Let's face it; each year getting into medical school is proving to be more difficult. What are you supposed to do when becoming a physician seems so close, yet so far away? How do you even get into medical school? You already need awesome grades, MCAT scores, and extracurriculars. Now you might be thinking you need another degree altogether!! Before you freak out and start searching online forums (note: spare yourself the pain, don't do it!) let BeMo help you understand graduate school and medical school acceptance. So do you really need a graduate degree to get into medical school? Let's find out.
Why are you thinking of going to graduate school?
First things first, ask yourself why grad school. Do you want to pursue something specific? Are you having doubts about medicine? Are you unsure of a masters of Ph.D. route? Are you afraid you won’t get in? Whatever the reason, answer that question. Grad school isn't something to be taken lightly. It's challenging and it comes with a hefty price tag. The decision to enter grad school takes time and should not be thought of as a backup plan to medicine. It is still an excellent idea if you are passionate about a discipline or you want to further your education. If you are worried your application is weak, examine what those underlying factors first. Maybe you need more clinical experience. Shadowing a physician would be a better step in the right direction. Are you worried about your grades? Graduate school could help show the admissions committee that you can handle the advanced coursework. Keep in mind that each committee will evaluate your graduate GPA differently. Some might average it or they may even replace your undergrad GPA. Again remember, that is specific to each school so bear that in mind.
How does a graduate degree help your chances of medical school acceptance?
Many future and current medical school applicants are faced with the question of whether or not they “need” a graduate degree (Master’s or Ph.D.) to gain successful admission into medical school. The short answer is, no—you don’t need a Master’s degree or a Doctorate Degree to secure admission. Admissions committees evaluate each applicant with GPA, MCAT, letters of recommendation, personal statement, research, volunteer experiences, and extracurricular activities. Each committee will weigh these differently, but the majority rank MCAT and GPA as the most influential factors. Often times, they have filters that will screen applicants. For example, you have a 3.4 GPA and their filter is a 3.5, then your application is already rejected. You have to get by their initial screening. As previously stated, a graduate degree GPA might offset your undergrad grades. Each school calculates this differently and you should research their admissions statistics before applying. Keep in mind that in order for your grades to count, you have to have finished the program. Timing is important to the admissions process.
There are so many parts to your application that it is hard to say that just one is going to influence an entire committee. You can definitely apply and gain acceptance with or without a graduate degree. My best advice would be to do as well as you can on your MCAT and GPA. Write a killer personal statement. Get as much experience shadowing and volunteering as you can. At the end of the day, if you think applying to graduate school is right for you then you should go for it! There are many things to be gained by having that experience. You will stand out from other applicants for having that degree and it will be good material to talk about come interview season.
How do graduate school skills translate into success during medical school?
Graduate degrees develop desirable skills, primarily those centered around critical thinking and research. In my experience, these traits and skills are useful in medical school and the medical profession. Appraising evidence-based bodies of work becomes second nature. Medicine is full of discoveries, breakthroughs, and research. As a doctor, you have to be up-to-date on the newest information and gleaning important information from studies. Graduate students are adept at sifting through dense material to unearth relevant information. From being able to review and critique the evidence to summarizing findings, and applying them to discussions, having a graduate degree can be beneficial.
Graduate students can pursue research projects that can lead to presenting their work at conferences, and hopefully publications. Many programs have a thesis and publication. Students become proficient in writing scientific articles. This is valuable as more medical schools have encouraged students to write student-led medical writing for publications, textbooks, papers, medico-social opinion pieces, articles, and commentaries. Research projects can give you an edge when it comes time to apply for residency. Learning research methodology and self-directed planning will give you an advantage in research-driven medical programs.
What graduate programs are there?
Admissions committees will look favorably upon graduate training that is applicable to medicine. You may want to look into Special Master's Programs (SMP) that are geared toward medical school hopefuls. SMPs provide graduate-level coursework over 1-2 years. They are designed specifically for pre-med students and you graduate with a Master's degree. It is known that pre-meds that take time to pursue an SMP after undergrad are solely doing it to strengthen their medical school application from a GPA standpoint. Each American medical school (similar to Canadian schools) has their own system when assessing GPAs, but in general, if an applicant has applied with a subpar undergrad GPA, their SMP GPA will compensate for it. It is highly competitive to gain admission into an SMP program and is very costly. American medical schools regard them as paralleling the scrupulous framework of medical school, more so than an applicant with a Master's in Public Health, an MBA, etc. Should you be in a position where your undergraduate GPA requires a boost, and your goal is to gain admission into medical school, pursuing an SMP may be a smart choice.
If you are passionate about research, applying to an MD/ Ph.D. program could be beneficial. Many institutions offer a dual MD/ Ph.D. track that allows you to earn both degrees. Most start with the same 2 years of medicine and then you do a year of research. After that year you begin your clinicals. This allows you to finish your degrees quicker than doing them separately. A Ph.D. alone can take anywhere between 5-9 years in addition to the 4 years of medical school and subsequent years of residency training.
What does this all mean?
Graduate school could be just the thing for you. So could an SMP or even an MD/ Ph.D. program. What I’m getting at here is that it is very situation dependent and what you want long term. If you can’t stand the idea of not going right into medicine, then don’t go to grad school. Some of you might be totally hyped by the idea of doing some research or discovering a new field; go ahead and apply. There is no one way to get into medical school. It’s different for everyone. Dr. Szczupak went straight into medical school and loved it. Dr. Wafa finished a Ph.D. and then went to medical school and loved it. Both of us value our experiences and how we decided to go into medicine. I even know some people who get a Master's after their MD. It is a big decision but one that is ultimately leading you to your goals. Still feel like you need help with your application?
About the Author:
Dr Karim Wafa is resident physician in Anesthesia and a senior admissions expert here at BeMO
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