As a recently graduated medical student who made the decision to attend an accelerated BS/MD program, I am always surprised and amused by how many questions and how much intrigue are stirred up by such a concept. Through these programs students have a guaranteed acceptance to medical school provided their undergraduate performance is acceptable, and allows them to complete both degrees in only six or seven years rather than the traditional eight. These programs allow students to perform optimally during their undergraduate years by removing the stress of applying to medical school, but some may argue they restrict one’s opportunities as the number of years of training is shortened and the opportunity to explore other medical schools is diminished. In the rest of this article I will explore some of the advantages and limitations of such programs, and hopefully put some burning questions to rest.
The pace is intense. Obviously, deciding that medical school is the right choice for you as a high-school senior is not something that everyone who ultimately enters the medical field can know. Many successful medical students do not realize they are interested in medicine until undergraduate education; conversely, many students who think they are interested in medicine during high school find that the program was not the right choice for them for many reasons, so these programs tend to have higher drop-out rates. Some of these students later pursue traditional entry into medicine, or may enter an entirely new field altogether. Some students are not prepared for the pace of the curriculum, as most of these programs begin a week or two after high school graduation and continue throughout the summers, and each semester typically includes 19-24 credit hours of coursework. Others will say they would have preferred a typical “college experience” to allow more time for socializing, extracurriculars, research, or non-science related courses. Students from college-preparatory high schools or those who took a number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses may have an easier time adjusting to the workload. Personally, I completed the Bachelor’s of Science training in two years and still had enough time to work a night job and complete a forty minute commute each day, and found the coursework to be challenging, yet satisfying. I’m also thrilled that I was able to shave two-years and tens of thousands of dollars from the cost of my education, primarily to help offset the long training of residency. Overall, this is a very personal decision and one that should be taken seriously.
They give you some academic wiggle-room. While you are experiencing college at a whirlwind pace, you are permitted to maintain a GPA and attain an MCAT score that would be typically less than expected for admission into medical school. For instance, typical cutoffs for inclusion into the program include GPA of above 3.3-3.5 or MCAT above 25-30. There are also normally no requirements for volunteering, research or extracurriculars that would be generally required for entrance into medical school. These lower requirements may take a lot of weight off your shoulders, but remember that your college honors and significant activities are things you can possibly include in your residency application, so it is best to stay ambitious and well-rounded.
Accelerated Programs are competitive, but may not be as competitive as traditional entry into medical school. For instance, at my personal institution, around 500 people applied for 115 accelerated spots (admission rate of 23%), yet around 2,000 people applied for 50 traditional entry spots (admission rate of 2.5%). This could be for a number of reasons, including that students are not sure that they are ready for such a route into medical school, or that since there are so few of these programs, many students either are not aware of them or do not know enough about them to feel comfortable to apply. For the right person, it may be easier to attempt applying to medical school right out of high school, and bypass many requirements or other such application “perks” like extensive research or volunteering that are widely expected from college level applicants.
Your maturity may be questioned. I was accepted to the BS/MD Program at age 16 and matriculated with my medical degree at age 22. Personally I was never asked about my young age during residency interviews, but it has been reported in the past and was something many of us had been prepared for. Proponents of the idea that all medical graduates should be taught in the traditional eight-year manner may also choose to comment about the program you attended during residency interviews. Regardless of this, if you have made it through grueling clerkships, basic science work, and all the other hurdles of medical school to reach residency interviews, you can be confident that your professionalism and maturity parallels that of traditional medical students.
You should only choose one if you are confident about attending not only the undergraduate institution, but also the medical school. In most cases, when you are accepted to a BS/MD program, it is expected of you that you will honor the agreement to attend medical school at that particular institution. This is not a legally binding commitment, but those who complete the accelerated undergraduate portion and attempt to transfer are generally seen as unprofessional and may be let go by the primary medical school at which the student was accepted. Some medical schools also tend to not accept students from these programs. Therefore, if you perform better on your MCAT or are finishing up undergrad with a higher GPA than you were initially expecting to have, you generally don’t have the opportunity to apply to a higher-tier school if you so desire. The security of the program may be attractive, but it is important to examine this decision in the long-term.
You have the opportunity to be equally competitive for desirable residencies. Many students tend to wonder if these accelerated programs would put them at a disadvantage in consideration for competitive residency specialties. Not much data has been gathered regarding this, but at my institution those who participated in the accelerated program have tended to enter into the more competitive specialties at higher rates than the traditional students, who tend to enter primary care careers. You may need to make up for some lost research time during your first and second years of medical school, but if you hit the ground running, a competitive specialty is a feasible and achievable goal for any BS/MD student.
In conclusion, accelerated BS/MD programs may be an attractive option for high school students who are confident that medicine is the right choice for them, who are enthusiastic about both the undergraduate and graduate institutions, and for those interested in the fast-track through college while having plenty of enjoyment on the way. For me, it was a great decision that instilled excellent personal study habits early on in college that would stick with me throughout medical school and I genuinely believe that the experience allowed me to match in an excellent residency as well.