Although Pre-Health is not a major, entry into medical school requires a lot of work during the first four years of college. The following will give you some guidelines for how best to get ready.
Also see The Year by Year Guide.
How to Prepare
The following categories will give you information about pursuing a Medical Education.
- Extra-Curricular Activities
- MCAT Strategy
- Application Procedure
- Interview Process
- Medical Scribe Positions
Seek information on your own:
As early as possible, learn what you can about the medical profession. This is a good time to talk to your doctor, or engage as a volunteer in health-oriented activities.
Stay organized: Especially beginning with your junior year, you will have many important landmarks to keep track of. Set up a schedule for the whole school year and stick to it. It is also very crucial to pay attention to deadlines.
Choose your major:
Begin taking physics, chemistry, and science courses to enhance your ability to do well on the MCAT exam. If you are not a science major, take science courses as electives. Focus on studying and consistently making at least B grades.
Plan your coursework strategy:
Enlist the help of your professional school advisor in order to do well on MCAT exam. Plan on taking courses which increase your writing skills, non-science courses which help hone reasoning skills, and science courses which focus on the key principles of chemistry, physics, and biology. You do not have to be a science major to do well on the MCAT exam. The power of deductive reasoning is of key importance for doing well on the exam, and it can be honed by taking courses in a variety of disciplines.
Focus on science: During your junior year, begin taking science pre-med courses.
Keep your GPA competitive:
Focus on making consistently high grades. Do not get distracted with too many extracurricular activities during your freshman and sophomore years. Instead, focus on establishing a sound scholastic record early. You may also need to decompress your schedule and postpone taking courses less relevant to MCAT exam.
Establish a record of excellence and leadership:
Do something special to excel and demonstrate qualities of leadership, scientific curiosity, and interest in human beings. Some suggestions:
- Get involved in pre-med organizations or other types of clubs as
- Conduct a research project with a faculty member (medical schools
value analytical skills!);
- Study abroad for a summer semester to learn about another culture;
- Engage in a significant volunteer activity.
If you choose to volunteer in a doctor’s office, work on good personal rapport with the physician. A letter of recommendation from a physician will be highly valuable.
Continue your leadership roles:
To build upon prior record, stay involved in extracurricular activities. Focus on volunteering and other activities which hone leadership qualities, and label you as a person who wants to make a difference. Be wise: do this only to the extent that it does not interfere with your ability to maintain high grades and prepare for MCAT exam.
Begin reviewing for the MCAT:
Successful applicants usually begin reviewing course material for the MCAT around November of their junior year, while still taking courses relevant to the exam. Consult your professional advisor on where to find MCAT review materials. Some options are: online informational websites, a good local bookstore, a personal advisor’s collection, and/or a professional review course (about $1,500).
Take an MCAT practice test:
In January/February of your junior year, take a few MCAT practice tests, which you can find through a bookstore, online, in a professional advisor’s collection, or a free test offered at UIS or elsewhere. This will allow you to get acquainted with the format of the exam, have the experience of exam-taking under time constraints, and find weak links in your knowledge.
Take the MCAT exam in April:
Much of the knowledge you have acquired by taking junior year courses will be fresh and will not require substantial review. This will also put you on track for medical school admission in the fall of the following year, immediately after the completion of your senior year. If you need to postpone taking the MCAT exam until August, you may not be able to meet the deadline for starting the medical school the following fall.
Repeating the MCAT exam:
The exam fees are $500. It is not worth taking the exam unless you are well-prepared. You can have the experience of exam-taking by timing yourself on practice tests. In the case of repeated exams, some schools look only at the last score (Northwestern), while others look at average scores.
Select medical schools:
Go online, visit descriptions of medical curricula of various medical schools, and earmark schools that employ the learning style suitable for you. Some schools have lecture-based curricula, while others focus on problem-based learning through small-group discussions. Ultimately, be realistic—take into account that the latter requires a considerable amount of independence and maturity. Students usually apply to up to 10 schools. The registration fees vary, usually between $40 – 100.
Develop a resume and personal statement:
Work on these documents early in the fall semester of your junior year. They need to be well-conceived and well-written: enlist the help of your professional advisor or another faculty member! Make sure to address in your personal statement:
- the reasons for choosing the medical profession, and
- what you have done to prepare for medical school and the profession itself.
- important life events that helped you develop skills and values of importance in medical profession,
- your idea of humanitarian values and provide some evidence of your motivation to help others,
- examples of significant personal accomplishments, and
- experiences that helped you hone your personal communication skills.
To create a personal statement that distinguishes you from other candidates, do some soul-searching to find out why you really want to be a doctor. “I always wanted to be a doctor” in a personal statement says nothing.
Obtain letters of recommendation:
Spring semester of your junior year is the time to inform the individuals who will write letters of recommendation for you, that you will need a letter by the end of the semester. Faculty members often like to work on these well ahead of time, since a busy semester may allow limited time for letter writing. Select individuals who know you well. You will need letters from two science faculty and one non-science faculty, or another professional (not simply a family friend!) who knows you from a professional interaction. The latter may be a physician you worked with during your AST or a special project, not your personal doctor who only knows you as a patient. Remind the individuals that all letters need to be written on professional letterhead stationery!
