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Last Updated on November 13, 2021 :
As someone once said, the process of being a medical doctor is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years of dedication, preparation, consistency, perseverance, patience, and a lot of hard work. In the US, you need to first complete a Bachelors’s degree along with a pre-med (aka Pre-Medical) track before you can enroll in Medical School (after clearing MCAT). In this article, we will look discuss how to prepare for pre-med while in high school.
What is Pre-Med?
Medicine is a very popular career choice, as well as a highly competitive one. In addition to contending with rigorous course requirements as an undergraduate, to become a physician you must attend medical school and complete a residency, which usually takes at least 11 years in total.
- Undergraduate Degree (with Pre-Med Track): 4 years
- Medical School (Graduate Degree): 4 years
- Residency: 3 years
Pre-med is not a major but a track. You can major in anything you wish, as long as your medical school requirements and your major requirements are completed by graduation.
The pre-med track typically lasts four years, as you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to apply to medical school. Although there are options for the accelerated BS/MD track, which allows students to finish their pre-med courses in three years.
How to Build a Pre-med Profile in High School
Co-authored by Parinita Gupta
You don’t have to wait until college to start building a pre-med profile. In fact, demonstrating your passion for medicine and career aspirations now will make you a more appealing candidate for undergraduate admissions.
First Thing First – It’s Never Too Early
High school is not too early to start thinking about pre-med. The reason is that getting accepted into med school is notoriously competitive, and medical schools will be looking for candidates with an obvious commitment to medicine.
You can prepare academically, explore various careers in medicine, attend a medical or bio-science summer program, and build a holistic profile. Not only will these preparations help you decide if a career in medicine is right for you, but they will look great on your high school resume and translate into positive responses from the colleges where you apply.
You want to be well prepared for pre-med by the time you start college and have already begun to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for being a great doctor.
Take Appropriate Classes to Prepare for Pre-Med (and MCAT)
Med schools won’t look at your high school grades when they review your application (although some allow AP credits earned in high school to cover certain entrance requirements), but colleges definitely will, so you shouldn’t slack off in high school.
If you are pursuing a medical career, take the college course and pass up the AP credit. Not only will this college-level course look better on your pre-med admissions application, but it will also prepare you for the MCAT and medical school classes.
Doing well in your high school classes is important. It will not only help you get accepted to your top colleges and their pre-med programs, but it will also help give you the discipline and knowledge necessary to do well in college; when your grades really do matter for med school. If you have a pattern of getting high grades in high school, that will make it much easier to get high grades in college!
Suggested Subjects to Prepare for Pre-Med in High School
- World History
- American Literature
- French/Spanish/Arabic I
- Algebra / Trigonometry
- AP US History
- AP Calculus AB/BC
- World Literature
- French/Spanish/Arabic II
- AP Biology
- AP Chemistry
- AP Language & Composition
- AP Statistics
- French/Spanish/Arabic III
- Multivariable Calculus
- AP Government
- AP French (or another foreign language)
- Ap Literature
Strategies and Tips on Subject Combination to Prepare for Pre-Med while in High School
- Develop a strong academic foundation with AP, IB and advanced courses.
- Taking AP Biology and/or AP Chemistry are two of the best classes you can take since you’ll be taking multiple biology and chemistry classes in college. AP Physics is also useful since pretty much all med schools have a physics requirement as well.
- Try to take 6 – 8 AP classes to be a competitive applicant: Taking 3 AP courses in both your junior and senior year is what most students do. However, if you’re really willing to take on the challenge then go ahead and take 4 in one year.
- Make sure you take all three Science subjects – Biology, Chemistry, and Physics: Medicine requires knowledge of all three science subjects (even though you may think it’s only about biology and chemistry) so it’s necessary that you gain at least some exposure to them all in high school.
- In addition to science, math is the other subject you should be focusing on in high school if you want to be pre-med. Like science, take advanced math classes, and the higher the level (i.e. AP Calculus BC over AB), the better.
- The best classes to take to be prepared are pre-calculus and calculus. If possible, a statistics class will also be useful to take since statistics is used in many areas of medicine.
- In your math classes, pay particular attention to how to analyze graphs and data tables, since these topics will be specifically tested on the MCAT in its Graphical Analysis and Data questions, and you will often be asked to interpret visual data like these in your future classes.
- Be strategic with which AP classes you take together: For example, avoid taking AP Biology, AP US History, and AP Language and Composition together since all require a great deal of reading and theory. It’s better to replace one of those with a more applied field, such as AP Calculus.
