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How to Become a Pulmonologist in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a pulmonologist? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, a pulmonology career may be the perfect choice for you. This field offers a rewarding and challenging career path. In this blog post, I will explain what a pulmonologist does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Pulmonologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions affecting the lungs and the respiratory tract.
  • Pulmonologists must complete three years of residency training in internal medicine followed by two to three years of fellowship training in pulmonology.
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have no advantage to becoming a pulmonologist (and may be a slight disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Pulmonologists?

Pulmonologists are medical doctors who have passed a specialty exam in pulmonology.  often misunderstood in the medical field. They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the lungs and the respiratory tract. This includes diseases such as COPD, asthma, sleep apnea, and lung cancer. Pulmonologists also provide preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing lung and respiratory system diseases.

Pulmonologists are trained to understand the physiology of the lungs and airways. They must also be able to recognize and treat airflow obstruction and other respiratory problems. Pulmonologists provide guidance and counseling to patients on lifestyle changes to improve respiratory health. They may use a combination of medical treatments, such as medications, biopsies, and bronchoscopy.

Pulmonologists use spirometry, CT scan, x-rays, and blood tests to diagnose respiratory diseases. They will often work with physical therapists, allergists, and healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatments for their patients.

Is a Pulmonologist a Doctor?

Are pulmonologists doctors? This question often comes up as people confuse pulmonologists with respiratory therapists. The answer to this question is yes; pulmonologists are doctors.

A pulmonologist is a DO or MD who has completed a three-year residency in internal medicine and a two-year fellowship in pulmonology. During this time, doctors become experts in diagnosing and treating respiratory disorders. They learn the techniques for treating asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.

Pulmonologist vs. Respiratory Therapists: What’s the Difference?

Respiratory therapists are not medical doctors though they can still provide a wide range of services, such as performing pulmonary function tests, administering aerosolized medications, and providing patient education. However, they typically work under the supervision of a pulmonologist.

In summary, respiratory therapists are allied health professionals. Pulmonologists are medical doctors specializing in the treatment and diagnosis of respiratory illnesses. They can perform more complex procedures and tests than respiratory therapists.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pulmonologist?

Becoming a pulmonologist is not easy, as it requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes at least 13 years after high school to become a pulmonologist. That includes four years of undergraduate education and medical school. Followed by a three-year residency in internal medicine. You’ll then have to complete a fellowship in pulmonology to become a pulmonologist. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams. These include the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a pulmonologist is completing an undergraduate program. During an undergraduate program, you’ll have to do at least four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and Biology. Volunteering at health centers will help you gain experience and will be invaluable in your application to medical school.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT standardized exam. This measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You will complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Internal Medicine Residency (3 Years)

After medical school, you’ll have to match into an internal medicine residency. Internal medicine residencies are three years long. During this time, internal medicine residents learn how to diagnose and treat illnesses. The residents also work with other medical professionals to provide patient care and develop the skills necessary to become competent and compassionate physicians.

Fellowship (Usually 2 Years)

After an internal medicine residency, you’ll need to pursue further training in pulmonology. Pulmonology fellowships allow physicians to specialize in disorders of the respiratory system. During this time doctors gain advanced knowledge and skills in this field. Pulmonology fellowships take two years. Some physicians specialize in pediatric pulmonology which is three years long.

After Pulmonology Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your fellowship, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license. You’ll need the license to practice. You’ll need to pass the USMLE. Board certification in pulmonary medicine isn’t essential, but some pulmonologists prefer it. In this way, physicians show their commitment to providing exemplary care.

Becoming a pulmonologist takes at least 13 years after high school. It’s a long and tedious process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive Is It to Become a Pulmonologist?

Internal medicine is one of the less competitive specialties. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a few positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is internal medicine in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 2.0% unmatched rate in internal medicine. This makes it a more attainable specialty. Although it was more competitive than specialties like radiation oncology, child neurology, and emergency medicine – each with unmatched rates of 1.9%.

For more on the competitiveness of internal medicine relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Pulmonology Annual Compensation

Pulmonologists have an average annual salary of $353,000. But this can vary based on the practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Pulmonologist Annual Salary

Pulmonologists make $353,000 per year on average

How Much Do Pulmonologists Make an Hour?

You may also wonder, how much do pulmonologists make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there isn’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including pulmonology.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (pulmonology highlighted in red):

Pulmonologist Hourly Salary

Pulmonologists make $119 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Pulmonologist

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students.

AOA is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies. They must also show an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class as inductees of AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships. They can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is notable for the most competitive residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 2% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in internal medicine. AOA membership provided a moderate advantage to matching into an internal medicine residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Internal Medicine 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Pulmonologist?

When pursuing a career in pulmonology, attending a top medical school can make a difference. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.8 out of 5.

Graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 1% increase in the likelihood of matching into internal medicine as a field. This is because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

Remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more. These will include things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Internal Medicine match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 1% match rate advantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Pulmonologist?

Medical training is long and arduous. Many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential internal medicine residents. But do these degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

Having an extra degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In internal medicine, the match rate was 0% higher for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances at pulmonology.

Internal Medicine other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a 0% match rate disadvantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming a pulmonologist is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love pharmacology, physiology, problem-solving and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, pulmonologists can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for a Pulmonology Residency Advisor?

Looking for a pulmonology residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.






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Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.