Submit the AMCAS-E application:
Submit the application immediately after June 1st (before your senior year) to the American Medical Colleges Application Service organization. Submission must be electronic (www.amcas-e.org). This information will be distributed to all schools of your choice. Since the space on the application is limited, select those extracurricular activities that exemplify leadership and are of greater importance. This includes internships, independent research experience, honors, awards, and/or social activities. Significant awards are of particular importance.
Submit supplemental medical school applications:
As different schools obtain information from AMCAS, they will send you supplemental applications asking you to address questions specific to the interests of their particular school. Schools usually expect that you return the application within one week.
Mail letters of recommendation:
After submitting your supplemental applications, it is time to mail your letters of recommendation. Do this in short order!
MCAT exam scores:
If you take the MCAT exam in April, and submit your AMCAS application in June, the exam scores will be mailed to individual schools of your choice in October. If you take the MCAT exam in August, there may not be enough time to process your supplemental application in time to set you up for an interview for the school year that begins the following fall. Most medical schools begin planning interviews in October.
Set up interviews:
Based on the school, the interviews are set from mid-November to mid-February of the following year. An occasional school may begin interviewing as early as September (Northwestern). Make sure to inform the secretaries setting up your interviews if you plan to also interview in the nearby schools. They will work with them and pool your interviews so you do not have to make the trip to the area twice.
Preparation for interviews:
Discuss with your professional advisor how to prepare for an interview and check whether a mock interview will be provided by the Career Services at UIS. Alternately, stage a mock interview with your friends and/or faculty. This is an important experience! Some schools use a panel of faculty and a senior student to interview applicants, while others interview on a one-on-one basis. Interviews usually take one to one and a half hours.
Follow up after the interview:
Make sure to follow up on your interview by emailing or calling to hear about the status of the decision on your application. Showing signs of interest is looked upon favorably.
By May 16 (of your senior year, in this case) you must accept the invitation for an interview. You may initially do this simultaneously for multiple schools, since the schools will also have their priorities, as would you.
The alternate list:
If you are on the alternate list (wait list) of applicants, make sure to stay in touch with the school. Students who continue to express an interest in the school stand a better chance than those who drift away.
The following is a reflection on working as a Medical Scribe at a Springfield area hospital prior to applying to medical school by UIS Graduate Nick Decker (’15).
Being an emergency department medical scribe was undoubtedly the most influential experience in my pursuit of medical school. It helped me decide that medicine was the right career for me, was a big help getting into medical school, and allowed me to enter medical school with a significant level of clinical knowledge that has made transitioning to medical school easier.
Before making the huge decision that is attending medical school or the medical field, I believe it is essential to have a realistic expectation of what being a physician (or PA, NP, nurse, …) is like on a day to day basis. Having both shadowed and volunteered in a hospital, neither compares to the experience gained while scribing. Scribing gives one the opportunity to observe what the field medicine is truly like – not only the positive aspects of the field, but the negative and more difficult aspects as well. As someone who was on the fence about going into the medical field prior to my scribing experience, this was the perfect opportunity to determine whether or not medicine was the right career path. Some, like myself, fell in love with the environment, while I know others who thought they wanted to go into medicine, and realized it was not for them.
In addition to helping decide whether or not medicine is the right career path, being a medical scribe is of huge benefit when applying to/getting in professional programs. A person can have the best grades and MCAT in the world, however, most medical schools will not give them a second look if you lack evidence of pursuit of medicine. Scribing is a great application booster for whatever medical field one is pursuing, and is a great way to spend a ‘gap year’. In fact, a large number of my medical school class are medical scribes (I’d estimate about 20%). Not only is the scribing experience itself useful in building an application, but it allows one to make great contacts and mentors with physicians, nurses, PA’s, or whomever. The physicians that you work for really get a chance to know you, and are perfect to write a letter of recommendation (many will spontaneously volunteer to even). Another huge benefit is that a scribing experience gives you experiences to talk about during interviews and on an application/personal statement. Of all my medical school interviews, the topic that always dominated the conversation was my scribing experiences. It was also beneficial in that it developed multiple other skills such as maturity, time management, communication, leadership, humility, and a deeper appreciation and understanding of medical ethics.
Additionally, I have found my experience as a scribe to be overwhelmingly beneficial to transitioning into medical school. This not only applies for those interested in medical school, but also for those interested in physician’s assistant studies, nursing, or other medical fields. I honestly feel that an experience as a scribe puts a person at a huge advantage compared to one’s peers in medical school. As a scribe, you LEARN SO MUCH about medicine. I entered medical school with a solid base in many aspects of clinical medicine, including various diseases, physical exams, obtaining and documenting an accurate history, clinical testing, procedures, medications, rationale of medical decisions, medical terminology, generating differential diagnoses, … – the list is endless. Also, there are so many opportunities to learn on the side while doing the job, be it asking questions, researching the diseases you see, etc. For example, I tried to take advantage of these opportunities and became quite good at reading EKG’s and chest x-rays while scribing. Also, many physicians really enjoy teaching and are receptive to questions.
If medicine is not your calling and are just interested in a job, scribing is still a really cool job in that you see and learn a good number of cool things. While the pay is not great, I strongly feel that the medical experiences gained through scribing are invaluable. I am constantly looking back at my time as a scribe with a great appreciation.