Be a Top Performer in Academics
- Being in high school, your academics and educational foundation is something that you can work on the best. Think of the whole thing like a pyramid. Stronger the base, the higher the peak.
- Subjects that you must focus on, uncompromisingly are your science subjects. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics. Special attention is to be paid to Biology and mathematics.
- Apart from that, if possible, try to learn about computers as well. With the speed at which the healthcare field and IT fields are merging together, it’s just better to have these skills and knowledge beforehand. Better safe than sorry.
- This is the time when you can focus on bettering your foundations so make sure to spend this time wisely. They say that having time for your personal life is hard once you enter med school or pre-med, but rather consider this time as well. Make your priorities straight and make sure that your academics are on top.
Gather Real-World Experience
Lab work is important and critical (I would also say, essential) in helping you understand how to set up, run and analyze research or an experiment. This is also going to come in handy during your entrances like MCAT. Apart from this, if you can squeeze in classes related to biochemistry, biotechnology, human physiology, etc., it’s going to help you a lot.
The most impressive type of research is that which students conduct at university labs, but of course, it’s not all that easy to get access to them as a high school student. If you’re unable to find research at a lab, then even conducting independent research at your high school is impressive.
Related Articles on Research Opportunities for High School Students:
How to Find Lab Research Opportunities
- First off, if you know anyone who works at a university lab, then the best thing you can possibly do is showcase your interest to him or her.
- Having connections is probably the only shortcut to getting research at a lab. If you don’t have any personal connections, though, then unfortunately you’re stuck having to go about it the old-fashioned way: emailing professors.
- The first thing to do when deciding which professors to email them to isolate your own interests. Just generically claiming that you’re interested in, say, biology will ultimately get you nowhere. Instead, you must focus on a smaller, subtopic of biology (such as neuroscience) and do some research on professors who study that field.
- Once you’ve found a list of professors interested in the same subject matter as you, it’s time to learn about the specific details of each professor’s projects. What exactly are they studying? Why is it critical to understand that? How do your experiences and interests match up with theirs? These are the questions you should be asking yourself when reading through the professor’s publications and deciding whether or not you want to email them to inquire about a possible position in their lab.
Shadowing a Doctor or Physician
Shadowing allows you to get a clear sense of what it’s like to be a practicing doctor. For this reason, many medical schools across North America have a minimum requirement for shadowing hours. This may vary widely; some schools require 12–24 hours, while others require more than 75 hours.
There are schools (particularly in Canada) that do not require any shadowing hours. Regardless of shadowing requirements, some schools maintain that shadowing experiences can make applicants more competitive in the admissions process.
Typically you’ll have to arrange shadowing opportunities yourself. Shadowing can be arranged in half-or full-day stints (typically from four to eight hours). It can be done on single occasions or arranged over multiple days.
How to Find Shadowing Opportunities?
- To begin your search for shadowing opportunities, you’ll need to identify specialties of interest. Start by reflecting on whether you are interested in a medical or surgical specialty.
- Common medical specialties include family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Surgical specialties are typically more procedural; they also tend to be an operating room (OR)–based. Some common surgical specialties include general surgery, ophthalmology, thoracic surgery, and otolaryngology.
- Once you have narrowed your options to a few specialties, start by contacting your college’s pre-med advisor. That person can help you connect with a network of physicians, among whom are likely to be alumni.
- If you have friends in medical school, you can also ask them to refer you to the physicians they shadowed as pre-meds. Your family doctor may even be able to connect you with colleagues.
- Some hospitals, particularly in Canada, have affiliations with medical schools and offer summer programs for students. By pairing high school or college students with mentors, these programs provide terrific opportunities for shadowing experiences.
- Unless you’re arranging shadowing opportunities through a school program, then you’ll need to reach out to physicians directly.
- Start by sending an email. Use a formal letter-writing style. Introduce yourself, note your stage of training, ask directly to shadow that doctor, and describe what you hope to get out of the experience.
- You can also outline why you are interested in medicine. Attach your résumé to provide more information about your background and accomplishments. Many doctors enjoy teaching and would be excited to share their journey and experiences with you.
- In India, there are such opportunities as well. Additionally, you can ask your personal family doctor if s/he is open to having shadows.
Attend Medical/Bioscience Summer School Programs and Bootcamps
These programs will give you exposure to the world of medicine and also the opportunity to work with medical professionals. High school medical summer programs offer learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. Many include hands-on lab training.
Colleges such as Stanford, Penn, Georgetown, and many others offer summer programs that introduce students to the medical field. Some hospitals, such as Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, also offer summer internships or research opportunities for high school students. Another example is the Pre-Med Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. The institute allows students to study anatomy by handling real human remains and soft tissue specimens. Students also learn how to examine MRIs, X-rays, and CTs.
