When you are considering medical schools in Tennessee, you have four options:

  1. East Tennessee State University – James H. Quillen College of Medicine (JHQ)
  2. Meharry Medical College
  3. University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine (UTHSC)
  4. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

You can therefore easily fill half of your medical school applications with schools from Tennessee, if you are so inclined.

But what will you need to net yourself one of the competitive positions at a medical school in the Volunteer State? Each school has its trends and quirks, and we have put together a good overview to give you a sense of what to do in a general sense, as well as some specifics. Read on for our best tips on how to get into medical schools in Tennessee.

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Article Contents
10 min read

Overview of Tennessean Medical Schools Data Analysis What Kind of Student Are Tennessean Medical Schools Looking For? But what does any of this mean for you? What Kind of Doctor Can You Become? Conclusion FAQs

Overview of Tennessean Medical Schools

Data Analysis

Admission Rates

Note that all admission rates were based on a recent year. All percentages given are based on how many students applied.

You can see that UTHSC has the greatest chance for entry if you are a Tennessean, due to the larger class size. However, the out-of-state acceptance rate is almost the same as that of JHQ, despite the smaller class size. This means that if you are looking for higher acceptance rates as an in-state applicant, you might want to be choosy about which medical schools you apply to. On the other hand, if you are out-of-state, it might not matter so much, and if you are interested in going to school in Tennessee, apply to all schools whose criteria you fulfill.

Want to know how to avoid medical application red flags? Watch this video:

Test Scores

All MCAT and GPA scores are the medians of the incoming class in a recent year. These are the scores of the students who were admitted, not just a cutoff threshold. Cutoffs are not as useful because they don’t reflect the level of who is actually getting in to these medical schools.

MCAT and GPA don’t tell the whole story of a student’s abilities as a physician. Nor is a school with high thresholds necessarily better. Nevertheless, some schools place more importance on standardized test results. We can see that Vanderbilt has a very high threshold, indeed, particularly when it comes to the MCAT.

How to get into medical school with a low GPA requires thought, planning, and strategy, but sometimes the numbers create too much of a barrier. If you have a low GPA and you are set on a Tennessee medical school, consider Meharry or JHQ. Only if you have very high numbers should you go with Vanderbilt, and if Vanderbilt is a dream school for you, know that you will need to study harder to achieve higher scores.

Whatever you decide, make your choice based on how much you resonate with the school’s mission statement, its available programs, or its high match rate with the type of doctor you want to become. Don’t just choose a school because the matriculating student body had a higher GPA.

What Kind of Student Are Tennessean Medical Schools Looking For?

Tennessean Applicants

It’s clear from the admissions rates alone that your greatest chances of landing a place in one of Tennessee’s medical schools is improved by being a local. It’s also worth noting that not all Tennessee medical schools accept international applicants.

JHQ will take out-of-state applicants, but no one else. If you aren’t from the United States, you cannot attend.

Meharry will accept Canadian applicants and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students in addition to out-of-state applicants. They will not – excepting Canadians – allow entry for international students, however.

UTHSC’s medical program is only open to US citizens who are permanent residents.

Vanderbilt accepts all categories of applicants. You could be international, out-of-state, or DACA and still be accepted at Vanderbilt. In fact, Vanderbilt specifically mentions that the application process is the same for a DACA student as for any other hopeful member of their student body.

Out-of-State Applicants

While the admissions rates are far lower for out-of-state students, consider this:

Vanderbilt and Meharry both have class profiles which feature a greater number of matriculants from out-of-state than in-state. So, while the percentage is lower, that is only because of the large numbers of applicants, not the spaces available. If you are interested in medical school in Tennessee, but you are not from Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Meharry seem to offer more potential spaces than the other schools. What’s more, tuition for in-state and out-of-state candidates is the same at these schools.

Of all the schools, Vanderbilt is the best bet for an out-of-state student. With 77 of their 95 places going to out-of-state students in a recent year, and as the only school to accept international students, they are the likely choice for non-Tennessean students.

If you are out-of-state, but you received your bachelor’s degree from a college or university in Tennessee, JHQ will look on your application with the same favor as in-state applicants, particularly if you indicate that you are interested in learning rural medicine. JHQ also considers certain “border counties” as Tennessean for admission and tuition purposes: these include, in Virginia, the counties of Grayson, Lee, Scott, and Washington, and in North Carolina, the counties of Ashe, Avery, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga, and Yancey.

Military Students

Are you an active member of the military or an honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces? You have a good shot at medical school in the Volunteer State. JHQ, for instance, offers actively serving or honorably discharged veterans preferential admission. Vanderbilt has scholarships available for military personnel or veterans.

Preferred Academics

Most medical schools have prerequisite courses that you will need to take to be admitted. Usually, these courses are a smattering of biology-oriented sciences and mathematics. Sometimes there is an English course for good measure.

Two of the four medical schools in Tennessee require certain courses, while the other two simply recommend them:

But What Does Any of This Mean For You?

Is a recommendation really just a recommendation? Yes. You shouldn’t feel like these schools are only saying “recommendation” to pretend to be congenial. However, depending on your career goals, you should aim to take courses that will support your eventual studies in medical school. Your first consideration should be for what kind of doctor you want to become. Take courses that complement your aspirations. If you want to be a psychiatrist, take psychiatry. If you want to work in small communities, take subjects like social sciences to prepare you for your future career path.

Make sure that you can demonstrate your scientific credibility. Perhaps you make up for a lack of biological sciences in coursework by logging numerous hours in a medical laboratory – either as a volunteer or an employee. Your transcript might not have a biology course on it, but your application demonstrates proficiency at a standard level for a beginner medical student.

That’s really what is being asked of you here: to simply demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to begin learning your trade as a physician. Medical schools don’t want to bring in a student who is incapable of understanding the fundamentals of medical science. If you can demonstrate that, Vanderbilt or JHQ won’t worry that you don’t have a specific biological science course.

As to JHQ, the fact that they have selected recommended courses across a wide expanse of fields means that you should emphasize your versatility. JHQ is clearly looking for an applicant who understands the value of holistic care, and who can bring fresh ideas and experiences to health care.

A caution: if you elect to leave off science and mathematics courses from your studies, and you demonstrate those skills elsewhere in your application, be sure that you do, in fact, understand these subjects at a university level. It might be tempting to avoid studying harder courses, but the fact of the matter is that these medical schools are asking for certain prerequisites because they believe you need them. You do need them. Make sure you understand the fundamental building blocks of medical science, or if you are admitted, you will find yourself struggling and floundering as you are confronted with your health care coursework.

Now, while there are certain courses you need, most medical schools – if not all – know that great doctors could have studied anything. A theater arts major is a student of humanity, a mathematician understands statistics and data, and a person trained in social work is great at helping people.

So, outside of meeting the academic requirements for certain courses and labs – as detailed above – you don’t need to worry about picking the “right” major; there is no “right” major. Pick a major that inspires your creativity and passion. Something you enjoy is more likely to be fun for you and result in a higher CGPA, anyway, which will make for a better transcript.

What you should do is find a way to tie your major in with your decision to become a doctor. Use some of the space available to you in your medical school personal statement, or in your secondary essays, to showcase why you picked the major you did and how it has prepared you in the best way to become the best physician. Not only will hearing your story and passion humanize you in the eyes of the admissions committee, but you will also show your best understanding of all aspects of health care.

Wondering how to make your medical application stand out? Check this out:

Preferred Premed Experiences and Extracurriculars

In addition to academic subjects, these medical schools have preferred extracurricular activities that they like to see from their prospective students.

UTHSC matriculants had high percentages in physician shadowing and lab work, an experience that close to 90% of successful applicants had.

Meharry had a fairly even split in desired extracurricular activities between physician shadowing, volunteer and professional experience in medical clinics, and volunteer and professional experience in a lab. If you are applying to Meharry, you should probably make sure to have a well-rounded group of extracurriculars.

JHQ’s highest common experience among incoming students was shadowing a physician, which was around 90%, with volunteer experience and lab experience at an even split. Noticeable, however, was JHQ’s markedly higher rate of veterans admitted. Military service was highly represented and found in a far greater percentage than any of the other three Tennessean medical schools.

Vanderbilt had high levels of experiences in clinical volunteer work and physician shadowing, but they had the highest of all four schools in lab experience: 99% of their incoming class had lab work in their past. It is safe to assume that lab experience is essential at Vanderbilt; if you are applying to Vanderbilt, take extra labs and put in extra lab hours, if at all possible.

What Kind of Doctor Can You Become?


James H. Quillen

JHQ uses the TRAILS curriculum, which stands for Team-based Rural Applied Integrated Learning System. TRAILS gives early clinical experiences, early patient contact, and interprofessional training and simulation. Teamwork and connectivity are emphasized, and flexibility is used to allow students research opportunities, advanced clinical studies, and pursuit of dual-degree programs. JHQ also has a Rural Primary Care Track (RPCT) to prepare students for rural medicine.


