So You Want To Be A Doctor…?

High school students often imagine a career as a doctor. Maybe it’s because they or someone they love has been through a challenging medical experience; maybe they have always been interested in the human body and how it works; maybe they’ve spent a lot of time watching “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix. Whatever the reason, many students talk about being “premed” in college. What exactly does that mean and what are some ways to make that dream a reality?

Research and volunteer opportunities are an invaluable part of the undergraduate experience for premed students.

Students hoping to go to medical school after college will need to take a number of prerequisite courses during college. Every medical school has its own requirements; however, in general, they are looking for a full year of biology, physics and English as well as two full years of chemistry including organic chemistry. A student does not major in “premed”; the term refers to the path of prerequisite courses and desired experiences an undergraduate chooses and to the advising programs offered by many undergraduate institutions. Medical schools are interested in well-rounded students who are not only good at the sciences but also engaged with other disciplines. Aspiring doctors are encouraged to major outside of the sciences—disciplines such as English, philosophy, and psychology are all options as long as students take the prerequisite courses. The most important criteria for being accepted into medical school are a very high college GPA, excellent grades in the prerequisite courses and a high MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score. As a high school student considering which colleges might best open the door to medical school, remember the importance of performing well academically. Perhaps students should consider attending a college where they fall in the top 25 percent of applicants so they have a better chance of excelling academically, and may even receive a merit scholarship and thus be able to save towards the cost of medical school. Students who are performing well academically may also get more opportunities to engage in undergraduate research. Participating in research as an undergraduate and being published in a scientific journal or presenting at a conference are excellent medical school resume boosters. Students may have better access to these experiences at a liberal arts college where they are not competing with graduate students for lab work. As students research colleges they may come across a statistic for “acceptance rate to medical schools.” This is not a true measure of comparison as every college computes that percentage differently. Some colleges include all undergraduates who began the premed path, while others only include those who apply to medical school during their senior year (vs. those who apply a year or so after graduating). Still other colleges only include students for whom the pre-health advising department agreed to write a “Committee Letter of Recommendation” which enables them to show a very high acceptance rate to medical school since only the best qualified students get the letter. Find out how that number is calculated before using it to compare one college’s premed experience to another.

Be sure to take a variety of courses to become a well-rounded candidate for medical school.

Other valuable experiences for both a premed undergraduate and for a high school student considering the premed path include volunteering at a local hospital or clinic, shadowing a physician in either an inpatient or outpatient setting, and volunteering with local emergency response organizations. Students can undergo EMT training and then volunteer with a local rescue squad and gain excellent hands-on experience in the medical field. The University of Richmond is one of many colleges that offer EMT training and volunteer opportunities for pre-health students. Colleges that are near a hospital or have one on campus will likely offer more opportunities for students to become involved on a volunteer basis. Volunteering at a local clinic might lead to even more hands-on experience particularly if it’s a busy one serving a low-income population. When applying to college with an interest in premed or pre-health, remember that admissions officers still want you to be well rounded. Don’t specialize academically in high school. Ideally take four years of English, math, science (be sure you complete physics, chemistry and biology), history and foreign language. Consider taking an AP course in at least one of the basic sciences. Admissions officers also would like to see that your extra-curricular activities are varied; that you are interested and engaged in more than science or medicine-related activities. The best doctors are smart, personable and tough. The road to becoming a practicing physician is challenging and long but certainly fulfilling.

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