If you are looking at summer medical programs, consider who is teaching the classes and whether it includes opportunities to be in the lab or even do your own research.
While they often have hefty price tags, they can be a great way to help decide if becoming a doctor is what you really want to do.
Stoodnt, in collaboration with SHRM Biotechnologies, also conducts Bio-Medical and Bioscience Summer Programs and bootcamps. We have been doing these online since 2019; currently, the program is available in online mode only.
Develop Essential Skills
Pre-med and medical programs, apart from looking at your grades, do demand skillsets as well. To come off as a strong applicant you’ll have to make sure that the institute knows about your strengths and skillsets that you can bring to the table.
Healthcare within itself is a quite versatile field. There are various skills expected of people at various levels within the industry. So, make sure you do your research and showcase the skills that they demand at the level of your choice. To make it clearer, here are examples of a few of the best pre-med/med schools and their expectations from their ideal candidate.
What Skills Do Med Schools Look For?
NYU School of Medicine states that “To successfully complete our medical school curriculum students must possess all of the abilities and characteristics listed in the following six categories:
- behavioral and social attributes
- ethics and professionalism
- intellectual-conceptual, integrative, and quantitative abilities
The University of Michigan Medical School: “We seek out individuals who not only have the potential to excel academically but also possess personal attributes and competencies that align with our commitment to training the leaders. The Casper test requirement is designed to assess these non-cognitive and interpersonal characteristics that we believe are important for success in our program and beyond.”
Stanford University School of Medicine states, “Desirable candidates for admissions are academically ready to succeed in our curriculum, have life experiences that will enrich our learning environment, and have personal qualities that will serve them, their colleagues, and their patients well in their professional lives.”
Get Involved in Volunteering
- The best extracurricular to get involved in if you want to prepare for pre-med is volunteering at a hospital. Medical schools are really looking for students who have been committed to the field of medicine for a number of years.
- While volunteering, you might not be personally performing any medical work. But it’ll give you the best idea of what being a doctor is like because you’ll be in a hospital, be working with patients. This will enable you to learn more about medicine by observing doctors and other medical professionals.
- One of the easiest and most common ways to show this interest is by volunteering at a local hospital, private clinic, diagnostic center, or just about any other place where you can get some health-related exposure.
- Some non-hospital settings you could look into include nursing homes, homeless shelters, animal shelters, soup kitchens, and crisis centers. Basically, any place where you interact regularly with people will help prepare you for working with patients.
- There are also clubs you can join that will help prepare you for pre-med, including science-related clubs like Science Olympiad or Science Fair that you can participate in.
- Creating your own health-related project (i.e. writing a column on health issues for your high school newspaper) is also a great option.
Try to Score as High as Possible in SAT/ACT
It would be wise to start preparing early and complete SAT/ACT as soon as possible. That would open up some free time for yourself in the future.
The secret to mastering these standardized tests is just learning the strategies and practicing them over and over and over again. Some students take more time to internalize the techniques while others take less time.
If you’re in the first category, then it’s best to start early so you’ve got more time for practice. If, on the other hand, you’re in the second category, then by all means you should go ahead and take the test in 10th grade itself. That will only open up more time later for you to focus on your grades, activities, and subject SAT tests.
Target the Colleges with a track record of sending their students to medical school
Best Colleges for Pre-Med
- Harvard University
- Duke University
- University of Pennsylvannia
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Rice University
- Stanford University
- Northwestern University
- Brown University
- Amherst College
- Case Western Reserve University
- Georgetown University
- UNC Chapel Hill
- Emory University
- Swarthmore College
- Cornell University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Columbia University
- Yale University
- Vanderbilt University
- Tulane University
- Bowdoin College
- Bates College
- Williams College
- University of Southern California
- Bryn Mawr College
- Dartmouth College
- Hamilton College
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Carleton College
- Middlebury College
- Tufts University
- Pomona College
- Colgate University
- University of Miami
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Princeton University
- California Institute of Technology
- Union College
- University of Notre Dame
- Northeastern University
- Boston College
- Claremont McKenna College
- New York University
- Santa Clara University
- University of Rochester
- University of Michigan
- University of Washington
About Parinita Gupta:
Parinita is a full-time banking professional. Additionally, she is also a passionate blogger and digital marketer.
She mostly writes about the Banking & Finance, Technology, and FinTech sector. But, she also enjoys writing on other topics as well. You can follow her on Twitter.