If you are already thinking about choosing your medical specialty and wondering what the best medical schools for surgery are, we’ve got you covered. Whatever type of surgery you are interested in, attending a medical school that will offer you opportunities to take courses focusing on surgery and learn from top surgeons, will increase your ability to match to some of the most competitive residencies. While you will not be specializing within medical school, certain schools offer more robust pre-surgery training and excellent surgery rotations.
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The Best Medical Schools for Surgery in the US
The Best Medical Schools for Surgery in the World
Now that you have these lists, how should you choose which schools to apply to? Medical school is an investment, both in time and money, even if you attend the cheapest medical school. The admissions process can also be expensive and labor intensive. Therefore, you must consider many aspects of the school before applying.
Tips to keep in mind:
In addition to considering these lists, it is important that you spend time researching the prospective schools to see if you are a good fit. Most schools publish previous years’ stats of matriculating students or you can find them on MSAR. You can see how many people applied versus how many matriculated. This will usually include a breakdown of how many out-of-state and international students were admitted, and can also include gender, non-traditional applicants, and other categories. It will furthermore include the average GPA and MCAT scores of the most recent years’ matriculated students. Many schools will also have a minimum number of research and/or clinical hours that applicants are asked to have. These stats will be helpful to calculate your chances, based on your own scores and where you reside. Finally, you can take a look at the mission statement to see how closely your values and aspirations align.
To reiterate this last paragraph:
When selecting schools you would like to apply to, consider the following from the previous years’ matriculated students:
Now that you have the tools to select the schools of your choice, let’s explore strategies to help increase your chances of acceptance.
Personal Statements and Secondaries
In the United States, Canada, and most other countries around the world, most programs will require you to write a medical school personal statement. In the U.S. you will submit this via:
- AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service),
- TMDSAS (Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service) if you apply in Texas, or
- AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) if you are applying to D.O. schools.
In Canada you will submit the personal statement to the school itself, but if you applying in Ontario you must use:
- OMSAS (Ontario Medical School Application Service) to put in your activities sketch and other documents.
Personal statements vary in word or character count. For example, AMCAS has a character count of 5,300, while if submitting directly to a school, they have their own maximum word count. In this essay your main goal is to answer the question, why do you want to be a doctor? We suggest laying this out chronologically, and explaining three main experiences which not only answer this question, but also showcase your suitability for the profession, and your character traits and skills that match the school’s mission statement and the professional attributes that medical schools look for. For a list of these attributes in the U.S., please see the AAMC Core Competencies. For the Canadian list, please see the CanMEDs roles. It is important that you show the reader the skills you have gained through specific narratives, rather than simply telling you the reader that you have a specific skill.
The following is an example of telling instead of showing, which you want to avoid:
I gained a lot of interpersonal communication skills through my role as a medical scribe. My supervisors commented that I was empathetic and compassionate with patients. I gained problem solving skills and learned how to effectively communicate with patients under stress.
This example of telling can be avoided with a specific experience that showcases the skills you’ve gained:
During my work as a medical scribe in the emergency room, I often interacted with patients who were struggling to cope with difficult situations. In one instance a woman was extremely distraught and appeared to have difficulty breathing. I approached her calmly, introduced myself, and asked if we could talk in a private area. I listened as she explained that her insurance had recently run out and she was apprehensive to receive treatment. As she spoke, she became calmer and her breathing returned to normal. I reassured her and then collaborated with other health care professionals to connect her to services which could help with her insurance issues.
In this example the skills of communication, collaboration, empathy, and problem solving are shown to the reader through the narrative. These skills are therefore more believable because they allow readers to make conclusions themselves.
Medical school secondary essays are school specific essays in the U.S. where you are asked to respond to a specific question. These also have varying word or character counts, and can be as short as 200 words to as long as 750. Secondaries should be answered in a similar way to your personal statement. That is, you should focus on specific experiences which showcase your skills and achievements. Similar to the personal statement, try not to list many attributes or experiences, but rather focus on one or two experiences and explain it in depth.
Check out three stellar medical school personal statement examples:
The activities/autobiographical sketch is a tool that allows you categorize your experiences and explain your roles and responsibilities within each different experience type. This is used for both U.S. and Canadian medical schools, and can be found in the AMCAS, TMDSAS, and OMSAS (in Canada it is only used in Ontario). If you are applying elsewhere and you are not required to fill out an activities sketch, it is worthwhile to create your own table early on in your planning and consider all the types of activities that medical schools will look for or even require. These can include clinical shadowing, volunteering, research, employment, awards and accomplishments, extracurriculars, and more.
