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The Truth About What it Takes to Become a Doctor by BeMo Academic Consulting

Dr. Behrouz Moemeni, president and CEO of BeMo Academic Consulting, explains how to tick all the necessary boxes to take you from student to practicing physician.

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Becoming a doctor is no easy feat — the process alone is challenging to navigate, and some students don't understand what's fully involved until they're smack-dab in the middle of it. At BeMo Academic Consulting (“BeMo”), we know how daunting the process can be. That’s why we’ve shared our knowledge to help over 20,000 students around the world get into the competitive programs. And while some may diminish the complexity of Med School admissions, the truth is, medical school is a long, costly and intricate journey with many obstacles to overcome in order to be successful on the other end. There are no “easy medical schools.” For this reason, it's important to take the time to really reflect on whether you're ready and willing to invest the time, effort, and money necessary for a career in medicine. If becoming a doctor is truly intrinsically motivating, the following will serve as your guide to tick all the necessary boxes to take you from student to practicing physician.

Prerequisites

One of the very first items on your checklist to becoming a doctor is obtaining a Bachelor's degree and completing your medical school prerequisites. These courses will provide you with a solid knowledge base, laying the much-needed foundation for your medical school coursework. These prerequisites are also essential when it comes to the MCAT. You'll need to have a solid knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and statistics to do well on the MCAT. It's also important to complete English and a few social sciences or humanities courses which can help you greatly with the challenging MCAT CARS section of the test. While there are some medical schools that don't require the completion of specific courses, most medical schools do. Keep in mind that the schools without coursework requirements still usually recommend certain courses and want applicants to possess knowledge in various subjects. As much as possible, you should take all the recommended or suggested courses. Not only does this show that you've reviewed a school's admission criteria carefully, but it also shows that you've taken their suggestions to heart to best prepare you for their program's coursework. In general, the following courses are required, if not recommended, at most medical schools:

  • Two semesters of biology, with lab
  • Two semesters of chemistry (inorganic and organic), with lab
  • Two semesters of physics, with lab
  • At least one semester of math (calculus, statistics or algebra are generally acceptable)
  • Two semesters of English

MCAT & GPA

While there are some medical schools that don't require the MCAT, in most cases, it's a test you won't be able to avoid. The truth is, while studies have demonstrated that both may cause bias and that neither can truly predict whether you will make an excellent doctor or not, your GPA and MCAT score are important factors in your medical school application. While you have a chance for admissions committees to get to know you in your application materials, your GPA and MCAT score will speak for itself. Firstly, most medical schools set minimum MCAT and GPA requirements. These requirements are in place to help them weed out applicants by requiring them to meet a certain threshold to be considered for admission. While minimum GPA requirements tend to vary from one medical school to the next, it's common for medical schools to set a 3.0 minimum. Each medical school establishes its own set of criteria for evaluating GPA. Some medical schools may utilize cumulative GPA, others weighted GPA, and some may even choose to evaluate only a candidate's best two years of undergraduate coursework. Minimum acceptable MCAT scores also vary between medical schools and some set individual section scores as well as overall score minimums. Oftentimes, minimum cumulative scores are set between 496-500. Students that meet minimum GPA and MCAT requirements are eligible to apply to medical schools, but minimum scores will not be enough to gain acceptance into these competitive programs. Last year, the average GPA of medical school matriculants was 3.73 and the average MCAT score was 511. This is a good framework to work with, but it's most important to check medical school acceptance rates at the schools to which you're applying. If your GPA and MCAT score falls below a school's statistics, it may be best to try applying to schools where your statistics are more competitive. Although the method of evaluating GPA and MCAT scores varies between medical schools, the importance of both in admission does not. According to the AAMC's MCAT and GPA grid, as both GPA and MCAT score increases, so does the chance of acceptance. For example, those with GPAs between 3.40-3.59 with an MCAT score between 506-509 have a 37.2% acceptance rate. The acceptance rate skyrockets if we look just one category higher, so those with GPAs between a 3.60-3.79 who scored between a 510-513 on the MCAT. These applicants have a 64.6% acceptance rate, nearly 30% higher than those who scored in the category below them. This is why it’s critical that you focus on your GPA and adhere to a solid MCAT study schedule in advance and make sure you take an MCAT diagnostic test before you start studying.

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Personal statement and list of past experiences

Research has also demonstrated the ineffectiveness of personal statements and list of past experiences in the admissions process, much like MCAT and GPA. However, and sadly, the medical school personal statement remains as one of the most important aspects of your application for showcasing your experiences, passions, skillset, and suitability for a career in medicine. While the AMCAS work and activities section will show admissions committees a concoction of your activities and experiences, your personal statement will answer the single most important question: Why do you want to be a doctor? If your statement does not address this question in an engaging, interesting and memorable way, it's unlikely that you'll proceed further in the admissions process. Every year, students with average to below-average statistics are accepted into medical school. The reason why? Because every other aspect of their application stood out, including their personal statement. The truth is, more students face medical school rejection each year compared with those who are accepted. Every application season, admission committee members review hundreds, if not thousands of medical school personal statements. After you read twenty of them, they all start blending in and becoming indistinguishable from one another. The only way to ensure your statement doesn't blend in is to make it stand out. The best way to do this is to review medical school personal statement examples from accepted students and get expert feedback for your own application documents. This way, you'll learn exactly what your statement should include, how to make it unique, and how to fit your entire life journey to medicine into a tiny amount of space. All medical schools require applicants to submit a personal statement, ranging from 5000-5300 characters depending on whether you're writing a TMDSAS, AACOMAS, or AMCAS personal statement.

