You want to be a doctor. This could be a completely new realization or a chronic one. The goal remains the same however. The first hurdle in becoming a doctor with a capital “D” is getting into medical school. You may have heard that medical school will make you crazy, and let me tell you personally, that it starts with the application. The process of applying is long, expensive, time-consuming and all sorts of hair-yanking and zit-inducing stressful. But we know its rewards, a career in medicine, and this can make the whole process worthwhile.
Step one: Get good grades. Your undergraduate academic performance may well be the most important factor in the decision process. Admissions officers want to know if you can handle the rigor of medical school. Anything above a 3.5 GPA can make you a competitive applicant. Didn’t have such a stellar start as a freshman? Don’t fret! Medical schools look favorably on applicants whose GPAs have consistently improved through their academic history.
Step two: Get involved. This is where you can prove your altruistic motivation to become a doctor. Volunteer and participate in service opportunities to prove your commitment to helping others. It does not have to relate to medicine. You can tutor at local elementary schools or work at a soup kitchen. Do what brings you satisfaction.
Step three: Get clinical. While all your undergraduate experiences do not have to revolve around medicine, you still need to prove that you are interested in it. Medical schools value exposure to a clinical setting; if you can smell patients, it’s clinical. Volunteer weekly at a hospital. Make sure you apply for hospital positions early, as there are often long waiting lists. Also, start shadowing as soon as you can. Hit up your family, your friends, your advisers and even your own doctors for connections to physicians you can shadow. Your experiences will hopefully strengthen the motivation for a career in medicine.
Step four: Get to know your professors. Most medical schools require a minimum of three recommendation letters, one of which should be from a professor in the sciences. Strong, personal letters can often be the golden ticket into medical school. Simply put, go to office hours.
Step five. Get MCAT-obsessed. Most students take their MCAT the summer after sophomore year or in their junior year. Heavy course loads and studying for the MCAT don’t mix; pretend the MCAT is the final of a seven-credit class and plan your schedule around that diligently, a high MCAT score opens a lot of doors.
Step six: Get going. Apply early, apply early, apply early! Most medical schools have a rolling admissions system. More seats will be open the earlier you apply, increasing your chance for an acceptance. This is simple probability. But understand it is better to have a stronger application than an early one.
“One-third of what medical schools look at is your GPA and MCAT score, one-third is experiences and the last third is personal attributes,” said Kate Stutz, a pre-health adviser with the Center for Pre-Health Advising on campus. “We spend a lot of time helping students think about the narrative portion of the application. Because the biggest question they’re going to have to answer is ‘why medicine?’”
The Center for Pre-health Advising can be a great resource if you are considering a pre-health occupation. They have experienced advisers who are willing to read personal statements, help you narrow down your list of schools and even set up mock-interviews once you are in the interview process. Even if you are unsure as to whether or not medicine is the right path for you, drop in or set up an appointment with them.
There is no magic formula for a medical school acceptance. Medicine has many dimensions, and every doctor is different. Taking the time to follow your passions as an undergraduate will hopefully show yourself and the medical school the type of doctor you could become.