If you are early on in your trajectory, please consider your volunteering not as a chore you need to accomplish to get into medical school, but rather an opportunity to give back to the community and learn something. You will be a better volunteer, more likely to stay at the organization longer, and more likely to get a glowing letter of recommendation if you truly enjoy the work. Therefore, please think about the type of volunteering you would actually like to engage in. The same is true for clinical shadowing and research experience. We suggest quality over quantity. This means working at one or two places at a time, rather than five or six. You will be able to spend more time there, can become invested in what you are doing, and may even transition to a leadership role if you stay for a year or longer. This will show dedication and will come off as a true desire rather than simply something you need to put into your application. Hopefully, you can make lasting connections and truly make a difference.
If you are filling out an activities sketch please keep in mind that quality is preferred over quantity. That means that just because you have space for more actives does not necessarily mean that you have to use it. You should focus on significant experiences which showcase skills and traits that medical schools look for. Again, please refer to the AAMC Core Competencies for the U.S. and the CanMEDs roles for Canada. For each different application service, you will have a different character count with which to explain your responsibilities, and the actions you took. In the AMCAS Work and Activities section you will 700 characters, in the TMDSAS Employment and Activities section you will have 300 characters, and in the OMSAS Autobiographical Sketch, you will only have 150 characters. Clearly, there is not very much space to explain everything you have done. Therefore, it is essential to focus on the experiences which will showcase particular professional skills and attributes. Use action verbs and prioritize leadership roles and meaningful experiences.
Other aspects of your application that you can control are your GPA, MCAT score, and reference letters. All of these will be better if you plan them out in advance. For example, try to balance out the difficulty of your courses, and take courses that are interesting to you because you will enjoy them and will do better academically. Take the time to learn what courses you will need to have taken before sitting the MCAT. Figure out your MCAT score baseline by taking a practice test early on, give yourself plenty of time to prepare (depending on your baseline, this could be up to 6 months), and ensure that you have time to focus on the MCAT without too many other distractions. And likewise, for your reference letters, take the time to get to know potential referees. You will want to ensure they can write you a strong letter, and therefore, the better they can speak to your strengths and abilities, the better your letter will be. You will want a diversity of letters that can speak to a variety of skills and characteristics.
Becoming a surgeon is a long but rewarding road. You will be more likely to succeed if you plan out your trajectory with accurate information. If you are only just beginning, take the time now to sit down and make a schedule for your courses, MCAT prep time, and extracurriculars. If you are already part way through your undergrad and are looking for medical schools, it is important to do your homework and gauge your likelihood of acceptance. If you have time to improve grades or do additional extracurriculars, great! If not, you may want to consider getting expert help. And finally, if you are choosing the best medical school for surgery, please research the schools on these lists to make your own informed decisions.
1. How do I choose the best medical school for surgery for me?
Refer to our tables in the beginning of this blogs to see what schools are considered the best medical schools for surgeries. Research their mission, curriculum, rotations, and electives opportunities. Make sure to check the GPA and MCAT cut-offs of the schools you are interested in to make sure you are within those limits.
2. Why are the schools you listed considered best medical schools for surgery?
These schools offer better opportunities for those seeking to become surgeons, including classwork, rotations, electives, and other learning opportunities.
3. Do I need to attend one of the schools you listed above in order to become a surgeon?
No, you can choose to attend a different school. You can become a surgeon after attending any medical school in the United States and Canada. Keep in mind that most surgical residency programs give preference to MD applicants over DO applicants.
4. How can I learn if I want to become a surgeon?
The best way to find out if the surgical specialty is for you is to shadow a surgeon and take several rotations and electives to see if this medical path is for you. You can choose to shadow a surgeon even before you enter medical school. Do test drive this career to see if it’s the right fit.
5. How long does it take to become a surgeon?
This will greatly depend on what kind of surgical sub-specialty you will choose to pursue, but generally a surgical residency will take 5-6 years in addition to medical school. Residency lengths differ for surgical sub-specialties, so make sure to learn what kind of commitment you need to make before you choose a surgical specialty.
6. How much do surgeons get paid?
Surgeons are some of the highest paid doctors in the US and Canada. Once again, the doctor’s income will depend on the sub-specialty, but on average, general surgeons make $360K a year in the US.
7. How can I increase my chances of matching to a surgical residency?
Make sure that your application components, including your residency personal statement and your residency CV indicate that you have substantial experience and genuine interest in surgery. Take electives in surgery and form a close relationship with an attending in a surgical rotation who can vouch for your suitability for surgery via your ERAS letter of recommendation.
8. Do I need to do a residency in general surgery before I can move on to a subspecialty?
Generally, yes. You will need to complete 2 or 3 years of general surgery training before you can move on to subspecialties like plastic surgery or cardiac surgery.
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