Non-traditional Medical Schools for the Non-Traditional Pre-Medical Student

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Editor’s Note: There are many things to consider when applying to medical school. We thank Kathleen for this informative post regarding non-traditional medical schools. We do feel that each student should exhaust all avenues applying to traditional MD or DO schools before seeking alternative options. While we all know people that have been successful and competent doctors by alternative routes, please be aware that most of these international schools lack the resources that schools in the United States offer and that matching into residency can be much more difficult coming in as an international medical grad.

By: Kathleen Murphy

This article will share a list of fully accredited medical schools that are non-traditional in their admissions requirements, program length, or geographical location. In order to truly appreciate the trailblazing stance these institutions have implemented it is important to understand what factors make a potential doctor fall under the category of traditional or non-traditional.

A traditional medical school applicant is someone who went straight from high school to a four-year college. During college, they sat for the MCAT, and were admitted to medical school promptly after graduation, or after taking a gap year. Gap years, which are not required, are often filled with shadowing doctors, volunteering abroad, interning, or even squeezing in a 12-month master’s program. This process is what defines a traditional pre-medical student.

            Thus, a non-traditional pre-medical student is anyone who does not fall under the specific circumstances mentioned above. In today’s world, student debt is projected to be the next financial crisis, and many chose to work their way through school, which may prolong the graduation timeline. For those who have yet to start or finish their four-year degree, there are endless ‘finish your degree’ program options either on-line, accelerated, or in the evenings. Carving out a non-traditional path to medicine for yourself is more realistic today than ever before. In addition, many medical school admissions teams agree that real world experience such as serving in the military, starting your own business, parenting, or doing whatever you were doing before feeling the call to medicine, contributes to making someone an excellent doctor.

Personally, becoming a doctor is something that was always in the back of my mind, but working as a Certified Nurse Aide really fueled my passion for people and medicine. I remember a couple of years ago driving around on my day off, and on a whim decided to stop at a bookstore. I scanned the shelf for books on medical school, and found one titled “On Becoming a Doctor: Everything You Need to Know about Medical School, Residency, Specialization, and Practice” by Tania Heller, MD. I sat on the ground and binge read half-way through the book, then bought it, went to Starbucks, and binge read the rest. This book, among others, is an excellent way to start taking baby steps towards your dream. Spending time to become well informed about the process will likely save you lots of time and money down the road, as well as drown out the uneducated but well-intentioned opinions of those around you. So, whether you are 24 years-old just embarking on the college journey, or 56 and stepping into a gen chem class for the first time, this article is for you. Without further ado, here is a list of non-traditional pathways to fully accredited medical schools which, for one reason or another, fall under the category of non-traditional:

  1. DO programs: Hopefully you are familiar with the concept of a DO; and have learned about the osteopathic approach to medicine with an open mind. However, to the general public, it is just now becoming common knowledge that DO’s are fully certified doctors. This means that every individual holding a DO license has undergone the same MCAT, 4 years of medical school, and required residency, that an MD must go through. If you are passionate about the training that DO’s receive, but timid that patient’s will not recognize you as a fully certified doctor, please take confidence in the concept that the general public is slowly becoming more educated on the fact that DO’s and MD’s are equal. It is also important to point out that in all my years working in healthcare (approaching nearly a decade now), I have never witnessed a patient demand to be seen by an MD over a DO. I’m not saying that situation never occurs, I’m just saying I have yet to see it.
  • Schools with no or few science pre-requisites required: Having a solid understanding of core science topics is very important when pursuing matriculation into medical school, however, schools rarely require you have a science related bachelor’s degree. I remember arguing with countless academic counselors about switching my major from Biology to Spanish. Ultimately, I switched to Spanish, because I was serving on multiple medical missions to Central America in 2017 and found Spanish classes to be much more applicable than three semesters worth of Calculus. Remember that college is a business deal, and you are paying for a very expensive product, that being your degree. So be sure to major in something that you are truly passionate about. Although I majored in Spanish, it was still necessary for me to take the core science classes which would prepare me for the MCAT (medical college admissions test). Many medical schools have recommended classes that vary per institution, but the core classes often are:

Two semesters of general biology, with lab

Two semesters of general chemistry, with lab

Two semesters of organic chemistry, with lab

Two semesters of general physics, with lab (may vary per school)

Two semesters of math, including calculus or statistics (varies greatly per school)

Two semesters of English

I have mentioned the list of science pre-requisites most schools require, however not every school requires them. Here is a list of schools that allow you to bypass most of (or in some cases all) these classes.

