Although 3-year medical schools have grown in popularity for a variety of reasons, they are not the easiest medical schools to get into. On the contrary, 3-year medical schools have extraordinarily competitive medical school acceptance rates and often require students to keep their GPA above a certain threshold to stay on the 3-year track. If you're admitted, however, 3-year medical schools can help you get an MD faster while freeing you from the enormous financial burden of a typical 4-year program. Speed and cost-effectiveness are only a few of the reasons 3-year medical schools are an attractive but challenging option.
This article will list the 3-year programs available at medical schools in Canada and medical schools in the US, and explain more about their differences compared to 4-year medical schools.
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According to the Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs (CAMPP), an organization made up of all the 3-year medical schools in Canada and the US, there are around 20 medical schools in both countries that currently offer “3-year or other accelerated curricula that lead to the MD degree.” CAMPP was founded in 2015 and consisted of 8 schools in the beginning. Through its mission to make medical education more efficient and less expensive, it has grown to its current membership by advocating for the benefits of accelerated 3-year medical schools and helping medical schools develop their own fast-track curricula.
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A Shortlist of 3-Year Medical Schools
1. NYU Grossman School of Medicine Accelerated 3-Year MD Pathway
The NYU Grossman School of Medicine has been one of the founding schools of CAMPP since it created a 3-year program for qualified students to jumpstart their medical careers. The program was intended for students who do not need extra time to choose their specialty and already know what kind of residency training they want to pursue after graduation.
The 3-Year MD Pathway at NYU is available to four categories of student:
- Undergrads who apply to the traditional 4-year MD program
- PhD graduates from other universities who want to pursue specialized training
- Current NYU MD students can opt-in to the program in their first year
- Current combined degree NYU MD/PhD students can also opt-in to the program after they complete their PhD
The medical school requirements for the 3-Year MD Pathway are available to anyone who contacts the program directly via phone or email. But the 4-year MD program does not require prospective students to have the typical medical school prerequisites and might be what you're looking for if you're thinking about how to get into medical school without a science background.
While it does not have prerequisites, the school does require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in the US or Canada. NYU Grossman School of Medicine is also known as one of the medical schools with the best financial aid, as it offers all successful matriculants scholarships. The school covers 100% of the cost of medical school for qualifying students so that they can focus on their studies and not have to worry about how to pay for medical school.
Given these generous aid packages and its reputation for promoting inclusivity and diversity via its admissions requirements, the school is a good option for non-traditional medical school applicants. The school does not have an explicit medical school GPA requirement, but the median GPA average for a recent class of matriculated MD students in the 4-year program was 3.96, while the range of GPA scores for all accepted students was 3.64–4.0.
2. Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University
McMaster University has one of the only 3-year medical school programs in Canada, in addition to its combined MD/PhD program specializing in medical research and science. The medical school also offers a wide range of medicine-related programs, like a specialization in midwifery and one of the only physician assistant programs in Canada. McMaster has a specific application stream for Black and Indigenous students.
There are four standard admission requirements for the MD program, including:
- A minimum of three years in an undergraduate program from Canada or the US
- A cumulative GPA between 3.0 and 4.0 after being calculated by the OMSAS
- A score on the MCAT CARS that must be a minimum of 123
- A CASPer score
The school also asks for three medical school letters of recommendation: two from people you know personally and one from an academic or professional reference. One of the unique features of the DeGroote School of Medicine is its problem-based learning model that emphasizes hands-on, inquisitive learning over the traditional classroom and lecture-based model. Students interact with patients in their first year, which instills in them a sense of responsibility and motivation.
3. Penn State College of Medicine Accelerated Pathway
The Penn State College of Medicine offers a 3-year accelerated pathway in 10 different specialties, from family medicine and pathology to psychiatry and urology. There are accelerated pathways available for other specialties, like neurology and orthopedics, but those programs have a 3-year MD program followed by more years in residency.
The College also offers a standard, 4-year medical school program and has combined degrees like a MD/PhD. The various programs are spread out over two campuses, the University and Hershey campuses, with the accelerated programs based on the Hershey campus and the 4-year program based on the University campus.
Applicants to any of the Hershey Accelerated medical programs can apply before they matriculate or after, depending on their preferred program. Once they have been accepted into the medical school, applicants have to apply again to their specific program and adhere to the admissions criteria of each.
The general admission requirements for the MD program at Penn State include the typical MCAT, CASPer, and GPA prerequisites. As the school does not have any academic prerequisites, students from various educational backgrounds (arts, humanities, or sciences) can apply, provided they possess a bachelor’s degree from a certified American or Canadian university.
