Monday, September 26, 2011

Prerequisites and Requirements for Medical School

I have surprisingly run into a few pre-medical students that don't know exactly what is required and what is recommended for applying to medical school. Sometimes, even advisors can give you a general overview, but not the specifics. This is especially the case if you don't have a dedicated pre-medical advisor. So, here is a list of what is required to apply to medical school and a few extras that the admissions people love to see. First, these are the bare minimum requirements at virtually every school:

  • Bachelor's Degree in any area of study
  • One year of Biology courses with laboratories
  • One year of General Chemistry courses with laboratories
  • One year of Organic Chemistry courses with laboratories
  • One year of Mathematics courses including Trigonometry
  • One year of English courses
  • Completed Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Notice that you don't need to major in Biology to become a doctor. Sometimes you may even have had a completely unrelated career before you switched gears and decided to pursue medicine. This is known as a "non-traditional" applicant which is what this blog is based on. Even though the list above is the bare minimum, you would be crazy to apply with just the bare minimum. To really be a competitive medical applicant that will be stamped, "Accepted", you will also need the following:

1. An MCAT Score of at Least 30
The maximum score you can achieve on the MCAT is a 45 while the average is a 24. To be a competitive applicant, you should have a score equal to or greater than 30. This is a very arbitrary number depending on which school you want to get into, but is generally accepted to be a "good" score. Sometimes you will see a score written as "30Q" with a letter after the numeric part. This is the score for the writing portion of the test but is usually ignored.

2. A Cumulative GPA of 3.5 or Greater
Most medical schools recommend that you have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA to be competitive, which is an average of every grade you have received. There are different ways of calculating this, factoring in if you have retaken certain classes, but you should have at least a 3.5 no matter which way you calculate it. If you don't have this, take more classes, preferably easy science related ones to boost this number up.

3. Shadowing Experience
Shadowing is the process of following a doctor around and observing what they do on a day to day basis. You are a fly on the wall. This tells admissions that you are not disillusioned as to what doctors really do just because you watched seven seasons of "House M.D." Ask doctors in your area if you could shadow them and most likely you will get at least one enthusiastic, "Yes".

4. Clinical Experience
A lot of students find this hard to come by: Clinical Experience. Basically, you need to volunteer in positions where you are close enough to patients for them to sneeze on you. Admissions love to see this to know you are serious about your career. You can find these positions by asking local Hospitals, Hospices, Care Centers, or your own doctor for volunteer opportunities that will put you at arms reach of patients.

5. A Successful Interview
After applying to medical school and surviving the weeding out process, you will be given an interview. This is your chance to avoid giving admissions a reason not to admit you. The double negative sentence is because you are already partially, "in", but now admissions is looking for fatal flaws that they can boot you out of the process with. They will look for lack of empathy, lack of decision making skills or leadership, personality flaws, or even a lack of hobbies. Successful doctors all have general traits in common that the admissions committee recognize, and non-destructive stress reducing hobbies are one of them.

6. An Excellent Answer to the Question
And in your interview, the question is, "Why do you want to become a doctor?". The answer definitely isn't "Because I watch Grey's Anatomy all the time and I love it!" You must have a well thought out answer to this question. Most non-traditional pre-medical students like me have a burning desire to become a doctor, but may have a tough time forming it into neatly laid out sentences. However, this really needs to be worked out well in advance of your interview.

There are certainly even more bullet points that you can add to your resume that will increase your acceptance chances and this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Although, if you have all of the above, you certainly have a decent chance of getting into medical school.


  1. Axl: " I watch Scrubs too!"

    Adcom: "OH well in THAT case - you're in! Come join the party! [he chortles] Ahh we'll have so many misadventures! [spends the rest of the interview retelling all his hilarious med school and residency stories]"

    That's pretty much what happened at my interview :)

  2. Me: "I'm a psych major, and taking my pre-med classes."
    Them: "So you're a dual major?"
    Me: "No. I'm a psych major..."
    Them: "Then how are you pre-med?"
    I had an ex-girlfriend who dated someone who was a pre-med major once and she also took some nursing classes, she was insistent that I would never get into medical school unless I was a pre-med major. To the point that she and I argued, she got angry and ignored me for a few days. I admitted she was right even though she was wrong.

  3. Haha Axl... I will believe your story whole-heartedly the day Axl Rose apologizes to Slash... :P

    Gee Buttersnaps: At my university, a "Pre-med major" doesn't even exist! The closest thing is Biology. It seems like a lot of people believe that you must be a classic "pre-med" to become a doctor. And in your case, it seems like they will argue that until they are blue in the face!