So Your Kid Wants to Be a Doctor?
Advice for high school students thinking about a career in medicine
Over the past decade, our team at College Transitions has helped guide hundreds of aspiring physicians toward undergraduate colleges and universities that will serve as ideal springboards into medical school. If you have an aspiring medical student, how — and in some cases where — your student spends his or her undergraduate years will play a significant role in whether he or she is ultimately able to earn a spot in a school of medicine.
In our experience, there are a handful of questions students must ask. Here are those questions and our answers.
Do I need to attend a prestigious undergraduate school?
No, you do not have to attend an elite institution to be admitted to medical school. The undergraduate school you attend will only help you to the extent that it enables you to achieve a high GPA and successfully prepare you for the Medical College Admission Test. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average MCAT score for admitted applicants at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was in the 99th percentile. Some of those individuals attended Ivy League institutions, while others graduated from state schools. The highly respected Albert Einstein College of Medicine, located in the Bronx section of New York, accepted students from schools such as Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, into their class of 2022.
In certain cases, such as at Duke University, the affiliated medical school does give preference to its undergrads, in part because they have an intimate familiarity with the rigor of the program. Selecting a school with ample research opportunities for undergraduates can also be advantageous.
Should I be a pre-med major?
This may come as a surprise, but the average MCAT score of students who majored in the biological sciences is nearly identical to the scores of students who majored in math, humanities or social sciences. In fact, in 2018, humanities majors possessed slightly higher average MCAT scores than those who studied biology. Translation: You are genuinely free to pursue any academic major you want on the road to medical school.
That being said, most medical schools require two to four semesters of biology, two semesters of both organic and inorganic chemistry, two semesters of physics, and two semesters of math (including calculus). If you can balance the courses required for a non-pre-med major in addition to these demanding courses, go for it. If you start accidentally labeling hydrolytic enzymes in French on your biology final, it may be time to consider a more focused course of study.
Should I consider a B.A./M.D. or B.S./M.D. program?
If you are 100 percent committed to becoming a medical doctor, you might want to consider applying to a joint bachelor of arts/medical degree or bachelor of sciences/medical degree program. George Washington University in Washington, D.C., admitted students who took three years of required courses, including pre-med prerequisites, before beginning their medical studies in year four of the program. As long as a student maintains a 3.5 GPA through the first few years of study, has grades in science courses at or above a C, and is recommended by a special committee, the student’s streamlined, MCAT-free admission to medical school is a go. For more information, go to collegetransitions.com/ba-md-or-bs-md-programs.
Plan for the Financial Burden
A sizable 86 percent of medical students emerge from school with debt to their name. As of 2018, the median debt load is a whopping $190,000, with one quarter of graduates carrying debts in excess of $200,000, according to a Washington Post report published Jan. 21, 2018. The good news is that, unlike with law school, just about everyone who makes it through medical school will end up with a six-figure career.
However, doctors’ salaries vary greatly by specialty area. While primary care physicians bring home an average of $207,000, according to the 2018 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, cardiologists and orthopedic surgeons make more than twice that amount, earning an average of $410,000 and $440,000 respectively.
It’s important to remember that becoming a medical doctor can involve up to 14 years of higher education, meaning that you will be missing out on as many as 10 post-undergrad, income-generating years. While this represents a pretty significant opportunity cost, those students who have a burning desire to join the medical field will find the rewards well worth the sacrifice.
Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.