New York University school of medicine

University of Virginia school of medicine

Central Michigan University College of Medicine:

Two semesters of biological science courses with lab

Two semesters of organic chemistry with at least one lab, OR

One semester of organic chemistry and one semester of biochemistry with one lab section

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Keck School of Medicine of USC

Tulane University

UC Davis School of Medicine:

Accepts on-line classes, and does not require labs or a bachelor’s degree (although it is strongly recommended)

University of Minnesota Morris School of Medicine

Stanford School of Medicine

Now, before withdrawing from that dreadful organic chemistry or physics class, PAUSE AND THINK. Although the above schools do not require all core science classes, it is incredibly important to note that the schools do require the MCAT be taken. Many of these schools have made the decision to change the sciences course from required to recommended, in the name of inclusivity. That is, perhaps someone with relevant life experience whom is well prepared for the MCAT, would not need to sign up for more science courses. Someone who has had a career in nursing, science teaching, or another related vocation is probably the best candidate for this route. It is very important to do personal research to verify exactly what type of student these schools are looking for. Also, medical school is incredibly difficult to get into, and choosing to proceed without the core classes that many schools require, may limit your options when applying.

  • Schools offering 3-year programs: Many schools offering a 3-year program, require that accepted students make a professional commitment to family medicine. The motive behind many of these programs is to produce primary care physicians quickly, in order to decrease the physician shortage. Kunal Sindhu, a reporter for the online journal Quartz, shares some alarming statistics in his article, including “the US is now forecasted to experience a shortage of 46,900 to 121,900 physicians by 2032.” Keep in mind that the fourth year of medical school involves hours of clinical rotations to give students exposure to multiple fields of healthcare. If an individual is coming into medical school already having found a strong interest in becoming a primary care physician, then this is an excellent option. However, if you still feel undecided as to what branch of medicine to specialize in, then saving a year of tuition and time probably will not be worth the permanent commitment to primary care that you will be required to make.

NYU: 3YMU Pathway

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center: Family Medicine Accelerated Track

UC Davis School of Medicine, ACE-PC – Primary care only

Mercer University – Primary care only

Colombia University – must currently hold a PhD in Biological Sciences

Lake Eerie College of Osteopathic Medicine – Primary Care Scholars Pathway PCSP

McMaster University School of Medicine, based in Canada

University of Calgary, based in Canada

  • International Medical Schools: The fourth and final type of non-traditional medical schools, are those in international locations. As someone who has done a fair amount of traveling across the globe, 95% of my missions being in the name of medicine, I personally am a huge fan of this option. As with any school in the US or Canada, it is imperative that the student do their own research about tuition costs, residency placements, and school accreditations. It is very frustrating to read posts on social media in which someone is slamming international medical schools. Whether a student attends medical school in the states or not, that student is still responsible to perform well academically, and present themselves as a competitive candidate when applying to residencies. When I worked in a pediatric ICU, I met one surgeon who had graduated from St. George’s University, in Grenada. I also found the biography and picture of one of the hospital’s most renowned surgeons, whom was a graduate of a US accredited medical school in Puerto Rico. Many of the US accredited medical schools which offer an international program, require that the student study on that campus for two years, but come back to the US to finish their clinical rotations. There are many international medical school options, and this list may not cover all of them, but these are some of the most popular that I have either researched myself or I have known a doctor or nurse to have been in attendance at one of these institutions:

St. George’s University – West Indies, Grenada

Ross University School of Medicine – Barbados, Caribbean

Saba University School of Medicine – Caribbean Netherlands

American University of the Caribbean – Sint Marteen, Caribbbean

Trinity School of Medicine – St. Vincent & Grenadines, Caribbean

Ben Gurion University – Beersheba, Israel

Univeresidad Autonoma de Guadelajara – Guadelajara, Mexico

Atlantic Bridge Program – Various locations in Ireland

The University of Queensland – Brisbane, Australia

McMaster University – Canada

University of Toronto – Canada

McGill University – Canada

Duke – NUS Medical School – Singapore

University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine – San Juan, Puerto Rico

            After spending hours researching multiple medical programs, it is apparent that schools themselves can be as diverse as the students whom apply. While discerning which program best fits you, remember that ultimately the goal is not bragging rights for what medical school you attend, but that you become a proficient doctor who is well educated in your specialty. If you chose to go to a Caribbean medical school, go the DO route, or follow your passion for family medicine that leads to a 3-year program, you will probably get much unsolicited advice from well meaning family members or co-workers who not only never applied to medicals school, but do not understand the unique process of accreditation that all the above mentioned schools have obtained and currently maintain. Just as every individual is different, each person’s path to medical school is different, but at the end of the journey a doctor is a doctor. Keep your head up, your grades up, and someday you will be able to facetime that one special person in your life, wave an acceptance letter in front of the screen, and proudly say “Hey look Ma I made it!”

At the heart of every great medical school application, is an incredible personal statement! Contact Great Editations for help with the editing and content development of your personal statement or call/text 916-214-0119

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