How I applied to BS/MD programs: thinking of the application as a checklist - Part 3
Hello again! My name is Yesh and I am back with part 3 of the BS/MD advice series. As always, I recommend that you check out our previous posts on this topic in this community page as well.
BS/MD program applications are, to be honest, a little formulaic in nature. You would be quite interested to find that most competitive applicants to these programs have very similar application components with some slight variance here and there. Put simply, a competitive program application consists of a few things including, but not limited to: research experience, volunteering, clinical experience, and science academic excellence.
The research experience for most applicants can be something as simple as a brief summer internship for a month or two at a local cancer center doing cell culturing to as complex as a year long fellowship with a top-tier institution with publications to your name. It would also be appropriate to note that research is something that you don’t necessarily need on your application but can show that you are pursuing academic medicine and science outside of the classroom. In the COVID era, many students are finding ways to conduct research online including virtual database mining with statistical analysis. There are definitely ways to get around potential research barriers to entry and the best way to start is to reach out to your local network of family and friends to see if you can land in a pharmaceutical company, lab position or university hospital system.
Volunteering can come in two flavors and shows your passion for helping others in a selfless way. The first variety of volunteering is community volunteering. This may include working with the American Red Cross, serving locals at a food pantry, riding as a hometown EMT, and often involves a commitment of more than a year with many hours per week to be significant. The second variety of volunteering is hospital volunteering. This can be undertaken at some local hospitals that have student volunteer programs that allow high schoolers to restock hospital supplies, work as a receptionist, or even check in on patients and see what food and drinks they may need.
Clinical experience is more about shadowing opportunities with physicians. Because of COVID, a lot of these opportunities have disappeared but soon enough they should return. We have seen in the admissions process that the requirements for this have dropped recently, but may return with time. Currently, a lot of social media sites have offered virtual shadowing opportunities and meet and greets with physicians to learn more about their day to day lives and this may be something that you want to look at in the meanwhile. Clinical experiences are key exposures that will teach you what you value in medicine and help shape your application with a personal and meaningful message about why you want to be a physician. For these opportunities, cold emailing and reaching out to your network can help, but just note that physicians are busy a lot for the time and may not all be in working environments that are safe for young teens to observe.
And finally, academic excellence means that you have a high science GPA, are taking rigorous science courses and are involved in extracurricular activities that show your passion in medicine and science. This could include being part of a science olympiad team, placing in national science competitions, and even running a non-profit organization or business centered on science that you like. This is definitely a more unique aspect of your application where you can really shine from the rest of the applicants who will likely have similar experiences in their application to yours. This is a space where I would advise you to stand out when possible. Maybe this section can be the unique twist to your formulaic BS/MD application that will help you land your dream program!
Look forward to part 4, coming soon! Make sure to also check out Part 1 and Part 2 using the links below:
Thanks for this, I was wondering if you think doing a BS/MD program takes away from the 'college experience' that many look forward to.
This is a great point @McKellarr! I would say that it really depends on the program. At my Boston University program, I had mandatory intense science classes but the GPA requirement to stay in the program was a 3.2, so I felt as if I didn't have to push myself to my limits and miss out on a normal undergrad experience. Adding to my point, pre-med students try to aim for GPAs in the range of 3.8-4.0 while taking the same type of intense classes. AND they still have to stress about applying to medical school, so they pursue research, clubs, volunteering, etc. outside of class time!
So in summary, I'll say that in undergrad it may just depend on the program you go to and what their GPA and MCAT requirements are. In general, it seems to be easier than the typical pre-med experience because of the security that a guaranteed acceptance to medical school provides.
I know you mentioned some of the requirements for clinical opportunities have dropped recently due to covid but I can't help feel like anyone who had the chance to do something like that pre-covid will be at a significant advantage. Even if someone can get a shadow opportunity it's not the same learning experience as being there.
Is this something you think we can overcome? Or colleges will consider in our application? If we can't get some of the opportunities you mentioned is it just easier to try and go pre-med instead?
Thanks for asking your question! The lack of clinical experiences to include in the application is definitely a huge challenge for both the applicant and the application reader. For the applicant, it may be hard to truly understand what medicine is without seeing a physician work in person! For me personally, after shadowing a few physicians, I knew that being a doctor was an important goal to reach in my life and I was willing to dedicate years to becoming one. In terms of the application reader, an applicant's clinical experiences are really valued in the essays and interviews, when the applicant shares a story about an experience and how it impacted them and influenced their career path. The only times I really spoke about my clinical experiences was during my interviews when answering questions related to why I wanted to become a doctor.
Even if you don't have clinical experiences, you may have other inspirations for entering medicine. You should leverage these instead in your essays and interviews to tell a story about why you want to become a doctor. I think you may be at a slight disadvantage from those who have clinical experience in that you may not have seen what the physician workload and lifestyle entails, but there are ways to share why you love medicine beyond this. Hopefully this was helpful!
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