Pre-Professional and Pre-Med Curriculum
A “pre-professional” student is one who follows an undergraduate academic pathway and enters a post-graduate school to obtain a license to practice medicine. Medical doctoral degrees include allopathic (MD), osteopathy (DO), veterinary medicine (DVM), dentistry (DDS or DMD), podiatry (DPM), pharmacy (PharmD), ophthalmology or optometry (MD or OD), and physical therapy (DPT).
Medical schools usually require completion of an undergraduate degree but do not require a specific major for admittance. There is, however, a recommended core of undergraduate courses that will provide the basis for much of the material present on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) or other related entrance exams. Currently, these core courses are:
- 2 Introductory Biology Courses
- 2 General Chemistry Courses
- 2 Organic Chemistry Courses
- 1 Biochemistry course
- 2 Introductory Physics courses
- 2 Math courses (some schools recommend Calculus)
- 2 Behavioral Science courses (Psychology and/or Sociology)
- 2 courses in English/writing
A physiology course is also useful as is a research experience or relevant internship.
All of these core courses can be included in the BA degree in Biochemistry with accompanying Biology minor and completed in four years within the normal academic course load.
Information for Pre-Professional and Pre-Med Students
This information is provided for students of New Mexico Highlands University who are interested in careers in medicine. The following topics are addressed here.
A “pre-professional” student is one who is following an undergraduate curriculum to prepare for a post baccalaureate program leading to a license to practice. Two major practice disciplines that require professional licensure credentials are medicine and law.
“Pre-med” usually refers to a student who is following a track that leads toward a Doctorate of Medicine degree from a medical school. Allopathy (MD) and osteopathy (DO) are medical doctoral degree that cover many specialties including family practice, OBGYN, orthopedics, surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, dermatology, oncology, ophthalmology, and psychiatry to name a few. Medical doctoral degrees also include veterinary medicine (DVM), dentistry (DDS or DMD), and podiatry (DPM).
Other advanced degrees in healthcare such as pharmacy (PharmD), optometry (OD), and physical therapy (DPT) lead to careers that are considered professional rather than medical. Undergraduate curricula in these areas are usually not described as “pre-med” but may still be included under “pre-professional”.
The following information applies more directly to pre-medical students; although, all pre-professional students might find useful what is covered here with regard to admission tests, core requirements, and processes.
Getting into medical school is not necessarily related to your specific undergraduate major; although, some undergraduate programs of study may be more helpful than others. Science/math/behavioral science core curricula for medical, dental, and veterinary schools can be quite similar. A curriculum that includes more—rather than less—chemistry, physics, and math generally leads to a better performance on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and a better chance for admission to medical school.
Without reference to a specific undergraduate major, the recommended science/math/social science core courses covering material on the MCAT are:
- 2 introductory Biology courses with labs that are in the Biology major (some medical schools require 3 or 4 courses; a physiology course sequence is also useful)
- 2 General Chemistry courses (I and II) with labs that are in the Chemistry major
- 2 Organic Chemistry courses (I and II) with labs that are in the Chemistry major
- 1 upper-level Biochemistry course with the Organic Chemistry II course as prerequisite
- 2 introductory Physics courses with labs (some medical schools require Calculus-based Physics)
- 2 introductory courses in the behavioral sciences (one each in Psychology and Sociology)
- 2 Math courses (which may already be Biology/Chemistry/Physics degree requirements; some medical schools recommend calculus)
- 2 courses in English/Writing
These core courses tend to align with minimal, undergraduate course requirements for admission to most medical schools and are the courses that should be taken regardless of major.
Pharmacy, optometry, and physical therapy doctoral programs, are not classified as medical schools, do not have standard undergraduate core science courses, do not require the MCAT, and may not even require a bachelor’s degree for admission. Early on, students should check specific requirements for the schools to which they might apply.
Biology Majors and Pathways [link]
These programs can provide 4-year baccalaureate science degrees that include the requisite core courses. If remedial courses are required as you begin your college coursework, your pathway to a degree might require summer courses and/or take more than four years. Additional elective courses may be added through advisement depending on your specific interests and goals.
- a good score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT, more on this is found below)
- consistency in maintaining a very good (exceptional) undergraduate grade point average (GPA) especially in the core courses while progressing through your undergraduate program, perhaps even finding time to include an undergraduate research project
- in addition to the core courses, a choice of relevant and academically rigorous major courses and electives with course completion and time spent to obtain undergraduate degree also being factors
- being able to read with comprehension and to write well—good communication skills
- a demonstrated commitment to the medical field that could include a summer internship or “shadowing” a healthcare provider related to your field of interest as well as volunteer work
- a depth and breadth of knowledge of current issues not limited to those in medicine
- being able to thoughtfully answer the question “Why do you want to be a doctor (or a dentist or a podiatrist, or a veterinarian, or…)?”