Secondary applications

Secondary applications are used to gather more information from applicants in addition to what's already been included in their primary application. The secondary application contains on average, 4 prompts or questions, which students must address in essay form. Normally there are strict character or word counts that students must adhere to, and medical schools expect to receive secondary essays back within a two-week to one-month turnaround. While some medical schools will send secondary applications to all students who applied, other schools will only send secondaries to select students that have made it through the primary application screening process. There are many different examples of secondary essay prompts, but the most common prompts students can expect to address are as follows:

  1. Why our school or program
  2. Cultural competency
  3. Overcoming challenges
  4. Future goals
  5. Academic lapses or breaks

CASPer test & AAMC SJT

CASPer stands for the Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal characteristics and is a form of a situational judgment test, similar to the AAMC SJT. As the name implies, this is a web-based tool that is used by some medical schools, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, veterinary, and medical residency programs to gain a better understanding of the candidates’ interpersonal skills and decision-making abilities. In essence, CASPer is a test that is claimed to allow admissions committees to identify those candidates who possess the level of maturity and professionalism that is required of a professional school student such as a medical school student, nursing student, or a medical resident. Some of the characteristics that are claimed to be tested by CASPer include; the ability to make mature decisions under stress, the ability to make ethical and moral choices given a scenario or dilemma, the capacity to resolve conflicts with peers and superiors, and more importantly, the ability to solve complex problems by considering various perspectives and points of view, while staying objective, rational, and open-minded. However, again, there’s no evidence that situational judgment tests can actually predict future on-the-job behavior and they have been shown to cause cultural, economic and gender bias. Nevertheless, since this test is being used, it should come as no surprise that your CASPer score accounts for a large percentage of your pre-interview score, and how you perform on this test will determine whether or not you will be invited for an interview. Effective CASPer test prep is extremely important to ensure that you'll ace the CASPer test and continue on through the admissions process.

Interviews

After you've completed your prerequisites, submitted your applications, and aced the CASPer test, hopefully, you'll be invited to the interview stage. This is the last hoop you'll have to jump through before receiving one of three options: rejection, waitlist, or hopefully, acceptance into medical school. Firstly, guess what… even traditional interviews have been found to be ineffective in selecting the best future doctors. Nonetheless, there is no denying that your interview can make or break your chances of acceptance. In fact, some schools place 100% of your total applicant score on your interview performance. For this reason, it's essential to prepare for your interviews in advance. To start with, you need to identify your interview format. Medical school interviews can be traditional one-on-one, panel, or Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI). Many will be conducted in person, but it's also possible to have Skype interviews or even video interviews. Once you know the format of your interview, it's important to practice with common medical school interview questions or MMI questions that will most likely come up during your interview. The best thing you can do during your interview prep is to participate in full-length mock interviews to simulate the actual interview environment. This will allow you to “test-drive” your interview so you can practice answering questions, become familiar with the interview format, and work on getting your stress levels and nerves under control. In addition, you'll learn techniques and strategies to answer any type of interview question plus you'll receive personalized feedback from experts to help you strengthen your answers and remove any red-flag responses.

Residency

After four years of medical school training, it's time to go through the application process all over again, but this time, for residency. You guessed it, most of the process again is pretty outdated and involves the same ineffective applicant screening strategies used during the medical school admissions process. In the U.S., you’ll need to apply via ERAS, and to be successful you have to plan a bullet-proof ERAS timeline well in advance. Prospective doctors must complete three to seven years of residency training, and pass licensing exams to become doctors, fully eligible to practice medicine in all states. Even though residency is a necessary step to becoming a doctor, unfortunately, not all residency applicants get matched to their dream residency program. Every year, over a thousand U.S. seniors go unmatched. So, the secret to matching is threefold: you'll need a clear understanding of the least and most competitive residency programs, a stellar residency application, and a knockout interview performance. As with applying to medical school, you'll need to create a residency personal statement to include as part of your application materials. Instead of discussing why you want to become a doctor, your residency personal statement will speak to which areas of medicine you want to pursue, which program you want to complete your training at, and why. After completion of the CASPer test, if required, you'll need a near-perfect performance during your residency interview to show program directors that you are ready and suitable to complete your training and become an excellent doctor. To ensure your interview goes to plan, you'll need to practice with common residency interview questions and participate in mock interview simulations to ensure you're 100% ready to make a strong and unforgettable impression.

So, there you have it, the truth about what it takes to become a doctor. Track your progress as you complete these steps and before you know it, you'll be a physician leading a rewarding, challenging, but happy life. If you are feeling frustrated that some of the hoops are ineffective and shouldn’t be used, don’t worry, there’s progress being made, and the application process will improve over time. Until then, you must do your best to navigate the maze in front of you if becoming a doctor is your true calling. Whatever you do, be honest with yourself.

To your success,

About the author: Dr. Behrouz Moemeni, PhD, is the President & CEO of BeMo and SortSmart. He is an internationally recognized admissions expert and staunch advocate for fair and scientific admissions screening. Dr. Moemeni is also the author of 14 Rules for Admissions Screening in Higher Ed: An Antidote to Bias. His motivation-based admissions screening strategy has appeared in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, University World News, CMAJ News, and Nature Jobs. He regularly presents thought-provoking presentations to an international audience including appearances at TEDx, and Beyond Sciences Initiative

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