You’re a high school student and have determined that you want to become a doctor. There are two paths in front of you. You can go to college, take the MCAT, and hopefully get into medical school, or pursue the BS/MD route, shortening your training and streamlining the process. Should you pursue the BS/MD route or take the traditional path? I’ll help you decide.
Benefits of BS/MD Programs
It’s common knowledge that the path to becoming a doctor is one with countless hoops to jump through. To streamline the journey, a number of medical schools now offer early admission pathways through combined bachelor and medicine degree programs — that’s either a BS or BA combined with an MD or DO through a single acceptance. For many students and their concerned parents, these programs are a relief from the uncertainty of the traditional drawn-out process.
1 | Accelerated Timeline
The most recognized benefit of a BS/MD program is the fact that many of these programs accelerate the process of becoming a physician. Traditionally, earning one’s bachelor’s degree takes 4 years, and medical school takes another 4, for a total of 8 years. A large number of BS/MD programs stick to the 8-year timeline, but many truncate it to 7, and a couple even to 6, usually shortening the time dedicated to college. However, some of these programs require that you take summer courses in order to cram an undergraduate education into 3 or fewer years, which many find worthwhile considering the tuition savings and fewer years spent in school.
2 | No Medical School Application Process
The second benefit is that there’s no medical school application process, which is a point many celebrate. Transitioning from undergraduate university to medical school is a painless process, so long as you meet a minimum GPA requirement, which is lower than what you’d be aiming for if you were applying to medical school the traditional way.
Not only does this mean that you can entirely avoid the time-intensive and stressful process of applying to medical school, but you’ll also save thousands of dollars, as the application process is not cheap. Note, however, that if you are in financial need, you may qualify for the AAMC FAP, or fee assistance program, to cover some of these out of pocket expenses.
3 | No MCAT (or Lower Requirement)
Third, the dreaded MCAT. Many BS/MD programs either do not require you to take the MCAT at all to continue on to medical school, or they have a score cutoff that’s lower than their general matriculant. Again, you’re saving big on time, money, and stress that comes with preparing for such an important test. Most students take between 3 and 6 months to study for the MCAT, spend hundreds to thousands of dollars, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t find the process highly taxing.
4 | Lower Stress During Undergrad
And last, BS/MD programs lift a weight off your shoulders. While your premed colleagues pursuing the traditional route are stressed about achieving straight A’s or strategizing their extracurriculars and research time, you’ll have a streamlined and lower stress experience. Sure, you’ll still have to take the standard medical school prerequisite courses, such as biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and the like, but you won’t have to take several additional classes to fulfill a specific major’s requirements. And again, you don’t have to apply to medical school with a near-perfect GPA, as long as you meet your program’s cutoff, which is often around 3.5.
Drawbacks of BS/MD Programs
While the benefits are easy to appreciate, they’re more short term focused. When you take a step back, you’ll begin to notice some of the more substantial drawbacks of BS/MD programs that make them a less optimal choice for many aspiring future physicians.
1 | Committing Without Enough Exposure to Medicine
Perhaps the most significant and noteworthy drawback to BS/MD programs is the fact that it requires students to commit to a lifelong career before having adequate exposure and maturity to realistically make a well-reasoned decision. Think about it — at 16, 17, or 18, with limited exposure to various career paths, they’re fully committing to one that’s incredibly arduous, challenging, and difficult to escape once you’re in it.
I’ll remind you that medicine is certainly not for everyone, as doctors have some of the highest rates of burnout and depression. This is in part due to the massive mismatch between public perception and the reality of being a physician. This drawback cannot be overstated, and making such a decision as a teenager should be done with caution.
2 | Lower Tier Programs
It’s no secret that many BS/MD programs are at institutions looking to lock in apprehensive applicants who would probably not look their way if encountered in the regular application cycle. The students typically accepted into BS/MD programs are ambitious, and generally have options to attend other highly ranked traditional universities. If these students weren’t capable of getting into that medical school on their own, the medical school would have little incentive to maintain the BS/MD program. The winner in the BS/MD contract is more so the school than the student.
Many of these students find themselves applying out of the same medical school for which they obtained early admission to because they realize they can gain acceptance into a highly ranked medical school or one that provides higher value to them, whether that be in location, cost, or other factors we’ve discussed in our article on choosing the best medical school for you.
And while the politically correct thing to say is that all medical schools are equal and provide the same education, we here at Med School Insiders care more about the facts than your feelings. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages tied to school ranking and prestige.
3 | Atypical Undergrad Experience & Compromised Skillset
If you go the BS/MD route, you’ll be missing out on a more typical college experience. And as most college graduates will tell you, college can be the catalyst to some of the most transformative years of your life. You owe it to yourself to search out the best environment for personal growth and development. Is the university associated with the BS/MD program the best for you or some other university in the traditional pathway? Where are you more likely to connect with people that will help you grow, learn, and serve as valuable allies in the future?
It’s crucial to understand that not all stress is bad. Healthy amounts of stress are conducive to growth. By going down the BS/MD path, you’ll be less likely to develop the key study strategies and productivity tactics required to operate at the highest level, simply due to the fact that you’ll have it easier. You won’t have the same pressure to perform at the highest level in your classes or to crush your MCAT. That means when you start medical school, your study strategies won’t be as strong as they would have been going down the traditional path.
Reflecting on my own time in college, it was the necessity of doing the best I could that pushed me to grow, explore my limits, and achieve more than I thought possible. I overshot my MCAT score goal and reached the elusive 99.9th percentile, which not only helped me hone my focus and test-taking skills but also instilled genuine confidence in myself that I could exceed even my own expectations. This was a priceless, intangible lesson that gave me the momentum to keep pushing myself further in medical school. And believe it or not, studying for the MCAT also taught me that learning and studying intensely could actually be enjoyable, which obviously had a multitude of beneficial compounding effects down the line.
Are BS/MD Programs Right for You?
BS/MD programs are a fast track path for high performing students who are absolutely certain they want to attend medical school and become a doctor. While the benefits are often highlighted, one should not overlook their drawbacks. There’s no right or wrong here, as this is a highly personal decision.