- communicating with confidence and sincerity—listening and responding—in a pre-admission interview with medical school faculty members or the admission committee or medical students while explaining, discussing, and defending your choice of profession and your commitment to it.
The application processes for most medical and professional schools are online and centralized. Required admission tests are usually given at testing centers located throughout the nation. These tests are demanding, differ in emphasis from one medical field to another, and assess your adeptness in applying your knowledge and your reasoning skills to various scenarios—using those critical thinking abilities that you have developed. Here is how some of the various admission tests shake out.
- The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is required for admission to MD, DO, DPM, and usually DVM programs (some DVM programs may require only the Graduate Record Exam, the GRE). More on how the MCAT is administered and scored is given below.
- Dental students take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) overseen by the American Dental Association (ADA).
- Pharmacy students take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) offered by American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) is the centralized application service for schools of pharmacy.
- Physical Therapy applicants take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) made available through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) or alternatively, may require the GRE.
Doing well on the MCAT (DAT, PCAT, GRE or other admission test) is very important. One should study hard and prepare specifically for the exam without overdependence on college coursework—do not think that your college coursework is all that you need to review. Be very disciplined. Significant, routine, uninterrupted, focused study time is required.
Practice tests along with study materials and review strategies are available to help prepare for pre-professional examinations. Seek them out; use them for practicing—over and over.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score is the single most important factor considered for medical school admission. It provides a common metric for evaluating the academic preparation of all applicants. The MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) is the AAMC’s centralized medical school online application processing service. The American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine’s (AACPM) manages admissions to colleges of podiatry.
The MCAT is offered nationally more than 20 times a year. You may take it up to 3 times in a single testing year, 4 times during a two consecutive-year period, and 7 times in a lifetime.
The now retired “old” MCAT, offered from 1991 – 2015, focused on verbal reasoning, physical sciences, and biological sciences. The current test, offered since April 2015, requires mastery of the same basic core material. It has many more questions (230 versus 144) than the old MCAT and, at just over six hours, is about three hours longer. It is divided into four sections:
(1) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems,
(2) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems,
(3) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and
(4) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
Scores in each of the four sections range from 118 (low) to 132 (high) with 125 being the center of each section score. An overall (total) score for all four sections is also reported and is between 472 and 528 with 500 being the midpoint of all total scores. (For the old test, individual section scores ranged from 1 to 15 with an overall score being between 3 and 45. The mean of all total scores originally was set at 25 but drifted upward over time.)
A majority of approximately 50,000 yearly applicants to United States medical schools who take the MCAT, major in Biology (53%) or in the physical sciences (Chemistry/Biochemistry/Physics, 11%). From all of the applicants, about 39% are accepted.
As you apply for medical school admission, you should have readily available as needed
- your continually updated autobiographical sketch or essay
- your list of professional and personal references—people who will submit good recommendations for you
- all college-level transcripts
- MCAT (DAT, GRE, etc.) scores (If there is a Pre-Professional Advisory Committee, you may be asked to keep these items up-to-date and on file there.)
- a “Plan B” just in case (this being a possible interview question—answer succinctly without dwelling on it) Re-application or a post baccalaureate pre-medical prep program or an “offshore” medical school may serve as Plan B but might exact a price in time and money.
The application process for all medical and professional schools should begin 12 to 18 months prior to the beginning of that school’s classes. For example, students wishing to start in the medical school’s fall term should have their American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application completed and submitted by the summer of the previous year, have taken their MCAT exam in the Spring and certainly by August of that previous year—with substantial amount of the core courses having also been completed by then—and have notified their references to be prepared to submit letters on their behalf.
Most medical schools use the AMCAS centralized application site, so you do not have to send separate applications to each medical school to which you are applying. When you apply to medical schools through AMCAS, the AAMC also sends your MCAT scores to your designated schools along with your AMCAS application. (Similar centralized application processes may be available for other medical professional programs.)
Getting into medical school requires a consistent effort and performance at a high level. It is hard work that can be time consuming. There is no single, correct path. Those around you can help, but it is mostly up to you. Be prepared to stand firm and, if necessary, distance yourself from those who do not understand and support your commitment.
Ben S. Nelson, DVM
Jan M. Shepherd, PhD
Jessica Snow, PhD
This major is under the College of Arts and Sciences