Medical

Post-Bacc Program Guide

Post-baccalaureate or “post-bacc” programs, for short, are often discussed among pre-med students. While post-bacc programs can benefit students with many types of backgrounds, they are not for everyone–and knowing this ahead of time is important, as the cost for these programs is anywhere between $20,000-$40,000. This article covers just what post-baccs are, as well as important information on who should consider such a program and what students should ask about before actually signing on the dotted line.
Part One: What is a Post-Bacc Program?
The American Association of Medical Colleges notes that “in the broadest sense, the term ‘post-bacc’ is used to describe a program after the undergraduate degree designed to support the transition from undergraduate to professional school”. Beyond this basic structure, though, these programs can vary widely in many important features.
How are Post-Bacc Programs Different?
Here are some characteristics of a post-bacc program to consider before making a choice:
● Structure. The structure of post-bacc programs varies widely. Some are tightly structured and require full-time, rigorous study, while others are more loosely-knit and can be undertaken part-time or at night so that students can remain employed or pursue other interests.
● Academics. Students should also be aware that while some post-bacc programs offer academic credit with no actual degree, others allow you the opportunity to pursue a Master’s. The programs which offer Master’s are considered to be the most academically rigorous.
● Length of program. Post-bacc programs can be as short as weeks or months or be 1-2 years in length. Time commitment is an important factor for students to consider.
● Cost. The cost of these programs varies considerably, from under $20,000 to over $40,000. Generally speaking, programs at state universities tend to be more moderate in their price. Financing in the form of student loans is usually available.
● Content. Students can spend their post-bacc time bulking up on science courses (at the graduate and/or undergraduate level), taking MCAT preparatory courses, shadowing physicians, working on clinical research and otherwise getting more academic and hands-on experience before beginning medical school. There are also programs which allow students to “give back” by using their knowledge to work either abroad or in areas of the United States that have been traditionally underserved.
Part Two: Who Benefits from a Post-Bacc Program?
There are a huge variety of post-bacc programs to choose from, and many different kinds of students that might benefit from them. Here are some examples of students who might benefit from enrolling:
● Students who had weak scores in areas of biology, microbiology, chemistry or other core pre-med courses during their undergraduate years.
● Students who did not have a strong premed science core as undergrads.
● Students whose studies were interrupted by illness or other family or life issues. If their undergraduate GPAs suffered because of these problems, doing well in a post-bacc program can help make a medical school application more competitive.
● Non-traditional students who are coming into medicine as a second profession and who have spent time employed in other sectors. The “career changing” types of programs are particularly good for this.
● Students who want to gain more experience before beginning medical school. Many post-bacc programs allow for clinical time to give students this exposure.
● Students who are serious about working in the medical profession but do not know if clinical practice or medical research would be right for them.
● Students who are unsure about whether or not to enroll in medical school can get more clinical experience to help them make their decision.
Understanding your own particular needs and goals is the first, important step in choosing a post-bacc program that will work best for you.
The Types of Post-Bacc Programs: What is Right for You?
Although, again, there is a wide variety in the length and structure of post-bacc programs, they tend to fall into two broad categories:
● Enhancement Programs. These post-bacc programs offer students who have had a weak undergraduate performance (especially in core pre-med areas like anatomy and physiology or chemistry), to strengthen their academic background and enhance their competitiveness as a potential med student. These programs often consist of some combination of undergraduate and graduate coursework and some have the option for getting a Master’s degree.
● Career Change Programs. This kind of program offers students who have pursued careers outside the medical profession and have little or no science background. These programs help to correct this problem by giving students the opportunity to complete the science courses that are prerequisites for medical school. Many career change programs include MCAT preparation courses. These programs can be either loosely or tightly structured and some have options for self-study and continuing education.
Finding a Program to Suit Your Needs
The National Association of Advisers for the Health Professions outlines in great detail just what kind of post-bacc program would likely fit the needs of student with a given profile:
● Students with a GPA below 2.5 and an MCAT score of below 27 should consider a program which offers upper-level science courses and retake the MCAT again in a year.
● Students whose GPA is between 2.5-2.7 and whose MCAT scores are above 27 benefit from graduate school courses at strong institution.
● Students with a GPA around 3.0 and an MCAT score of above 27 benefit most from a post-bacc program which emphasizes strong science base and an MCAT review.
● Students with a GPA of above 3.0 and an MCAT of above 26 should consider a Master’s post-bacc program which includes actual medical school courses.
Post-Bacc Programs and Disadvantaged Students
Another kind of student who can greatly benefit from a post-bacc program are those from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have the grades, test scores and other important criteria for a successful med school admissions attempt but who nonetheless simply lack the extra time and education it takes to become competitive.
