“Where do you see yourself in ten years?” This is a common question for students beginning the college admissions process and a fair amount of applicants have a similar answer: “Working as a physician.” These students consider pre-medical offerings in their search for a perfect-fit college and may be considering combined BS/MD programs or they may never have even heard of them. Either way, read on as we shine a light onto this desirable yet uber-competitive niche.
“FAST LANE” TO BS/MD PROGRAMS
Approximately eighty U.S. programs offer the opportunity for students to gain acceptance into medical school after their senior year in high school. These programs are partnerships between undergraduate colleges and their own or affiliated medical schools. While these combined programs are prestigious, only a small number of the top-ranked colleges/medical schools participate in them. Brown is the only Ivy League university that participates. High-ranking medical schools include Washington University at St. Louis, Baylor, Northwestern and the University of Pittsburgh.
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF BS/MD PROGRAMS
One distinguishing feature of BS/MD programs is whether acceptance to both schools occurs simultaneously. Many programs accept high school applicants into both the college and medical school directly from high school, but they make the acceptance to medical school conditional on undergraduate performance. A small portion of BS/MD programs delay admissions to medical school until the close of sophomore year. Sample participating medical schools in these types of programs include Drexel University, SUNY Upstate, and Tufts University.
Some examples of eligibility requirements for MD matriculation into joint programs include:
- Baylor University: 3.5 overall and science GPA, MCAT 500-507 with all individual sections at least 125
- Boston University: 20 overall and science GPA, MCAT 80th percentile
- Drexel University: 3.5 overall and science GPA, MCAT required to take
- Howard University: 3.25 science and 3.5 overall GPA, MCAT 504
- University of Pittsburgh: 3.75 overall and science GPA, no MCAT requirement unless MD/PhD
- Washington University at St. Louis: 80 GPA, MCAT 518
- Tufts University: 3.5 overall and science GPA, no MCAT requirement
In general, these eligibility requirements are less stringent than the averages of traditional MD applicants who matriculated into medical school. In 2017, average science and overall GPAs were 3.64 and 3.71, while the MCAT was 510.
Many BS/MD programs publish average and minimum high school metrics for admission into the affiliated college.
- Northwestern University: average SAT Reading 790, Math 792, Writing 770, SAT Subjects Chemistry 769, Math Level 2 785. 80 GPA, MCAT 518
- University of Cincinnati: minimum SAT Reading and Math 1300
A second distinguishing feature of BS/MD programs is the total time of training. Only three programs (California Northstate College of Medicine, Howard University, and University of Missouri Kansas City) offer the maximum reduction at six years, whereas most programs span the traditional eight years.
“RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT”: PROS AND CONS OF BS/MD PROGRAMS
A compelling reason to participate in BS/MD programs is to reduce the time and cost of medical training by limiting the number of years students are in school paying tuition. But, this benefit holds true for only a small fraction of BS/MD students. Accelerated BS/MD programs reduce training by compressing the undergraduate curricula into 2-3 years. This reduction can have its own cost in that students may need to devote summer terms and elective credits to BS/MD requirements. Even eight-year medical programs can have added restrictions, such as Boston University as they mandate a summer term after sophomore year in college. Other programs grant students more flexibility in their undergraduate curricula, like the eight-year BS/MD at Brown University, which permits concentrations in the humanities. Bottom line: there are rare opportunities to reduce medical school and/or residency training for both MDs and MD/PhDs.
BS/MD programs are attractive to students seeking to become doctors because they often hold the promise of reducing future stress, primarily by allowing students to bypass traditional MD applications. Many programs also relax the eligibility requirements for matriculation to medical school. A rebuttal is that BS/MD programs redistribute rather than reduce total stress. Why?
- BS/MD programs complicate the high-stress process of college applications.
- BS/MD participants must demonstrate their abilities in the sciences and their commitment to medicine earlier in their academic careers. Students may do so through high-scores on SAT subject tests, volunteer positions at hospitals, publishing, conference presentations, etc.
- What if a student wants more choices in medical schools after going through an undergraduate program? Their destiny is already sealed.
Combined BS/MD programs ask students to commit to both a career path and geographical region when they are too young to vote in some instances. In contrast, the average age of first year medical students is 24. Even the most mature high school senior will have difficulty making such a commitment, given the unpredictable nature of life. Luckily, most BS/MD programs, including Drexel and Northwestern, allow students to apply to other medical schools when the time comes. However, students lose their “early acceptance” status when they apply to outside programs.
“REST STOP” FOR SELF-REFLECTION
The intricacies of BS/MD programs are complex and require tremendous research and thought by an applicant. Many roads lead to a medical school acceptance, and none is defined solely by its posted speed limit.