There’s no denying that the long quest to become a physician is difficult. Yet each year, thousands of high school students decide to make the attempt. To simplify the journey, a number of medical schools offer early admission pathways to a select group of high school or young college students as part of so-called BS/MD programs. For many students (and their concerned parents), these programs seem like a relief from the uncertainty of the traditional process.
Like many others, you may be considering applying to these programs in order to “lock up your spot.” But before you write that essay about how much you love medicine, here are a few things we want you to consider.
We went through the BS/MD application cycle ourselves. We have applied to our fair share of these programs, have ultimately gained acceptance into medical school through early admission pathways, and have gained a lot of insight into the selection process for our respective programs. Our experience tells us that BS/MD programs are not a natural fit for the majority of applicants for 3 reasons.
1 | If You Haven’t Had Enough Exposure to Medicine
From our experience, we’d probably bet against most applicants having enough of an exposure to medicine to be absolutely sure that it is the only thing you could see yourself doing.
If you were especially enterprising, you probably tried to prove your readiness by taking difficult science courses (AP, IB, honors, etc.), shadowing all the doctors you know, joining health-related clubs like HOSA, and even binging your way through all 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. You may even feel 100% sure that medicine is your lifelong passion.
But take a step back and think about your middle school self (humor us for a minute). Remember how naïve you were, how dramatically your interests have changed, and how much you have matured since then? In four years’ time, you’ll look back at your high school self and shake your head at how much you’ve changed. Most likely, a combination of the rapid evolution of your adolescent brain, the newfound independence from authority figures, and an explosion of new perspectives and peers will drastically reshape you into a young adult.
In light of all those changes, making a commitment to the decade-long medical education journey requires serious exploration and reflection to increase the likelihood your current interest doesn’t fade away over the next few years of college life. Ask yourself these questions:
How closely do the characteristics of a good physician resemble my own personality traits?
Being a good physician requires an enormous amount of empathy, patience, and perseverance. Find physicians that you really admire and really study their character and personality.
How comfortable are you with the sacrifices that medicine entails?
Are you willing to get up in the middle of the night to drive to the hospital? How will you feel being around death and sickness for the rest of your life? Can you cope with the repeated frustration of encountering patients that you simply don’t have the ability to help? Talk to physicians about this, but talk to everyone in healthcare. Talk to paramedics, nurses, social workers, and chaplains about the unspoken burden of medicine.
How much do I really know about the healthcare industry as a whole?
If you’re like most high school students, you probably are unaware of the incredible range of healthcare careers out there. You may have heard of nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and physical therapists. But there is much more to healthcare. There are healthcare administrators with business degrees working to keep hospitals running. There are IT specialists working to improve patient data and mine the results to radically improve the quality of care. There are public health graduates working hard to prevent disease outbreaks and improve government services. There are policy aides and advocates working to craft legislation and raise awareness to improve the lives of thousands of people without access to good care. And of course, there are hundreds of scientists, researchers, and engineers working hard on the latest innovations in basic sciences, medical treatments, pharmaceuticals, and technology. There are dozens of other healthcare-related careers that we don’t have the time to mention. Our point is simple: you need to really investigate healthcare as a whole.
As healthcare rapidly changes, doctors are becoming a piece in a much larger interconnected web of professions dedicated to providing coordinated preventive care to patients by thinking on a population level. Are you confident enough in your exposure to feel comfortable with your decision 10 years from now? If you’re not ready to make that decision right now, that’s okay! We’d rather you realize that now than two years into a guaranteed admission track. But if you’re still sure, we really hope you hear what we have to say next.
2 | If You Are Scared of Not Getting Into Medical School
Let go of your doubt that you may not get into medical school. If you have a viable shot at getting into a BS/MD program, it is likely because you scored in the top 10% on the ACT/SAT and are in the top 10 % of your high school class. You are a bright student. Forget what your parents, friends, or anyone else is telling you about the difficulty of getting into medical school. Coupled with a good work ethic, you are destined to maintain a good GPA and score in the top 25% on the MCAT that is worthy of medical school admission. Barring extenuating factors or unforeseen crises, your biggest barrier to success will be yourself – your own determination and passion for this profession.
Instead of worrying about whether you can make it to medical school, we want you to worry about the medical school to which you’re committing.
Ask yourself: why does this institution bother offering a BS/MD program when almost all medical schools have acceptance rates under 10%? The answer is that most BS/MD programs are promoted by medical schools ranked outside of the top 30*. It is no secret that many BS/MD programs were crafted by institutions who are looking to lock in anxious applicants who would probably not look their way if encountered in the regular application cycle.
These students typically pass up attendance at elite universities for BS/MD programs. If the students accepted into BS/MD programs were not capable of getting into that medical school on their own, medical schools would simply do away with BS/MD programs. The winner out of a BS/MD program contract is likely the medical school and not the student.
It pains us when we notice friends who were admitted into their dream undergraduate university pass up the opportunity in exchange for medical school “assurance” in a BS/MD program. In our observation, the type of students who get BS/MD acceptances are the type who inevitably become leaders on campus, serve their community, maintain a high collegiate GPA, and… score well on the MCAT. They are driven individuals and these characteristics follow them to college. With these stellar experiences and stats, many BS/MD students find themselves applying out of the same medical school they obtained early admission in, because they realize they can gain acceptance into a highly ranked medical school or one that provides a much higher value (closer to home, cheaper cost of attendance, etc).
In order to test whether or not a BS/MD school program provides real value to students, ask the institution or students in the program what the matriculation rate was for the last BS/MD class? The numbers may shock you. If the matriculation rate is not 100%, ask them why? It is likely that the students chose to attend other medical schools.
It is likely these same students could have easily gained admission into the BS/MD program’s affiliated medical school after attending their dream undergraduate university. Don’t let fear dictate your decision-making. Consider the opportunities that a BS/MD contract may preclude you from pursuing, whether it is your dream college or your dream medical school.
3 | If You’re Not Going There for the Undergraduate Experience
Just as we’ve challenged the notion of choosing a medical school based on reducing your uncertainty, we want to apply the same logic to considering the prospective undergraduate experience. A trap many applicants of BS/MD programs fall into is that they apply to BS/MD programs paired with undergraduate universities that they would not attend if not for the BS/MD program itself.
Talk to almost any college graduate and she/he will tell you that college will comprise the most transformative years of your life. Will the undergraduate experience through a BS/MD program make the most of your collegiate years? You owe it to your future self and your future family, colleagues, and patients to search out the best environment for personal growth. Don’t waste those years anywhere that will leave you wondering what could have been.
We want to make it clear. We still think there can be great value in BS/MD programs. It’s very possible that you are the rare and qualified candidate who’s carefully considered the costs of medicine, investigated its possibilities, and ruled out all other options. Like ourselves, you may have identified BS/MD programs that provide rich undergraduate experiences coupled with admission to medical programs that you’d choose for yourself even if you had to go through a traditional application process. You may determine, as we did, that you’re practically bursting with ideas for what you could do with the time that skipping the intense application process and MCAT preparation might free up. If so, we have a lot of advice and insight to help you succeed in your application process.
But if you’ve read this post and realized you have a lot more work to do before applying to a BS/MD program, don’t feel discouraged. Even if BS/MD programs may not be right for you, medicine very well may be in your future. Just breathe and allow yourself to mature into that decision at the right time.
*Based on US News & World Reports