As a high school student I was optimistic and just thought that becoming a doctor would just be about going to medical school after college. Little did I know that the application process is just as much of a journey as my undergraduate had been. I feel like there needs to be a step by step guide out there about how to navigate college in order to get to medical school. I feel like I did not navigate it efficiently enough, but I am a little glad, since I was not ready to handle the intensity directly after college anyway. For those of you ready to tackle 8 straight years of school, I suggest you apply to BS/MD programs which you can find a great load of information about here, but for those of you who are not completely sure and still want to be prepared follow this method.
1. Apply and get into a 4-year University, any University is fine, you could even take some classes at community college to start if you don’t have the financial ability to pay for school. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have a full ride scholarship for undergrad so I came out without student loans.
2. Definitely work hard during those 4 years to maintain a GPA as high as you can get it (ideally something above a 3.5). Pick a major that you enjoy and have some fun with learning. You are there, paying an average of $150 per hour on classes; it would be silly not to go to classes.
3. Take the prerequisites for Medical school which include:
- One year of Biology with lab.
- One year of General Chemistry with lab.
- One year of Organic Chemistry with lab.
- One semester of Biochemistry.
- One year of Physics with lab.
- One year of English.
- Optional: some Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology and Sociology (for MCAT purposes)
4. Don’t forget to go to office hours and make relationships with your professors. I struggled with this because I was often one of those people that kept my head down and just tried to do well in school. I realized later in the game that professors are people too and they are there to help. Going to their office hours shows them you care and are willing to learn. Not only are you learning the material better but you are also gunning for those letters of recommendation. Also make sure to ask for letters of recommendation by the winter of junior year so you will have enough time to submit them to AMCAS or AACOMAS. Those are the common application portals for MD and DO schools in the United States.
5. Do something you are passionate about. It is important to keep up with something you’ve been doing for a while that you enjoy or find a hobby you love. I currently love aerial arts and pole, but you could also play an instrument, do arts and crafts, run marathons, go rock climbing and so much more. Stick to one or two things you really love and be consistent. It will show the schools that you are grounded and have discipline. I have a ton of hobbies and I failed to showcase that on my first attempt applying, but now I know it’s an integral part of who I am which is something schools are looking for.
6. Get clinical experience- so I know this sounds like typical advice and I thought I followed it. I volunteered at a nursing home for a few months every summer for a couple summers but that was not enough. If I were to do it over, I would look for scribe opportunities early on like first year of undergraduate or a volunteer opportunity at a hospital in high school and continue to do that every week for at least 3 years. Schools look for consistency in your interest in medicine, and I had to gather that experience for the past couple of years after undergrad since I did not have quite enough. I loved the opportunity to get that experience because it solidified my passion for medicine and I was able to meet so many people at hospitals, in private practice and outpatient clinics. If you were curious, I ended up becoming a scribe for a year, volunteered at a hospital for the past two years, and became a behavioral health technician as well.
7. Get ready to take the MCAT the summer after sophomore year or winter of junior year. You can go the AAMC website to sign up for a date. Be sure to set aside about 6 weeks or so to study for the exam. Also make sure you sign up for the test like 5 months in advance, the test days get full really fast. The test sections include Physical Sciences (Chem, Biochem, Physics), CARS (reading comprehension), Biological sciences (Bio, Ecology, Anatomy and Physiology) and Psychology/Sociology. I can include a more in depth study schedule in a future post. Do the best you can but I suggest aiming for at least a 509.
8. Start your application early. The application tends to open up mid to late April the year before you would want to start. If you want to start Fall of 2018 you would have had to apply Spring 2017. Starting your application in April gets you time to collect letters of recommendation and transcripts, write and proofread your personal statement, fill out all the extracurricular activities (and I mean ALL the activities whether it is a job, volunteer or hobby) as well as research the schools you’d like to apply to. Cast a wide net and send your application to at least 10-20 schools. This is just the primary application so you have to make sure you can pass their prescreen by obtaining a secondary. It is expensive to submit these applications so make sure you have about $5000 set aside for application fees. (At the time of writing, not adjusted for inflation)
9. Don’t delay on your secondary applications. Have a 1-3 week turn around after you’ve received them to have your best shot at being reviewed sooner. The admissions are rolling so there is an aspect of first come first serve involved when turning in your application.
10. Practice for the interview. I definitely used a consultant to practice a few mock interviews since they gave me some comprehensive feedback on my interview answers and how I can deliver my thoughts more cohesively. I appreciated it, but I think it would have been just as helpful to have a school adviser or counselor provide feedback as well. Enjoy each interview day for what it is, they are supposed to be fun and exciting.
Another thing I did to stand out was my research experience. I was an undergraduate researcher and I studied proteins with various methods. Be specific when explaining your research and understand what you are looking for. One of my interviewers was impressed when I could explain the outcomes of my procedures. Don’t just say you did a lot of Western Blots, explain that you were using antibodies to detect the presence of a specific protein and understand the structure or conformation. That might be more specific to my major which was Biochemistry, but if you did any research, just be sure to explain it.
I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about the steps to get into medical school efficiently! Leave a comment below and let me know if it was helpful for you and whether or not you’d like more content like this. I took a path that deviated a little from this, but it was still meaningful.
P.S. I want to make a YouTube Channel documenting my medical school journey, let me know if you would be interested in the comments.