20 positions were offered in 2010-2011.

Foreign Doctors Practicing in France

Follow the "Procédure d'autorisation d'exercice" (PAE) to be allowed to practice medicine in France. The procedure includes presenting academic and work records, taking a skill test and demonstrating proficiency in French. Designated under the acronym PADHUE (praticiens à diplôme hors Union européenne ou PADHUE or doctors with diplomas outside the EU), those foreign doctors mostly come from North Africa and Africa.

Expect some difficulties as a "PADHUE". Despite some changes to their status thanks to a 2006 law, doctors with foreign diplomas are often considered "second class" doctors. For example, French hospitals are allowed to pay them less than doctors with French or European diplomas. These doctors have formed an association called the Syndicat National des Praticiens à Diplôme Hors Union Européenne.

Research small towns in isolated areas. Doctors are in demand in those areas because French doctors prefer to set up their practices in big cities or in the South of France. Those towns have been hiring foreign doctors, mostly from Eastern Europe.


Isabelle Boucq has been writing about high-tech, business, travel and other topics for French and U.S. newspapers, magazines and websites since 1996. She has contributed to "The San Francisco Chronicle," "Voice of America" and "France Today." She holds a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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