How to Become a Medical Doctor in Japan (8 Steps)

Japan is a famous island country in East Asia, and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with most of its 127 million people living on the country’s narrow coastal plains. After World War 2, the country experienced rapid economic growth, and over the years became one of the largest economies in the world. Japan also has the second-highest life expectancy and a very high standard of living.

Japan’s culture, music, and cuisine are famous all over the world, and the country has become a top destination for ex-pats who are looking for a place to start a new life. In this article, we will go over the steps to become a medical doctor in Japan.

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1. Japanese Language Requirements

Any East Asian language will be fairly difficult to learn for most people who don’t come from that part of the world. While not as hard as Mandarin, Japanese is a very challenging language and can take quite some time to master. Sure, learning things such as ordering a meal, or asking for directions is in fact not that difficult, but being good enough at the language to be able to work as a doctor is a whole nother story.

In order to pass the medical exams needed for obtaining a medical license, which we will talk about in more detail later, you will need to have a near-native knowledge of the Japanese language, and even more than that as you will be asked to know some Japanese medical terms that aren’t known to most natives. So, if you are serious about becoming a medical doctor in Japan, you better start learning the language as soon as possible.

2. Study in Japanese Medical Schools

Studying medicine in Japan is the easiest way for someone to become a doctor in Japan, and is heavily recommended if you are serious about doing so. Japanese medical education lasts for a total of 6 years. The first two years are dedicated to general studies, which then transition into two more years of applied medical sciences. Years 5 and 6 are reserved for a clinical clerkship at the University hospital that they are attending, learning about many different things related to their field.

Applying for medical university is very easy and the process is the same for both foreigners and Japanese citizens. However, you not only have to be fluent in the language, but you also need to be very familiar with scientific Japanese, which is pretty much impossible for someone who hasn’t spent at least a few years in the country before applying for university. If that’s the case, you also have the option of obtaining your undergraduate degree elsewhere, and then take on a postgraduate degree in Japan, which you can find a large number of in English, for further specialization.

3. Pass the Medical Exams

Before becoming eligible to take the final medical license, you first need to apply for it, but only if you first meet the necessary criteria. If you are a foreign medical graduate from a program similar to ones that can be found in Japan (6+ years), and you are also licensed in the country that you graduated from, you can freely apply for the final licensing exam in Japan. However, whether you are approved or not is a big if, and it varies from case to case, with no clear reason why some candidates are accepted and some not. Another pre-requisite to taking the exam is an evaluation of your language skills. You need at least an N1 level in order to qualify, but in practice, if you want to pass the exam, you will need a lot more, as N1 is generally thought of as barely good enough to apply to medical school in Japan, let alone passing the final exam.

4. Complete the Residency

After obtaining their medical license, before opening their practice or finding a job in a hospital, all doctors are required to spend 2 years as a resident before being able to start working as a regular doctor in Japan. The residency must be completed in either a university or a hospital that is affiliated with a university. Prior to applying for residency, candidates can select a course in a broad category that is of interest to them. Please have in mind that for graduates of medical schools outside Japan, it is very hard to find residency, as that typically requires connections with Japanese universities, as well as trusted letters of recommendation.

5. Getting Medical License

The final exam you need to pass to get a medical license in Japan is called the National Medical Practitioners Examination. Passing this exam is no easy feat, especially for foreigners, but if you possess the necessary language skills and technical knowledge, it is not more difficult than any final medical exam you will find around the world. If you pass the test, you immediately become a licensed medical professional in the country, but you will need to complete 2 years of residency before becoming eligible to seek employment.

6. Getting a Work Visa to Become a Doctor in Japan

Medical professionals generally fall under the standard Working Visa that Japan has. The process of applying for the visa is fairly simple. You need to fill out a Japanese visa application form at your local Japanese consulate. You also need to bring your passport, a recent photograph, a written letter from your employer stating your position and expected salary, as well as a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).

7. Finding jobs as a doctor

After obtaining a medical license, you are free to start your own practice or look for employment in a hospital in Japan, but not before you complete the 2 years of mandatory residence, of course. Private practitioners, especially when it comes to psychiatry, are few and far between in the country. If you want to find a job at a hospital, you can look for any popular job-finding platform on the internet, but keep in mind that applying online with little to no connections in the medical field in Japan, means that you will have a very slim chance of getting the job compared to other native and perhaps more well-connected candidates. That being said, there is also a small demand for English speaking doctors across hospitals in Japan, especially in major cities, so you can be on the lookout for that.

8. Becoming a doctor in Japan as a foreign-trained doctor

Assuming that a foreign-trained doctor also has a medical license from the country he is coming from, he is eligible to apply for the final exam before getting a medical license in Japan. The candidate will, of course, also have to possess a very high level of knowledge in scientific Japanese to become a doctor in Japan. If he fulfills those two conditions, it generally means that the candidate will be accepted to take the final exam, but this is not always the case. Upon passing the exam, the candidate is eligible to start the mandatory residence period which lasts for two years, after which he is free to start seeking employment as a medical professional in Japan.


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