The traditional path to becoming a physician in the United States is to obtain an MD (allopathic) degree from a US medical school. This blog will provide a brief overview of the application process to medical school, and is part of a series discussing a variety of paths to practicing medicine.
Over the past decade, the number of medical schools and the number of applicants has steadily increased. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has recommended a 30 percent increase in the number of physicians, in order to address a physician shortage and increased longevity of patients. Indeed, there are now 154 US med schools, including almost 20 newly accredited med schools in the past decade.During this period, enrollment in US med schools has increased 18% from 78,740 in 2010-2011 to 92,758 in 2019-20
Yet during this same period, the number of applicants has increased at an even higher rate of 23%, from 42,741 to 53,371. As a result, medical school admissions has become increasingly competitive. The most important factors in admissions remain the numbers, while qualitative factors serve to further differentiate the applicants.
Quantitative Admissions Factors
Your GPA and MCAT score play a significant role in medical school admissions.
Medical schools look at your overall GPA, as well as your GPA within science and math specifically.
Generally, applicants to medical school are required to take the following courses:
- 1 year of biology
- 1 year of physics
- 2 years of chemistry (through organic chemistry)
- 1 year of English
- 1 year of calculus
Some medical schools are more specific about their requirements. For example, Harvard Medical School requires that the chemistry courses include inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry; and that the math includes 1 semester of calculus and 1 semester of statistics (preferably biostatistics). Stanford Medical School also recommends that students take courses in the behavioral and social sciences.
In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15 “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The new MCAT is double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. The four sections include:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
- Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
Each section receives a score ranging from 472 to 528, with 500 as the mean.
See our blog for a detailed discussion of the structure and scoring of the MCAT, and average MCAT scores for selected med schools.
The chart below shows the strong impact of GPA and MCAT scores on acceptance rates. An acceptance rate of about 50% or above requires an MCAT score above 506 (500 is the national average) and a GPA of about 3.6. For example, a student with a GPA of 3.4-3.59 and an MCAT score of 498-501 would have a 20% acceptance rate; where a student with a GPA of 3.6-3.79 and an MCAT of 506-509 would have a 54% acceptance rate.
Qualitative Admissions Factors
While the academic factors of grades and test scores serve as a screening mechanism, qualitative factors impact which students progress to the next level of receiving secondary applications and interview requests. The primary qualitative factors are a student’s medically-related experiences and recommendations.
The education required to become a physician, as well as the practice of medicine itself, are so rigorous that medical schools want to see evidence that an applicant is thoroughly aware of these demands and has engaged in relevant activities throughout college. These include the four pillars of:
- Research, including either bench work in a lab, or clinical research with patients.
- Clinical work, such as volunteering at a nursing home or hospital, or helping doctors with patient research.
- Shadowing doctors, preferably in a variety of specialties.
- Community service that shows compassion and your desire to help people.
There are many paths to becoming a doctor. Some students are passionate about pursuing a career in medicine, but are not competitive for US allopathic medical schools, as a result of grades, test scores, or relevant experience. In this situation, two viable options are to attend a US osteopathic medical school and receive a DO degree, or to attend medical school in the Caribbean.
For further guidance on the medical school admissions and application process, contact us at Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!