Academic Preparation for Medical School
"What do you mean, I'm not a pre-med major?"
Even though you may call yourself a pre-med student, remember that pre-medicine is a program to enhance medical school admission, not an actual major. Pre-medicine cannot be declared at Alma, nor does it have any official status.
Medical school personnel say you should major in what you love, even if it is outside of the sciences. You will build a stronger life for yourself, especially if you change your focus along the way.
Students in the sciences will have significant overlap with pre-med requirements, but a major in the sciences is not necessary to apply to medical school. And, since the vast majority of applicants are in the sciences, anyone who excels both inside and outside of the sciences would really stand out.
There are certain general requirements that all students must have to apply to medical school. As always, check with specific schools for additional classes via their web sites, or the MSR book in the Dow Science Office. As a general rule, you should plan the following in your curriculum:
- Chemistry 115 and 223
- Chemistry 224 and 230
- Biochemistry 321 is recommended by most schools (required by U. of M. Medical School)
- Mathematics (a prerequisite for physics) 8 credits from 112, 113, 116, 117, 121 or 122.
- You should complete as much math as possible for the widest range of opportunities.
- Go beyond MTH 112. Starting MTH 121 may be better than MTH 113.
- Math 116 (Statistics) is always useful.
- Physics 112 and 113 (pre-calculus based sequence) or 121 and 122 (calculus based)
- Biology 121 and at least two other biology courses (MSU-CHM has a special list)
While more biology is not specifically required, you will have a much better time during medical training if you complete classes such as:
- Human anatomy (EHS 344)
- Human diseases
- Developmental biology
- (These classes are spread across the BIO and EHS departments.)
- English 101 and/or 200 and another lit. course (covered by Alma DRs) (8 credits)
- Psychology 121 and/or Sociology 101 are recommended by many schools
Additional classes suggested by the pre-med advisors at Alma:
- Medical ethics
- Classes from the Gerontology or Public Health minors
Ask your advisor for suggestions. Keep your eyes open for novel spring term classes and service learning as well. Keep alert to the classes a few terms ahead of where you are. Watch out for every other year classes, and upcoming faculty sabbaticals.
Grades and the MCAT:
Realistically, you will want to maintain a GPA as close to a 3.5 or better as you can. If you qualify for summer preparation/experience programs, you should absolutely make use of them!
Your classes are not just a matter of getting good grades (which are required). You must also retain information and skills, to build your knowledge net for the future. There is too much information to keep trying to relearn it!
Academic preparation culminates in the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You must have a strong score in this rigorous exam to gain entrance into medical school. Please see the web pages for more information. Sign up times are 6 months in advance of the test date.
Volunteer and Shadowing Experience: (see additional site)
Volunteer activity is absolutely required for the serious candidate. It may take a variety of forms, but should be a long-standing and continuous effort of some kind. A few weeks will convince no one that you are ready to devote your life to medicine!
If you don’t like doing this better than anything else in your world, please find a related career that better suits you. Faculty members at Alma can share their career decisions related to medicine.
A volunteer log sheet is located on the resources page. Experiences should be documented for your records; long-term activities and jobs do not need daily log sheets.
Shadowing is when you follow a doctor or other health care professional. Although you might be able to observe and ask questions, you do not have a direct role in patient care. This is useful, but not sufficient for medical school admission.
Volunteering is usually defined as experiences where you have significant hands-on experience with patient care. It can also involve non-patient care situations where you are interacting with others, such as:
- Big Brothers/Big sisters
- Hospice care
- Working in women’s and homeless shelters
- Soup kitchen work
- Some kinds of service learning
- On-site Hurricane Katrina projects
- Adopt a grandparent programs at retirement homes
What connects these experiences is that you interact directly with people, and you can develop skills to greet, meet and put people at their ease.
Some hospitals have organized "experience" programs:
Primary Care Career Exploration Program
Grand Rapids Area Medical Education Center
240 Cherry, S.E.
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503-9990
"Exploring Medicine" Rotation
Saginaw Cooperative Hospitals, Inc.
100 Houghton Avenue
Saginaw, Michigan 48602
It may be possible to do a practicum in the health care field: up to four credits (S/F) under HSS 385. The form for creating a practicum is available at the Registrar's Office. Practica are arranged by students but must include equivalent work to a regular 4-credit class (expect 12-16 hours/week). Significant volunteer work, shadowing, journaling and an academic component (such as a research paper on a subject of interest) will be required. Please contact Cristy Calhoun in the Integrated Health Studies Institute if you are interested in this activity.
Research It is possible to add research to your preparation for medical training. The ability to coherently state a problem, organize information, design and perform experiments and present findings is very helpful for interpreting the medical research papers you will be studying as a lifelong learner.
If you are interested in this activity, you should talk to members of the Alma faculty to learn about their research projects. It doesn't matter what project you are involved in; it is the experience that matters.
A research project of some kind is often required for honors within the department of your major. See your department chair as soon as possible if you are interested in departmental honors.
Activities: (more info elsewhere in site)
What have you done to demonstrate that you are the type of person who will become a competent physician? On the AMCAS application, you will have a chance to explain a few activities at length, and merely list the others. Make sure that you have activities worthy of such attention. Choose depth over breath whenever possible.
Other Professional Experience
CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) The CNA is a certificate in direct patient care. The training is offered by some community colleges and some Intermediate School Districts (ISDs), but it is expensive. The best option may be to get a CNA at a retirement home where they will train you as pat of the job.
Then you work a summer in the health care field. They hold the certificate until the end of the summer to insure that you don't bail out after getting the expensive training. With a CNA you be employed at a hospital/nursing home, or in home care during the summer months. If you are interested in this start asking around as early as Jan/Feb, well before the summer starts.
EMT degree EMT training may also be possible if it suits your interests. Be aware that trying to take these classes during a regular term may result in poor performance in both endeavors.
RATING THE "GOOD PHYSICIAN APPLICANT"*
Categories Used to Rate Good Physicians:
I. Desired attributes in a physician's value system:
- other-person directed
- altruistic about the desire to serve
- values life and the extension of it
- has courage to persist in spite of difficult odds
- has a flexible personal and work style which takes into account the needs of others as well as self
II. Abilities in interpersonal relationships should include:
- makes friends easily; high desire for positive interactions
- values contributions of others; finds meaningful ways to involve them
- senses the feelings of others and responds appropriately
III. Knowledge based skills and attitudes should include:
- likes to solve problems; demonstrates good facility at this
- has a drive to be independent and receive credit for jobs well done
- disciplined and orderly in his/her work habits
- is responsible, has integrity and sufficient discipline to get job done on time and well
- is able to set priorities in order to achieve goals
*Adapted from: University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine