If you ever heard the phrase “not all heroes wear capes,” then you should know that it refers to the selfless acts done by the likes of firefighters, police officers, and especially doctors. Whether a doctor is needed for checkups or to help someone recover from a terrible event, they are among some of the most influential people we interact within our daily lives.
Do you want a career as a doctor? If you’re going to become a medical professional, then there are things you need to know.
1. Know What Undergrad Classes to Take
No matter the role you’ll end up taking as a future doctor, it is crucial to take the right classes during undergrad. Here are the basic elements for any pre-medical education you could partake in:
- One year of college Biology with laboratory. In Biology, you will learn about genetics, cells, and the framework of life, which are the building blocks of medical science and are crucial to succeed in the field.
- One year of General (inorganic) Chemistry with laboratory: Provides you with a strong basis for understanding acid-base imbalances in the human body and how different medications work.
- 24 semester hours of Biology and Chemistry
- One year or 6-8 semester hours of Mathematics: You will want to take Calculus or Statistics. Math is vital for doctors because it will help you to determine the proper medicine dosage for patients as well as read lab results.
- One year or eight semester hours of General Physics: You will be introduced to key medical concepts, such as laws of pressure and volume, which are essential for cardiology and understanding how forces operate in the body.
In addition to taking science and math courses, there are some classes that will help you start preparing early for the MCAT exam:
- English: Helps you with your critical thinking, reading and writing skills
- Biochemistry: There is an increased emphasis on this subject on the MCAT
- Psychology and sociology: With the added section on the MCAT, you will need a better understanding of these two subjects
- Medical anthropology or history: Learn about how medicine has changed over the years.
No matter what major you choose during undergrad, you will want to make sure you maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher. Medical school admissions are highly competitive, so the better you do as an undergrad student, the higher your chances of getting into the school of your choice.
2. Take the Time to do Extracurricular Activities, Volunteer Work and Internships
While doing well as an undergrad student is important, it is also essential that medical schools see that you are a well-rounded student. In addition to finding job opportunities related to the medical field, you should have experience with underserved populations. More and more medical schools are looking for passionate students who are compassionate about addressing the health care needs of diverse populations. This experience will allow you to talk first hand about your experience, what you gained from it, and how you can use this perspective as a future physician.
Volunteering is another experience future medical students should have. Look into volunteering at a hospital or clinic to gain exposure to working in a health care setting or Volunteer as an emergency medical technician. Consider working in crisis-affected communities with a medical corps group — volunteer at a summer camp counsellor working with children with disabilities. No matter where you volunteer, commit and stick with it. The length of time you volunteer somewhere will look more favourable versus only doing it for short stints.
As a future doctor, you will want to show medical schools that you have teaching and leadership experience. One of the most important roles a physician plays is being a teacher when they impart information to their patients. You can gain teaching experience through teaching swimming, a musical instrument to a child, or becoming a teaching assistant. To gain leadership experience, consider holding an office in the student government, in an on-campus club, or organisation. Look into mentoring at-risk youth or organise an event on-campus or in your local community.
Whether you volunteer, work in the medical field or take on a leadership role, it is vital that you show medical schools that you are willing and capable of working hard to accomplish any goal you set for yourself.
3. Spend Time Studying and Preparing for the MCAT
All prospective medical students must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This computer-based standardised test was developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges and is administered fourteen times a year at the Prometric Testing Centers. The exam takes eight hours to complete and will test your physical and biological sciences as well as verbal reasoning. The four main sections of the exam include:
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
When preparing to take the MCAT, you will want to allow at least twelve weeks to study.
Make sure you register early through the AAMC website so you can secure your test date and location. Once you know your test date, set up a study schedule, and make sure you stick to it. Next, invest in suitable study materials that give you the option to take as many practice tests as you can. It’s best to simulate what the actual test will be like, so there are no surprises on your test day.
4. Take Time to Research Medical Schools
Before you narrow down what medical schools you want to apply to, make sure you take your time to research each school. Some things to consider when researching potential medical schools include:
- What is the cost to attend? Is there access to financial aid?
- What is the atmosphere of the school? Is it calm and collaborative? Or cut-throat and competitive?
- What is student life like? Consider talking to current students or alumni.
- What is the faculty to student ratio?
- What is the teaching quality like? Ask current students for their perspective.
Think about visiting the medical schools you are considering applying to. This will give you a chance to talk with current students, alumni, professors, as well as the admissions office and ask them questions about the school, curriculum, and life outside of class. While you are at the school, tour the campus and the surrounding area to get a better idea of what it would be like to live there and attend school.
5. Know the Application and Interview Process
When you start the application process for medical school, you need to remember that schools admit students on a rolling basis. This means that spaces in the program are offered to qualified candidates until all spots are filled.
For your primary application, you will submit a single application through one of three centralised application services; AMCAS (for MD admissions), TMDSAS (for Texas Medical Schools), AACOMAS (for DO admissions). Your primary application will provide medical schools with the information that need for the initial screening process. The application will include:
- MCAT scores
- Information about your most meaningful experiences. This is where you would include extracurricular activities, research, volunteer work, clinical work, etc.
- Personal statement
- Letters of recommendation
Make sure to submit your application as early as possible. Applications that are submitted early in the cycle will be reviewed first, which will give you a better chance of acceptance.
There are two possible outcomes after you submit your primary application. First, it could be rejected, or second, the school will send you its secondary application. The secondary application usually includes a variety of essays you must write on assigned topics.
Once your secondary medical school application is reviewed, you will either be rejected, invited to the campus for an interview, or your application will be put on hold until after the first round of interviews. If your application is placed on hold, it will be reviewed as other candidates accept or decline offers.
These five things will help you on your way to becoming a doctor. Start preparing during your undergrad career as you begin your journey to becoming a medical professional.