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What It Takes To Go To Medical School

What does it take to get into medical school? What's the best way to prepare? Although there is a profound need for more health-care practitioners in the United States, med school remains highly selective and extremely challenging. It is important for anyone who wants to achieve a career in medicine to begin preparing as early as possible. Students in high school can begin taking concrete steps to achieve their career ambitions.

High school grades are critical in securing admission to an undergraduate school that can provide a firm academic foundation for med school. High school students should focus on electives in areas such as biology and organic chemistry so they are prepared for stringent undergraduate requirements. Many pre-med programs take five years to complete, so selecting the right courses in high school can potentially save you time and money.

High school is not the most critical portion of your med school journey, but it can get you off to a strong start. During high school, it's important to develop ties to the community and seek out service opportunities. Med school admissions committees often look favorably on students who demonstrate early maturity and a service-oriented mindset. This will also help you if you choose a pre-med major in college.

It isn't necessary to major in pre-med during college to get into med school; however, this can help you streamline the requirements. Many humanities majors have been successful med school students, but they still need to take on a very heavy science course load to meet the basic prerequisites for med school. That load usually includes a full year of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry, each one with a lab component. In addition, be sure to get a full year of English literature or composition as well as a full year of advanced math: Most students are able to meet the requirements with classes in statistics or calculus. While these courses will serve you well at most med schools, it's also important to begin looking at the specific requirements of the schools you might wish to attend no later than the beginning of your sophomore year of undergraduate study.

During the undergrad years, it's important to build up a repertoire of experience in the medical field. Hands-on experience is a crucial component of your application. If you are not a pre-med student, be sure to join your school's pre-med society or find organizations in the community that you can work with as a student. Many hospitals offer the opportunity to "shadow" physicians and carry out basic community service for the organization. Volunteerism is crucial!

Physicians must be able to understand and integrate information from the latest medical research. By the time you are a junior in college, you should be familiarizing yourself with the most important research journals. Although access to journals is often prohibitively expensive outside of the academic world, your college should offer you free access to a wide variety of journals. Develop an understanding of the scientific method and peer review of academic publications.

In junior year, you should also begin seriously preparing for the MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test. Virtually all med schools in the U.S use this test as an important part of admissions, and they may not consider your application without it. The test should be taken no later than September of your senior year of college. Applications to med school begin in May and each school has its own internal deadlines, so taking the test earlier can be helpful.

After the MCAT, you can expect a long, thorough, and challenging process! Your initial med school application is sent directly to the American Medical College Application Service. This initial application is then disseminated to your schools of choice. If you are selected for further consideration, schools of choice will contact you directly for a secondary application. Your initial application must include full official transcripts of all of your high school and college work, your MCAT scores, and a personal statement. You should also submit evidence of all of your extracurricular and service activities.

Secondary applications from individual med schools run from July through January. These will differ substantially according to each school's individual requirements and will determine whether you are interviewed for placement in med school. You may be required to submit letters of recommendation from current professors and mentors. If at all possible, select professors from upper-division science courses and mentors from a hospital or community service organization who can speak to your ability to have a fruitful career in health care.

Med school interviews take place between September and April, with most applicants knowing their final status by January, although decisions can be delayed as late as August. Interviews can be very challenging, and it is impossible to prepare for every possible question that might come up. An applicant should be ready to speak on their career plans, motivation for joining the field, history of community service, and special challenges overcome on the way to med school.

Because med schools are so demanding and competitive, many students do not secure admission the very first time. Retaking the MCAT, deepening one's record of service, or adding graduate work in the sciences to one's academics can all help improve the odds of future admission. In some cases, the most demanding schools reject applicants to gauge their determination and willingness to persevere through adversity. Tenacity will be crucial during med school and residency!

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Burt Cancaster, Author

Vitality Medical
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Salt Lake City, UT 84121
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