4. Medical College of Wisconsin – Green Bay
The Medical Colleges of Wisconsin at Green Bay and Central Wisconsin both offer an advanced 3-year medical school track to qualifying students, while the Milwaukee campus offers a standard 4-year medical school program. The Discovery Curriculum features a 134-week program that ensures a spot in a student’s preferred residency program upon completion of the MD.
The Discovery Curriculum entrance requirements are no different from those of the other programs, including the 4-year MD offered at the Milwaukee campus. MCW requires that all applicants have a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent of 90 accumulated credits from a variety of sources, including AP courses, community college courses, and CLEP credits. Students must also take the MCAT and CASPer tests, and preference is given to in-state applicants or those who commit to doing their residency and eventually practicing in Wisconsin.
MCW Green Bay and Central Wisconsin also require that applicants complete prerequisite coursework in subjects like physics, biology, math, English, and the social sciences, all of which must be taken at an American or Canadian university. Medical school secondary essays, a medical school personal statement, and letters of recommendation are central components of the application.
5. Mercer University School of Medicine
The Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia, has several academic programs to offer medical students, but it also has an accelerated, 3-year program specifically aimed at students specializing in either family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics. The school has other conventional, 4-year MD programs for traditional students but also offers specialized tracks for those interested in combined degree programs like a Master of Biomedical Sciences, a Master of Family Therapy, and a PhD in Rural Health Sciences.
However, applicants to the Primary Care Accelerated Track (ACT) must be US citizens or permanent residents and have lived in Georgia for at least one year before applying. No out-of-state residents can apply to the ACT program or any of the other programs available at Mercer. Entrance requirements for ACT include having already matriculated to the 4-year MD program and committing to performing your residency and eventually practicing in a medically underserved area in rural Georgia.
Getting into MUSM also requires an MCAT and CASPer test (average MCAT of entering students is 504), two sets of interviews, three letters of recommendation (one from a medical professional, one from a previous academic instructor, and one from a reference of your choice), and a CGPA of 3.5–3.6.
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Should I Go to a 3-Year Medical School?
Whether you go to a 3-year medical school depends on whether you meet the requirements laid out by the schools listed here or any of the other 20 different 3-year medical schools in the US and Canada, all of which are different. But applying to a 3-year medical program requires more than just getting in. You may shave off a year from your medical school career, but there is a trade-off.
Taking only three years to complete an MD means sacrificing a lot of your life, since large amounts of information and studying are compressed into a shorter amount of time. Nothing in a typical 4-year program is left out of a 3-year program. As Dr. John R. Raymond Jr., President and CEO of the Medical School of Wisconsin, said, “The students sacrifice a lot of vacation time; their experience is compressed but not diluted in any way, shape, or form”.
Another bonus of 3-year medical schools is that a majority of them, like the Grossman School of Medicine, Mercer University, and the Medical School of Wisconsin, are connected to in-house residency programs: Grossman has over 20 different specialties for accelerated students to choose from when they complete the MD. This pathway also takes the pressure off students who do not have to look for residency prep courses, or hire residency match services while completing their degree.
The question of whether you should attend a 3-year medical school also rests on how certain you are of becoming a doctor and if you have already answered affirmatively to the question, “is medical school right for you?”. Many 3-year programs were created to address this particular niche of students who have made up their mind not only to become a doctor, but to specialize in something like cardiology, radiology, or family medicine and do not need more time to decide.
Why 3-Year Schools?
The existence of 3-year medical schools is relatively new, since the CAAMP was founded in 2015, when 8 schools created their accelerated programs, including the Grossman School of Medicine. But the two 3-year medical schools in Canada have always had these accelerated programs. The CAAMP website states several reasons for the organization’s creation, but every individual school has its accelerated program for specific reasons.
1. Remedying Doctor Shortages
Mercer University explicitly states that it created the ACT program to remedy doctor shortages in the state, especially in rural, underserved areas of Georgia. The Medical School of Wisconsin also makes clear its intention to swell the ranks of primary care physicians by training and graduating more doctors, faster. The programs in larger cities like the NYU program and McMaster University have other intentions, like allowing exceptional students faster tracks to becoming a specialized doctor.
2. Giving Exceptional, Motivated Students Another Path
Joan Cangiarella, the director of the Grossman School of Medicine’s accelerated pathway, gave more student-centric reasons for creating the school’s accelerated program, saying, “They (applicants) have to be pretty good at convincing residency programs that they already have the knowledge, they understand the specialty, and they have the reasons behind why they want to go into that specialty.”
