There are two types of medical schools in United States: Doctor of Medicine, MD-Schools; and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, DO-Schools. Both M.D.s and D.O.s are fully licensed to diagnose, treat, prescribe medications, and perform surgery in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although both types of physicians are trained in diagnosing, treating illnesses and disorders, their approach to the illness and treatment is different. M.D.s practice allopathic medicine to diagnose and treat human diseases whereas D.O.s take a more holistic approach -seeing the patient as a "whole person" to reach a diagnosis and treatment. Today, more than 20 percent of all U.S. medical students are studying at osteopathic medicinal schools. It is important that all pre-med students educate themselves about both programs.
Students typically attend medical school after completing a baccalaureate degree; most medical schools require a baccalaureate degree as part of their admissions requirements. M.D./D.O. programs are four years, and students follow medical school with three or more years in residency (specialized clinical training).
College coursework plays a major role in preparation and readiness for medical school. No medical schools require a specific major of its applicants. You should choose a major based on your interests rather than one that you think looks good to medical schools. Choose a major that you are passionate about, whether it is a major in Liberal Arts, Business or Science. Medical schools accept students who show broad interests in their academic coursework through a non-science major. But the prerequisites for medical school should be completed regardless of the major. Often times the advantage of having a science major is that it cover the pre-med prerequisites. If you are fascinated by science and are good at it, choose science major, but don’t pick science because you think it is giving you an advantage to get to medical school.
Admission to medical school is very competitive and depends on three important factors: (1) grade point average-GPA, (2) MCAT score, and (3) clinical experience. Your academic preparation controls the first two factors but your volunteer/job experience in the medical field satisfies the third factor. All three areas are very important.
Competition for admission to medical school is keen, and admissions committees are able to choose from among many talented students. The mean cumulative GPA for the entering 2014 class at allopathic medical school was 3.76 where as in osteopathic medical school it was 3.51 and the science mean was 3.39. Students whose academic records fall well below the averages are unlikely to be accepted to medical school.
Most medical schools require the following courses:
- One year of Biology with lab
- One year of General Chemistry with lab
- One year of Organic Chemistry with lab
- One year of Physics with lab
- One year of English
It is always recommended that you check with medical schools to which you are applying because requirements vary for each school.
Entrance Examination Requirement (MCAT)
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, computer-based exam and is required for admission to both allopathic (M.D.) and osteopathic (D.O.) program. MCAT scores help admissions officers identify and select students that are likely to succeed in medical school. Complete and up-to-date information about the new MCAT exam (2015) is available online at Association of American Medical College's web page and it is crucial that students read that section before taking MCAT exam.
The MCAT exam has four sections. Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems; chemical and physical foundations of biological systems; psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior; and critical analysis and reasoning skills. Each individual section will have a score ranging from 118 to 132 with a midpoint of 125. Total score is created by combining section scores and it ranges from 472- 528. The midpoint is 500. Many schools still accept earlier MCAT scores if it is taken within the past three years. The MCAT exam is 7 hours and 30 minutes which includes the time for completing demographics, etc. (actual test time will be 6 hours, 15 minutes). Most students take the MCAT exam during the spring of the junior year or during the summer between the junior and senior year.
Important non-academic factors include good moral character, excellent interpersonal skills, a deep commitment to health care, evidence of leadership potential and service to others. Successful applicants will likely have volunteered or worked in a health care setting with patient contact, job shadowed a physician, participated in organizations that serve others, taken advantage of leadership opportunities and learned how to conduct research and work independently.
Get Involved and gain experience as much as you can while at school. On campus you can be a tutor, mentor, and/or take a leadership position for the student organization. Volunteering experience in the community will be looked upon favorably by professional school admissions committees. If some of your volunteering is in a healthcare setting, you can combine volunteering with exposure to the field. It is important to track your volunteer hours, as most professional school applications will ask for details of the time you spent volunteering. Keep a record of your volunteer supervisor(s), including name(s) and title(s).
The Application Process
Most allopathic medical schools accept applications through a centralized, online American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) (www.aamc.org/students). Applications for osteopathic medical schools are accepted through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) (www.aacom.org). Applications should be submitted in the year proceeding the year for which a student is seeking admission. Since many medical schools have rolling admissions, it is in a student's best interest to apply early (after June 1).
The Early Decision Program (EDP) is available at participating medical schools, for both M.D. and D.O. programs. Applicants interested in applying through EDP to medical schools should consult the website and medical school admissions office for availability and more specific information. EDP is typically more selective than regular admission, with applicants needing very strong academic and non-academic profiles to be competitive.
Diversity in Medicine
Many medical schools seek to recruit a diverse class of students, including students from groups underrepresented in medicine. The AAMC is particularly encouraging African-American, Latino/a, and Native American students, as these populations make up 25 percent of the population, but only 12 percent of medical school graduates. Students may find information and support at www.aspiringdocs.org. Students may also contact their pre-medical advisors and individual medical schools for more information.
Letters of Evaluation/Recommendation
Applicants typically obtain letters from science faculty members, faculty members from the applicant's major department, pre-medical advisors, research supervisors, volunteer coordinators, etc. Many schools require three letters: two academic and one of the student's choice. At least one of the academic letters should be from a science faculty member and one should be from the student's major department. Some medical schools require two letters from science faculty. Students applying to osteopathic medical schools could submit upto six letters but one letter has to be from a D.O.
You can also get a committee letter from the Pre-Health Professional Committee, which will compile two or more of your letters into one letter. This allows you to have more letters speaking on your behalf, because you can submit your committee letter plus two letters from other evaluators. Not all schools will accept committee letters, so make sure that you read the specific guidelines for each school you are applying.
Medical schools usually require personal, on-campus interviews. To be invited for interview is a significant achievement to the candidate. This usually involves a one-day tour and an interview by at least two people: the first by someone from the admissions and the second usually by a practicing physician. Often, a third interview is done by a medical student at the school. Mini Multiple Interviews (MMI) are given to candidates instead of a one on one personal interview at certain schools. Interviews vary by school; applicants should check with the schools to which they have applied for the interview timeline and specific information.
Criminal Background Checks
The AMCAS application asks applicants whether they have a record of felonies or misdemeanors, and this information is then communicated to the medical schools. Students should make careful decisions throughout their undergraduate years, since charges for drug and/or alcohol use or possession, as well as other charges can have negative consequences for admission. Many medical schools conduct a Criminal Background Check on all admitted students. Students found to have been dishonest on their applications are not admitted.
Only citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible for admission to the most Colleges of Medicine, with the exception of candidates with asylum status. Very few U.S. medical schools admit non-citizens. Since the odds can be challenging, non-citizen students should thoroughly research and carefully consider such a decision and discuss it with their pre-medical advisors early in their undergraduate years.
- Allopathic Medicine: www.aamc.org
- Osteopathic Medicine: www.aacom.org
- UI College of Medicine: www.medicine.uiowa.edu
- Explore Health Careers: explorehealthcareers.org