Once a student decides to pursue medical school, what comes next? The general requirements are always the same, but the timeline may vary.
When getting ready for medical school, applicants need:
Let's look at these in more detail.
A biology or chemistry major isn't necessarily required to enter medical school. As research advances and healthcare changes, having a degree in engineering, mathematics or business can also be beneficial. No matter the undergraduate major, applicants still need to complete all the prerequisites for desired schools.
Meet with a pre-health adviser to develop a plan. The Princeton Review lists basic courses medical schools require, including biology, general and organic chemistry, English and physics. Taking these courses in the early years of undergrad leaves time for more electives or other opportunities in later years. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers a coursework tracker to help students follow their progress.
Most medical schools look for students with some healthcare experience, whether paid or volunteer. Find opportunities at hospitals or health centers. Volunteer on campus, or in a hospital or research laboratory. Try different areas every year to help narrow down a career path.
In addition to medical experience, join campus groups and take on a leadership role. It's not important to run everything, but chairing a committee or planning events can go a long way to demonstrate leadership abilities.
Letters of recommendation
To be recommended, students need to be on good terms with professors. Share stories with a few professors or even give them a statement to help them write a personalized letter. Faculty advisors to clubs can also provide recommendations and give a different perspective than instructors.
The AAMC suggests asking instructors early, so they have plenty of time to respond. And don't forget to send a thank you note after.
Look up resources for the MCAT once the decision to go to medical school is made. Use study guides, participate in study groups on campus and space out the workload. The AAMC website offers many resources and test prep questions to prepare.
Students need to complete the MCAT by the spring of their junior year to submit applications during the summer.
It doesn't hurt to start researching schools early as well. Health career fairs are a good opportunity to see what different schools have to offer without having to travel. Narrow down to the top schools and research their admission requirements. A pre-health advisor can help with this process.
To attend medical school the semester after undergrad, apply the summer before senior year and plan to do interviews in the fall. Remember to fill out financial aid forms during this time as well.
Not everyone decides early to go to medical school. Some students think it's out of reach and then realize halfway through undergrad that medicine is their calling. It's not too late. The steps stay the same, just on a different timeline. Some students may need to take an extra year of undergrad to complete prerequisites or complete a post-baccalaureate program.
Students taking a gap year, whether by choice or because they weren't accepted, should make the most of that time. Gain personal experience, participate in more healthcare-related activities, boost MCAT score or work and save money.
Getting ready for medical school is challenging and can feel overwhelming. Developing a plan early can help relieve some of the stress.
By Patricia Chaney