Before the introduction of accelerated programs, these students would languish and waste their fourth year taking non-medicine or science-related electives to complete their degree requirements. Medical school directors justified this extra year by saying that students needed it to choose a specialty, but students and directors of 3-year medical schools disagree and believe that conventional thinking on how long it takes to become a doctor should change.
3. Saving on Medical School Costs
Yet another reason for a 3-year program to be attractive to mature and non-traditional students, in particular, is the reduced financial cost. Before applying to any program, many students first ask themselves, “how much does medical school cost?” and “is medical school worth it?”, since it is an enormous financial undertaking for anyone.
For example, one year at a medical school like the McMaster DeGroote School of Medicine costs CAD$23,126.64. But instead of paying for four years, you pay for only three, giving you a savings of the amount mentioned. This relief is something that appeals to mature students who have other responsibilities and often wonder, “am I too old for medical school?”
4. A Helping Hand for Mature and Non-Traditional Applicants
Accelerated medical schools are also a good way for non-traditional medical school applicants, such as mature applicants, to fast-track their medical careers. As a fairly new demographic of medical school applicants, non-traditional applicants face an uphill battle to have their unique needs accommodated by the medical school establishment. They often have limited options, such as having to consider residency programs that accept old graduates.
While many medical schools in the US and Canada have started to change their entrance requirements to accommodate non-traditional applicants, only a few have gone the extra mile to make concessions in their admission requirements, such as lower-than-average GPA requirements and 3-year accelerated programs.
Three-year medical schools fulfill several important and emergent needs in medicine, like addressing doctor shortages, decreasing medical school debt, and letting exceptional students finish their studies faster. However, the small number of 3-year programs in both the US and Canada shows that medical schools have been hesitant to change. This hesitancy remains, despite the evidence showing that 3-year students score as well on clerkship knowledge assessments and perform as well in their residency years as 4-year students.
Three-year medical schools also provide an accessible pathway for mature and non-traditional students to complete their studies faster, as they have either already completed other degrees or undergone professional development training, eliminating the need for a fourth year. The admission requirements for these schools vary, but are exacting. You should check and double-check the requirements and review all the advantages and disadvantages of taking a 3-year path to becoming a doctor before you apply.
1. How many schools have 3-year medical degrees?
According to CAAMP, there are over 30 schools with some form of accelerated curriculum, in both the US and Canada. CAAMP separates these schools into sub-categories, for example, based on whether the 3-year program is the standard acceptance stream or tied to a specialized degree like family or internal medicine, such as the ACT program at Mercer University.
2. Is it easy to get into a 3-year medical school?
No, it is not easy to get into a 3-year medical school, but it depends on the school to which you are applying. Some schools make matriculated students apply separately to accelerated programs in their first or second year, so it is like applying to medical school twice. Other schools let all undergraduates apply for the accelerated program with the same requirements (MCAT, GPA, supporting letters, and secondary essays).
3. Are admission requirements different for 3-year medical schools?
Admission requirements for accelerated programs are so specific that they are not made publicly available, and anyone interested in them must contact the department directly for a detailed list. Some 3-year programs do have different admission requirements than 4-year programs, while others do not. For example, some 3-year schools require that applicants meet the requirements for the 4-year program first, before applying to the fast-track MD program.
4. Why does medical school take four years instead of three?
The 4-year duration of medical school was established as the norm by the American Medical Association and the Council of Medical Education in the early 1900s. Four years was believed to be the right amount of time to properly train new doctors, but that belief has a complicated history. Many voices have argued for the expansion of 3-year programs for the reasons listed here (addressing physician shortages, increasing diversity), but have been drowned out by those who still adhere to the 4-year doctrine.
5. Why do 3-year medical schools exist?
Three-year medical schools exist because some medical schools have decided that the fourth year is unnecessary for students who are certain of the specialty they want to pursue. But other 3-year medical schools arose from a need to remedy doctor shortages or to provide a pathway for non-traditional applicants to finish a medical degree faster.
6. Can I get into a 3-year medical school?
Yes, you can get into a 3-year medical school, but only if you have the required determination and academic standing and know which field of medicine you want to specialize in. Some 3-year medical schools have other admission requirements that range from residency and language requirements to the standard MCAT and CASPer test scores.
7. Are 3-year medical schools cheaper than 4-year medical schools?
Three-year medical schools charge the same amount of medical school tuition for each year, but 3-year matriculants save on the last year. Three-year programs do offer savings for students who are worried about how much medical school costs.
8. Should I go to a 3-year medical school?
Going to a 3-year medical school only takes off 20 weeks from a standard 4-year program, but saving this time means sacrificing other activities like summer and winter vacations, a social life, or a part-time job. If you are willing to put in the time and effort required to complete a 3-year program, you should apply.
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