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Premedical Studies

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Premedical Studies

Myths of Medical School – Separating Facts from Fiction

Many of our brilliant young minds aspire to a career as a medical doctor.  In 2016, there were 6,488 applications to Ontario’s six medical schools; 956 candidates (15%) were successful.  As a professor of Organic Chemistry, and coordinator of Trent University’s Pre-Medical stream, I have seen 100’s of hopeful students, many of whom have the same question, “What are medical schools looking for?”

Pose this question within general society, and you will typically get the same set of answers: straight A’s, a high standing Natural Sciences degree, attendance at an Ivy League School (preferably with its own medical school), a stellar MCAT score and perhaps a dose of nepotism. While historically these responses may have held some truth, the considerations of medical schools have changed, reducing these preconceptions to urban myth.  Canada’s health care system continues to be challenged by social and economic factors, and demographic realities, and the future of medical education is focused on developing a well-rounded physician to meet these competing demands. 

Association of American Medical Colleges President Darrell Kirch sums this up when he talks about the health system of tomorrow requiring a different kind of physician.  He states, “…because being a good physician is about more than scientific knowledge.  It is about understanding people – how they think, interact, and make decisions.  Together with a solid foundation in the natural sciences, an understanding of behavior, perception, culture, poverty and other concepts from psychology and sociology all contribute to the well-rounded physician.”

Clearly, a student acting upon, and planning their path around myths is potentially a brilliant physician destined never to be.

Let’s look closer at a few of these myths:

Myth: Medical schools require a science degree for acceptance.

Entry requirements for medical schools are not the same as they were for previous student generations and is representative in this quote from Western University’s medical school, “Students at Schulich are selected from programs representing a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, social sciences, arts and humanities, and science, to name just a few. No preference is given to any specific programs.” Indeed, while science still remains the dominant degree, medical school entry statistics illustrate the diversity of disciplines held by successful candidates. For example, UBC has admitted people with a Music degree every year since 2013. Medical schools do not factor in the degree’s discipline for admission, you can be an arts student that takes required science electives or a science student that takes arts electives. Given that all degrees are equal, don’t take a degree that you think they want, choose a subject you are passionate about, and you will do best. I have heard too many students comment that they are embarking on a degree which is not their first choice but which they think the medical schools desire.

Myth: All medical schools require maximum GPAs.

In order to be a competitive applicant, you should do well in school.  But consider this. Over the past four years, UBCs GPA entry statistics were almost identical. Approximately 25% of those admitted had an A+ average, while 74% lay between a B and an A average.  6% of rejected applicants had an A+ average. While top grades are a definite benefit, they are not a guarantee nor are they necessarily mandatory. It is a myth that a 4.0 GPA is required for acceptance.

Myth: Medical schools require stellar scores on the MCAT.

Yes, 12 of 18 medical schools require the MCAT. The new MCAT, introduced in 2015, is reflective of the broad academic base required. It now examines students equally in psychology, the social sciences, and critical thinking as well as the sciences. Generally, the MCAT is like the GPA, where minimum scores are required to allow the application to progress. A higher grade does not equate to a higher chance of acceptance after this. 

Consider that the commonality of applicants is the ability to perform in science, have a good GPA and a strong MCAT score.  These qualifications are just part of the equation for getting into medical school.  It is other criteria that distinguish the successful 15%.

So, where do you start? Choose the school that provides the best fit for you, the degree you are passionate about, and an environment and community that will allow you to flourish.  Within your scholarly studies, start early to make yourself known to your instructors, volunteer for research opportunities, show breadth, diversity and uniqueness within your degree and study hard.  Find volunteer and vocational opportunities that demonstrate your skills, and prove you have what it takes to be a great doctor.