When it comes to deciding on colleges, it’s important to know about the resources that each prospective school has to offer. In particular, many universities offer specialized programs that can give students a significant boost to their careers or graduate / professional school trajectories. In this blog series, we will putting a spotlight on a number of these special programs at some of the top universities.
This month, we will be focusing on medicine, one of the most popular aspirations for really bright high school students. Special undergraduate programs have a uniquely big impact on one’s medical studies because of the sheer number of steps required to become a doctor in the US. After four years of undergrad, you’ll have four years of medical school, followed by 3 years as an intern (often also called a residency). If you want to specialize in something like pediatrics or oncology, then you’ll need to do a fellowship, which vary in length depending on the specialization, but are usually more than two years. To move from each stage to the next, you will be re-evaluated based on your prior performance, so it’s important to start things off on the right foot with a really strong undergraduate foundation.
A small number of universities will offer specialized programs, which vary in length and in some of their details, but are all some sort of combined BA/MD package where students are automatically enrolled in undergraduate and medical school at the same time. These programs tend to have lower admittance rates than general admissions, but tend to have higher admittance rates than the medical school.
The first three to four years of undergraduate study are mainly geared towards preparing students to succeed in the latter four years of medical school. Students can earn undergraduate degrees in whatever area of concentration they want and can even pursue an undergraduate degree in humanities before going to medical school. Students usually still have to take all of the pre-requisite pre-med courses along with the MCAT, but they are more or less guaranteed a spot in the university’s medical school. The second four years of medical school usually offer students the ability to pursue other programs in parallel with their medical studies such as an MPH (Masters of Public Health) or an MD/PhD joint degree.
In addition to creating a smoother transition to medical school, these combined programs also offer support to their students through special seminars, advisors, and opportunities that students outside of the program would not have access to. Not many universities have such programs,, but here are list of the top pre-med programs in the US.
- Brown University: Program in Liberal Medical Education
- Boston University: Seven Year Liberal Arts / Medical Education Program
- Washington University in St. Louis: University Scholars Program in Medicine
- Northwestern University: Honors Program in Medical Education
These specialized programs also have their drawbacks. The most important consideration high school students will need to make before they apply to any of these specialized BA/MD programs is whether or not they really want to go into medicine. Of course, students will be able to change majors and drop out of the program if they decide midway through their undergraduate studies that medical school isn’t right for them, but there is a high cost when it comes to preparing for admittance into these specialized pre-med programs. Not to mention the fact that they are harder to get into than general admissions, so chances are good that the student could have attended a better college if they weren’t trying to gain admittance to one of these pre-med programs.
The best way to make this difficult decision is to actually experience and understand what the field of medicine is really like. In general, medicine is divided into two main categories: the clinic and the lab. Clinic focuses more on the face-to-face interaction with patients and providing direct care. The lab is more concerned about research and tests and is more indirect in the care provided. For any students interested in medicine, we recommend trying out one of these summer programs to get a feel for it and to help you decide if a BA/MD program is right for you!
- Medical Immersion Summer Academy, Mentoring in Medicine & Science (Oakland, CA)
- Summer Medical Academy, UC San Diego & Rady Children’s Hospital (San Diego, CA)
- Penn Medicine Summer Program, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
- Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program, Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
- Summer Research Scholars Program, University of Minnesota Medical School, Lillehei Heart Institute (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN)
- Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences CURE, Harvard Cancer Center (Boston, MA)