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Written by Valerie M. Harrison
Getting into medical school requires planning. The following timeline lays out 10 steps a pre-med must take to prepare for medical school admission.
They are Phase One, if you will, in your outline of Steps to Become a Doctor.
Ten Steps to Become a Doctor
For each of the high-level steps below you will make a more detailed task list that depends on your exact situation - this is where your premed admissions advisor will be an important resource.
Premed advisor gives straight advice on requirements and courses - part 1.
Premed requirements video - part 2.
Decide on medicine. If you are trying to decide whether becoming a doctor is right for you, read the first article in this series: Becoming a Doctor: A Tough Decision
Complete undergraduate science requirements
Get volunteer/work experience in health-related fields
- Consider a broad pre-med course selection
Develop staff/faculty advisors
Prepare for the MCAT
Take the MCAT exam
Submit transcripts and application materials. Before you begin, get familiar with the process of applying to medical school.
Monitor application completion/distribution
Interview if invited
Make use of all of MomMD's medical school admission resources for more information on the steps to become a doctor.
Undergraduate Studies: Medical School Requirements and the Well-Rounded Applicant
While a Bachelor's degree is not a requirement for admission into all medical schools, you can assume that more than 99 percent of accepted students will have one. Until recently, nearly all pre-med students majored in Chemistry or Biology. Today students with all kinds of majors are being accepted. In fact, a recent study shows, "acceptance rates range from 45 percent in biology to 48 percent in nonscience and 55 percent in physical sciences. There is an apparent trend among admissions officers to encourage potential applicants to medical school to consider nonscience majors during their college years." (Fruen) The changing face of medicine is looking for "people" people, not just academic superstars as in years past.
So evaluate your premed plan: You are better off majoring in Philosophy and maintaining a 3.9 GPA (grade point average) than majoring in Biology and only getting a 3.5. By all means study what you are interested in and what you're good at because admissions committees are looking for well-rounded candidates who have studied a variety of subjects while in college. However, for most U.S. medical schools, there are still some very specific medical school admission requirements. The typical medical school prerequisites include:
- One year of general chemistry with lab
- One year of organic chemistry with lab
- One year of biology
- One year of physics
- One year of English
- College level math
While these premed programs are pretty standard, medical schools do vary slightly in their admissions requirements. Even if you are a junior in high school, it won't hurt to take a look at the requirements for the medical school you are most interested in attending and plan your undergraduate program accordingly. The biggest variance seems to be math. Some schools want to see a year of calculus, while others only require one college-level statistics class and others have no math requirement at all. Many schools are beginning to expect undergraduate course work in biochemistry and/or genetics. Again, check with the admissions office of the schools you are interested in for specific requirements. And consider a post-baccalaureate program to gain the necessary classes for medical school admission, or to boost your GPA or MCAT scores.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): MCAT Prep, Testing and Scoring
Upon completion of the mandatory course work, the next big hurdle you will face is the MCAT. The MCAT is the first of many major exams that you will have to pass on your way to becoming a practicing physician. All but one major US medical school uses results from this test to select candidates. The MCAT is offered in April and August of each year. So when you are planning out your steps to become a doctor, keep in mind that it is a good idea to take the exam in April of your Junior year of college so you can have your results back in time to begin applying to med school in the summer. Most programs begin taking applications in the summer a year prior to fall admission. If you do poorly you can re-take the test in August, but doing so will probably delay your admission into medical school by a year and shouldn't be considered unless you are sure that you can increase your scores significantly. Many students take MCAT prep courses before sitting for the exam and find them helpful. However, the courses are quite expensive and if you are good at studying on your own, you can probably do as well without them. The prerequisite courses mentioned above all help prepare you to pass this test which consists of four sections:
MCAT scores are based on the four parts of the MCAT exam: Physical Sciences (PS), Verbal Reasoning (VR), Biological Sciences (BS), and the Writing Sample (WS).
- For PS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For VR, there are 60 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For BS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
- For WS, there are 2 questions, with a scoring range of J to T.
Med School Admissions Acceptance Statistics:
There are two different types of physicians that we think of as "Doctors". Generally speaking, the difference betweed MD and DO is that the traditional MD degree is granted from allopathic medical schools and the DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) is granted from Osteopathic schools. Training and curriculum is very similar between the two, with the main difference being that Osteopaths learn skeletal and muscular manipulation (similar to Chiropractors) to complement traditional medical treatment. Both are recognized and board certified by the American Medical Association. Although Osteopathic schools have lower requirements for GPA and MCAT scores, their acceptance rate is lower because there are fewer positions available. Also of note is that tuition for Osteopathic schools is generally higher since most of the programs are private.
Following is information compiled in 2005 (* figures are for 1999) for acceptance to US allopathic medical schools. As you can see, only about 4 out of 10 applicants are accepted.
US Medical Schools (Allopathic)
- 125 schools
- 37,304 applicants
- 17,004 entrants
- 42.4%* acceptance
- 48.5% women
- 11.3%* US under-represented minorities
- 11.7 applications/applicant*
- 59% Public/41% Private*
Average Matriculant Scores
- VR 9.7
- PS 10.1
- BS 10.1
- WS P
- Sciences 3.56
- Total 3.63
* Adapted from: Pfizer Medical Manual, 1999 and AAMC FACTS
It is very important to get exposure to the healthcare industry prior to applying to medical school. Admissions committees want to see that you have been exposed to the unique stresses of handling medical crises and that your desire to become a physician is grounded in actual knowledge of the job. Volunteering at a local hospital or clinic is a good idea, but your experience should be patient contact rather than just typing or filing. Having recommendations from doctors or nurses who have worked with you in a clinical setting is a major boost to your overall application. Obtaining a license as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) and either working EMT or CNA jobs or volunteering in those capacities is an excellent way to gain experience. While a focus on the required academic steps to become a doctor is critical, the importance of gaining experience in patient care should not be overlooked.
Articles in this series:
- Becoming a Doctor Are you trying to decide whether becoming a doctor is right for you? Take a realistic look at what it takes to get there.
- Steps to Become a Doctor Premed Planning - The timeline and steps to become a doctor, including undergraduate studies, gaining experience in the medical industry and taking the MCAT
- Applying to Medical School Ready to apply to medical school? Be prepared for the application process and for medical school interviews.
- How to Become a Doctor What to Expect in Medical School - Medical school curriculum, USMLE, and the cost of medical school
- NRMP and Medical Residency What is residency for doctors? Medical Residency, ERAS, NRMP, the Residency Match and the Scramble - The process of getting matched with a medical residency position, and the medical resident's role
- Being a Doctor What It's Like to be a Doctor