Modules in the first year at Meharry include basic, clinical, and social sciences, comprised of:

Also included are:

The second year focuses on organ systems. Clinical years have “blocks”: family medicine, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, an ambulatory rotation served in an urban or rural underserved area, an internal medicine sub internship, capstone, and radiology, as well as guided electives.


Spanning all four years, the Principles of Clinical Medicine (PCM) has students work with SPs (standardized patients) in simulations designed to perfect clinical skills. Starting in year one, students are introduced to body/systems function, gross anatomy, body dissection, embryology, and histology. Year one into year two features common mechanisms of disease and begins courses utilizing an organ/systems-based approach to integrate physiology, pathophysiology, pathology, neuroscience, pharmacology, and infectious disease. Year two also features six weeks of USMLE Step 1 preparation. Year three has students complete seven core clerkships. Year four is composed of electives and required junior internships. Primary care is emphasized, and students are exposed to this aspect of medicine throughout all four years.


Vanderbilt has what they call “Curriculum 2.0.” It focuses on innovation and improvement and integrates patient care into learning. For the first year plus one month, basic sciences are taught to students. This is followed by 10 months of core clerkships. Finally, years three and four go deeper into scientific knowledge, clinical skills, and leadership and scholarship. They also prepare students for residency and provide a three- to six-month research phase. Spanish language is an option through clinical opportunities, but English is the primary language of instruction. Primary care is emphasized at Vanderbilt through adult and pediatric experiences in both academic and community settings. The Shade Tree Family Clinic is a student-run, free clinic for underserved populations in Nashville; Vanderbilt students usually volunteer at the Shade Tree Family Clinic.

Match Rates

JHQ has a 90% first-choice match rate, while Meharry has an 89% first-choice match rate. First-choice match data for Vanderbilt and UTHSC were unavailable at this time.

First-choice Match Rates

Rural Medicine

Tennessee has a lot of rugged country, including a section of the Appalachians. Therefore, its medical schools are equipped to train rural doctors, and if you are looking to practice medicine in a rural, underserved area, you will receive a good education for just that at a Tennessee medical school.


With four schools available, one private, including a mixture of features like in-state or out-of-state applicant interest, Tennessee has a little something for everybody in terms of medical schools.

Now, whether you have your heart set on Tennessee and you will apply to all four schools, or you are only planning to apply to one or two, you have the best comprehensive overview of medical schools in Tennessee. You also have some of the best tips and expert advice on how to approach your application to any given medical school in the Volunteer State.


1. Can I get a deferred entry in a Tennessean medical school?

Yes, all will allow a deferral, although Meharry does so on a case-by-case basis, so you might need to apply or plead your case with that particular institution, if you are seeking a deferral.

2. How many medical schools should I be applying to?

We recommend you apply to anywhere from eight to ten medical schools; half can come from Tennessee, if you are very keen to study medicine in the Volunteer State.

3. If I get a low MCAT score, can I retake the MCAT?

Any given student can take the MCAT up to three times in one year, four times in two years, and seven times total over the course of their life. Now, if you’re wondering, “Should I retake the MCAT?” that is a whole other involved process. The rule of thumb is that less is more; don’t retake unless you have to in order to hit a specific threshold, and if you have a chance of hitting that threshold.

4. Should I get my bachelor’s degree in the sciences?

Only if you want to. You need to fulfill any specific course and lab requirements for your school of choice, and that is all. Other than those courses, you are free to choose whatever major you wish. Most schools encourage students from all backgrounds to apply.

5. Should I take a gap year between my bachelor’s degree and medical school?

A gap year before medical school can be a great thing or a bad idea. Schools will want to hear about what you did, so you will need to spend some of your application talking about your decision and how your gap year went. That means that you can’t just take time off to do nothing. Use your time well or it will become a blot on your application.

6. Are there fees associated with applying to medical school?

Yes, although they are usually small. It does cost money to sit the MCATs, for instance, which are required by all Tennessee medical schools.

7. Is there any way to avoid taking the MCAT?

Not if you want to apply to a medical school in Tennessee. There are medical schools that don’t require the MCAT, but not in the Volunteer State.

8. Which medical school is right for me?

Only you can truly answer that question. Give careful thought and consideration to what you want to do for the rest of your life – what kind of doctor you want to be. Once you know that, find the schools or institutions that will best equip you for that specialty, or for the kind of practice you want to have.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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