Frequently Asked Questions About the Pre-Med Path
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Do you want to be a doctor? The path to becoming a physician involves many years of study, both as an undergraduate pre-med and as a medical school student. The whole process can be quite confusing!
You can check out our complete guide to getting into medical school here, but you might find that there are still a few things you want to know. In this article, we’ll go over some common questions students have about pre-med and medical school.
Pre-Med Requirements and Majors
Should you take all classes required for medical school at a four-year university?
A lot of medical schools will ask that you take required pre-med classes at a four-year university, but some schools don’t require it and would accept community college credits. It is, however, preferable to have taken those required classes at a four-year university. Be sure to check the requirements of the medical schools you’ll be applying to.
What major should you select as a pre-med?
You should choose a major that you like.
Some students think that the natural sciences, like biology, are the expected majors of pre-med students; some students think these science majors will be more competitive. You should major in a subject that you’re interested in, and pursue the extracurricular activities that back up your interests.
When it comes time to apply to medical school, you want to present a coherent story of yourself. Pursue the subjects you’re interested in and do the extracurricular work you’re passionate about. This will make you a competitive medical school applicant.
Can you study abroad?
Some people can and do study abroad. You can also do research abroad, if you’re interested in that route. It can be an asset on your application, and as a physician, because you’ll be exposed to new cultures and you’ll learn how to communicate with different people. This background will help you as a doctor.
As a pre-med student, you do have to do your required courses at your own university, but you should have time to take other courses abroad. You just have to figure out how to plan your schedule, and how to make time to study for the MCAT. If you think strategically, this can all be sorted out.
How does studying abroad work?
As an undergrad, your university may send students to affiliated universities abroad, or it can offer certain study abroad programs. You will generally have to pay for these programs, but as you won’t be taking your required pre-med courses, you’ll be able to explore new things and new subjects.
Some universities with medical schools may have certain programs with medical schools in other nations, but these programs may be reserved for medical students only. You should be able to do research through your school’s study abroad office or website to find out more information on any affiliated universities.
Is research abroad done during the summer?
Research programs as an undergraduate typically take place in the summer. These programs take students abroad and allow them to do research, write, and present their findings to the program. They can involve things like medical technology, and can allow students to travel to places like Brazil.
These types of programs take place in the summer because they occupy many weeks, and students won’t have the time during the school year. You can, however, do some interesting local research during school semesters.
Questions About Medical School
Are medical school grades pass/fail, or a letter grade?
At most schools, grades for the first two years are usually pass/fail. As long as you get above a 70%, you will pass. The pass/fail system will allow you not to worry too much about the numerical grade; instead, you can focus on learning for the purpose of learning.
For your third and fourth years, grading systems differ, depending on the school. Some offer numerical or letter grades, and some operate on a pass high/pass/pass-low system. Your grades during rotations will depend on your performance during rotations, as well as the shelf exams you take after your rotations.
Can students switch to research, rather than finishing med school and becoming a doctor? How do you know if that’s the right choice?
Some people do switch to research after realizing they would likely prefer working in a lab to working with patients. Especially in undergrad, students will be able to explore their interests and talk to professors in the sciences. As you have to do some kind of research on the pre-med track, you’ll be able to gain experience in that path and may find that it is what you want to focus on. Career decisions may unfold naturally as you feel your interests drifting in one direction or another.
It is possible to do both, too: students can pursue MD/PhDs, and become physician scientists. This is an 8-year route that involves four years of medical school, and four years of work towards a PhD.
On average, how many years do you spend studying to be a doctor?
To become a doctor, you will need to complete four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, three to seven years of residency, and maybe some fellowship. On average, this means eight years of study, and probably at least four more years of training. If you’re interested in a surgical speciality, this can take five or six years.
Altogether, this means you’ll spend at least eleven or twelve years, and possibly more, becoming a doctor. This may seem like a lengthy process, but you’re going to be taking care of patients. Only a couple of years of study won’t be able to prepare you for this.
A lot of time, effort, and training goes into becoming a doctor. When you think about the importance of what you want to do, it makes sense that so many years are required.
Are students paid during residency, or do they pay for the program?
You will be paid for your work during residency. You will earn a salary, and you will get benefits from the place where you’ve been assigned.
You only have to pay for medical school. After this, you’ll be paid for the work you do. You’ll even begin to get paid during your fellowship. There is, however, a significant difference between your salary as a resident, and your salary when you work as an attending physician.