Japan is a peaceful island nation situated in Eastern Asia. Even though it encompasses a relatively small region lined with narrow coasts, it is home to more than 127 million people. Its dense population is the result of many factors. For one, during the second half of the 20th century, Japan experienced rapid economic growth and became a leading industrial force in the modern world.

However, its appeal does not come from its industry alone. Its cuisine and art have now spread to almost every nation, while its cultural heritage is envied by many. Because of this many people opt to begin or even continue their careers in Japan. This article takes a look at how people can become medical doctors in Japan.

How to Become a Medical Doctor in Japan

1. The first requirement for anyone considering a medical career in Japan is of course – a medical degree.

Thus, the first step to becoming a medical doctor in Japan is by studying at one of Japanese many renowned universities.

Regardless of the Japanese university, you apply to, a medical degree will take six years to obtain. In the first two years, students acquaint themselves with the field of medicine, acquiring general medical notions. This is followed by a two-year study of applied medicine and a further two-year medical clerkship at the university hospital. The last two years serve to broaden students’ understanding of medicine and their future medical fields.

Although the application process and medical curriculum are similar to other countries, all future medical students in Japan must be proficient speakers of Japanese. This requires not only knowing conversational Japanese but mastering medical and scientific terms in the language as well. Since this is fairly difficult for non-native speakers, those lacking language proficiency are advised to complete their undergraduate degrees outside of Japan. This way they remain eligible for a post-graduate medical program in Japan later on.

2. Once an individual has earned a medical degree, the next step will be to apply and pass the national medical examination.

To apply both foreign and domestic candidates must meet certain requirements. For one, a potential candidate must have completed a medical program before applying for the exam. In other words, foreign medical practitioners, who are licensed in the country they graduated from are also considered eligible to take the exam and may apply freely.

However, on its own, a medical degree will be insufficient when applying for the examination. Namely, another requirement is language proficiency. Thus, each participant must exhibit at the least an N1 level proficiency of Japanese, as everything below will not qualify them for the examination.

3. Most countries require medical graduates to complete a residency program upon graduation, and Japan is no different.

After they have completed their medical examination, the next step to becoming a medical doctor in Japan is to complete a two-year residency program. This can be done at either a university hospital or one that is affiliated with it.

Before applying to a residency program, medical graduates need to select their preferred area of interest. This will be the first step to their medical specializations. Nevertheless, it is important to note that medical residency in Japan is quite competitive. Thus, applicants will be judged on their medical ability as well as their academic careers. Another crucial factor to securing the residency of choice is also letters of recommendation written by former professors and colleagues.

4. Obtaining a medical license is the final and possibly most important step before beginning a medical career in Japan.

To do so, all eligible candidates must pass the National Medical Practitioners Examination. This is crucial for everyone who wants to become a doctor in Japan. The examination will require both language proficiency and adequate medical knowledge and training. Thus, it does not differ greatly from other medical licensing exams around the world.

Upon passing the examination, an individual immediately becomes a licensed medical doctor in Japan. Nevertheless, before seeking employment or opening a solo practice, each practitioner will need to complete a two-year residency program at a university-affiliated hospital in Japan.

5. With a completed two-year residency and obtained medical license, medical graduates are ready to begin their medical careers in Japan.

On the one hand, there is the possibility of opening a private practice, as these are quite scarce in Japan, especially in the realm of psychiatry.

Another option is to seek employment in a Japanese hospital. However, this route will not be particularly easy. Namely, securing a hospital position in Japan will require academic excellence as well as solid connections and recommendations. Thus, native candidates with stellar recommendations and a developed network of connections will have the upper hand.

Nevertheless, there is also a third option when seeking medical employment in Japan. Namely, from time to time, hospitals in larger Japanese cities wish to employ English-speaking practitioners – a position ideal for foreign medical doctors. Thus, anyone wishing to practice medicine in Japan should keep an eye out for these types of job openings.

6. The last step for medical practitioners refers to those coming from outside of Japan.

Upon arrival, medical doctors will need to apply for a work visa before seeking employment. In the majority of cases, medical professionals will fall under the standard work visa, making the application process fairly straightforward.

All practitioners will need to complete a visa application form and submit their passport, a recent photograph, and a written letter from their employer with salary specifications. In addition to this, all applicants will need to provide a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) as well.


I hope that you found this article on how to become a doctor in Japan informative and helpful. To know more information on studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students.