One excellent example of a such a program is Drexel’s Pathway to Medical School Program (DPMS) program. The DPMS is open to students who self-describe as belonging to traditionally underserved minority groups using AAMC criteria. These students are accepted conditionally into the Drexel Medical School but must complete a 6-week summer enrichment course and one year of graduate-level medical school courses: if students can maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and score at least 23 on the MCAT, they will then gain full acceptance into the school.
This program and others like it aim to increase the diversity of the workforce in medicine and provide minorities and those from less advantaged backgrounds the tools they need to begin a successful career in medicine. Students should note, though, that they may have to fill out forms to prove the socioeconomic status of themselves or their families in order to qualify for some of these programs.
Part Three: Questions to Ask about a Post-Bacc Program
Because of the wide variety of post-bacc programs available–and finding one that is right to meet the individual’s needs–it is important for students to ask plenty of questions before signing on the dotted line.
What You Need to Know
These are some of the most important questions that students should be asking about a post-bacc program before they ever sign up:
● Is the program structure loose or more rigid? Is it possible to attend part-time or is full-time attendance necessary?
● Are there night classes available so that the program can be balanced with work life?
● Are speakers and a chance to shadow and/or meet with physicians, researchers or other specialists part of the program?
● What is the ratio of advisers to advisees in this program?
● How much support does the program give to the medical school application process?
● How successfully are students performing in medical school who have been through this program?
● What is the profile of the typical student in this program? Are they coming right out of their undergraduate work or are they returning to school after pursuing a different career? What is the average age of the post-bacc student?
The answers to questions like these can influence your decision one way or the other when it comes to choosing the right program for you.
It is also important, if possible, to be able to talk to students who are currently in the program or who have matriculated into medical school from it to get a feel for the ethos of the program itself and what levels of student satisfaction is like.
One of the most important questions that students need to ask is about any possible linkages that a given post-bacc program has to a medical school. Linkages are considered in the section below.
The Question of Linkage
Linkage is means that post-bacc programs from certain institutions are “linked” with certain medical schools, and that going to one of these programs can enhance your chances of acceptance into a certain program. Some of these linked programs require students to have a certain GPA and/or MCAT score in order to qualify for acceptance. It is also wise to check out which medical school a particularly post-bacc program is linked to: if the medical school is not in an area where a student is willing to relocate or does not, for instance, have the kind of program a student is interested in, this might be a deterrant for signing up for that post-bacc.
Why You Need an Adviser
As you can see from this section alone, there are a lot of questions to be asked about a post-bacc program in order to choose one that is going to meet your needs and be an enhancement to your future career as a doctor. Because of the complexities of this issue, it is strongly advised that students meet with an academic adviser who can review their test and MCAT scores, life experiences and interests and help them to a) decide whether a post-bacc program is right for them and b) decide which particular programs they should apply for.
When Not to Choose a Post-Bacc
It is important to note, however, that post-baccalaureate programs are not right for everyone. Students who have strong GPAs and MCAT scores and do not have any pressing goals to attend to often have less motivation to enter into one of these programs. Also, students who are already putting off important aspects of their life–such as getting married or starting a family–might seriously consider having to put this off for an extra year. Some students can also report feeling frustration when fellow students get a head start on medical school and their careers. The expense of many post-bacc programs is also off-putting for many students, who are already looking at taking out massive student loans to finance their medical education.
The takeaway here is that, while not always a perfect fit for everyone, post-bacc programs do benefits a number of different kinds of students, especially those with weaker undergraduate GPAs and/or MCAT scores or students with a non-traditional background or a career in a non-medical area who are wishing to bulk up on their science courses before attempting a medical school application. However, assessing your individual needs with an adviser and understanding the program thoroughly before you actually enroll in it are both important to ensure that your post-bacc experience is a successful one and leaves you better prepared for the rigors of medical school.
References
Barrow-Smith, D. Find a Baccalaureate Pre-med Program that Fits You. US News and World
Report. 2014.
www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/articles/2014/01/08/find-a-post-baccalaureate-premed-program-that-fits-you
Soslav, G. Post Baccalaureate Options for the Medical School Applicant. National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, Inc. 2005.
www.naahp.org/PublicResources/PostBaccalaureateOptions/PostBacArticle2.apsx
Williams, J. Is a Post-Bacc Program for You? Explaining Health Careers. 2014.
http://explorehealthcareers.org/en/…stbaccalaureate_Program_for_You_Find_Out_Here

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Brian Wu graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology, and graduated from the Keck School of Medicine (University of Southern California) with an MD with a focus on holistic care and treatment. He currently holds a PhD in integrative biolog... Brian Wu graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology, and graduated from the Keck School o...