Are you planning to apply to medical school in the future? If so, these six tips will help you prep for the MCAT exam, build an impressive medical school application, and know what to expect during your residency.
Medical school is an incredible experience that will transform you as a person and a professional; the lessons you learn will come in many forms, so keep an open mind and be prepared for everything you’ll encounter on your journey to become a physician.
- Classes to Take in Undergrad to Help You Prepare
Some universities have pre-med programs that will set you up with everything you need to prepare for medical school. However, there is no required major to become a doctor. No matter what you choose as your undergrad, make sure that you take the following:
- Biology: Learn the basics of cells, DNA, and the building blocks of life and human development.
- General chemistry with laboratory: Learn the fundamentals of acid-base imbalances and prepare for biochemistry.
- At least one semester’s worth of math courses, preferably calculus and statistics.
- Physics lab: Learn core medical concepts like pressure and volume, as well as how different forces affect the body.
- Physiology and Anatomy: A basic introduction to the human body and all of its major systems.
Not required but helpful courses to take include:
- Foreign languages
- English and composition
A GPA of at least 3.5 is recommended for medical school applicants; don’t be afraid to branch out during your undergraduate years and study something you’re passionate about. Medical schools love well-rounded applicants with strong interests and the endurance to pursue them at a collegiate level.
- Study, Prep and Take the MCAT
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized test that every aspiring medical school student has to take. It’s administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and takes approximately eight hours to complete. The exam is given 14 times a year, so make sure you know the MCAT test dates and register early.
You will want to begin to prep for the MCAT exam at least four months before the test. You will be taking the MCAT during your junior or senior year of undergrad, and preparing for the test will take a lot of time. The MCAT consists of four sections:
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills: Similar to reading comprehension sections on other standardized tests. Passages come from a variety of humanities and social sciences disciplines.
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems: tests basic biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems: tests basic biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior: tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology.
When preparing for the MCAT, you will want to set up a study schedule. Make sure to invest in the best study materials, join a study group, and sign up for a test prep course.
- Apply to Several Medical Schools
You will want to apply to at least three medical schools. Since medical schools admit students on a rolling admissions basis, so you will want to send your application in early. Your primary use will be submitted through AMCAS (for MD admissions), TMDSAS (for Texas Medical Schools), or AACOMAS (for DO admissions). The application will include:
- MCAT scores
- Information about your most meaningful experiences: this is where you would include extracurricular activities, research, volunteer work, and clinical work
- Personal statement: some examples of what you could write about include: an experience that challenged or changed your perspective about medicine
- Letters of recommendation
Once your primary application has been reviewed, you will either be rejected, or the school will send you its secondary application. The secondary applications usually include includes a variety of essays 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. This list will be reviewed as other candidates accept or decline offers.
- Medical School
Medical school can be broken down into two parts: pre-clinical and clinical. During the pre-clinical stage, you’ll spend two years of science training where you’ll learn about the basic medical concepts, structure, and functions of the body, diseases, diagnosis, and treatment concepts. You will learn the basics of being a doctor through medical history. Then, during your clinical phase, you’ll participate in clinical rotations where you’ll receive basic instruction and hands-on experience with patients in medical specialties.
While your curriculum will vary depending on the school you’re attending; you want to prepare to be busy during your pre-clinical and clinical. Make sure you invest your time wisely. Look into setting up study groups with other students, sign up to volunteer, take on an internship, or find a job in the medical field. No matter what you do with your time outside of clinical, make sure you network. By getting to know other people in the medical field, it will give you an advantage when you graduate with your degree.
- After Medical School
During your final year of medical school, you will narrow down your specialty options. The beginning of your fourth rear, residency applications open. You will submit an application for residency. Then you will be matched with an open residency program that could be anywhere in the country. The match is a process by which applicants are matched with residency programs. Both candidates and the school rank each other. You will rank your top residency choices, and the school will rank their top candidates.
Then a computer algorithm will choose the best pairing, and on “Match Day,” you will find out the residency program you are matched with. You will then transition from graduate school to a residency program. Your residency programs will require at least three years to complete and provides you with in-depth training in your chosen specialty.
Your residency is one of the most critical aspects of your training to become a physician. You will learn to perform all your responsibilities and duties for your specialty. During your first year of residency, you will spend time in different wards of the hospital to gain experience practicing different areas of medicine. Then in the next two to four years, you will gradually start to focus on your specialty and subspecialty. Once your residency is complete, you should be able to practice without supervision and lead your team to take care of patients. Then you will get your board certification where you undergo a voluntary certifying procedure that consists of both written and practical exams.
Making it through medical school is no easy feat, but it promises a lifetime of adventure and rewarding work. These six tips will help you prepare for your future as you embark on your journey to becoming a doctor.