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Preparing for a Career in Medicine

Academic Preparation

Your academic record during your four undergraduate years is the most important factor in determining whether you get into medical school.  If you do not have at least a B (3.0) average, you are highly unlikely to be considered seriously by a medical school.  In fact, unless you have a 3.5 grade point average or better your application won't even be competitive. Your grades in science courses are usually weighed more heavily than grades in other disciplines.  An A in Art Appreciation will not balance a C in Organic Chemistry.  If you want to get into medical school, you cannot allow yourself the luxury of a bad term or two.  You must do well from the very beginning. Since your junior year GPA is usually included in the Admission Committee's deliberations, it is critical that your academic performance during this year be excellent. The science GPA is usually included in any deliberations and will be compared with your MCAT scores. It will not help to take light loads in the hopes of keeping your grades high.  Medical schools are not impressed by students who get straight A's while carrying eight hours.  They are looking for students who can handle the pressure of heavy course loads and still excel.  There is no easy way out; you must put your nose to the proverbial grindstone and be prepared to keep it there.

Most pre-medical students major in either Biology or Chemistry.   Medical schools require considerable coursework in these fields and you will have a good start on these majors by the time you have completed the medical school requirements.   This is not to say that you must major in one of these fields. You may opt for a major in another field as long as you also take the science requirements (and do well in them). An applicant who has majored in a non-scientific subject is less commonly found in medical school, although schools often encourage students to consider this approach. For example, the 84 students in the 1987 entering class at Dartmouth Medical School included students with majors in Biology (20), Chemistry (7), English (5), Foreign Languages (4), and Psychology (9). The advantages of this type of major are that you are different and stand out from the majority of applicants; that you can take advantage of a liberal arts education; that your overall GPA will probably be higher; and that you will only have to take those science courses which are required for medical school and those which interest you. The disadvantages are that you will have to perform very well in your science courses to maintain a good science GPA and that you will probably feel less prepared for the MCAT's (and for your first year in medical school); you may find that you essentially have a double major and the heavy loads and scheduling conflicts that includes. Options available to a non-science major include graduate study in an area that interests you (should you decide for any reason against going into medical school).

You can certainly justify a major in any of the humanities as being good preparation for a career in medicine. Anything that broadens your understanding of the human condition is likely to make you a more effective doctor. So if you really want to major in philosophy, and you can manage to schedule in all of the required science courses, go ahead. Be prepared to justify your decision and explain how your choice of major will enhance your ability to be an effective doctor should the medical school Admissions Committee ask.

Medical schools differ in their philosophies of education, specific pre-professional course requirements, and other qualifications for enrollment.  Some generalizations about medical school admission requirements can be made, however. All American medical schools recognize the desirability of a broad education, a good foundation in the natural sciences, and highly developed communication skills. You must have a solid understanding of modern concepts in physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. For precise information about a specific medical school you should consult the current issue of Medical School Admission Requirements. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) publishes this handbook each May and you can order it by writing:

Association of American Medical Colleges
Membership and Publication Orders
2450 M/ Street, NW
Washington, DC 2007-1129
(202) 828-0416
FAX: (202) 828-1123

This handbook currently goes for $15.

It is recommended that you undertake an independent study in your major. Completing more than the minimum requirements will strengthen your application to medical school. You should have completed all of the required premedical courses before the second semester of your junior year. You should have completed all the required premedical courses before you take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) - normally in April of your junior year.


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