There are so many paths that people can take to get to medical school. In my last piece, I discussed the value and importance of non-traditional students, or those who have years separating their undergraduate studies from medical school. On the other end of the spectrum are those who know for certain coming straight out of high school that they want to pursue medicine and nothing else. I admire these folks: it’s difficult to get into one of the direct admission to medical school programs, and knowing for sure what you want to do for the rest of your life at age 18 is pretty impressive. My sister is one of these driven folks, although her program is slightly different from some other direct admission programs. Most programs, however, are the 4+4 plan, meaning four years of undergrad followed by four years of medical school.
A few of my good friends from undergrad were in one of these programs, and I must admit, I was slightly jealous of their dedication and drive. It was impressive also because there are very few seats in medical school reserved for “direct admits”, making those programs highly competitive. I myself knew for fairly certain that I wanted to pursue medicine one day, but I also wanted to explore my options a little bit more during undergrad on the off chance that I ended up liking something else (read: less rigorous and lengthy) better. I ended up deciding on medicine, and my path became a little more challenging than my counterparts who already had seats with their names on them in the class of 201*. The advantage that they had over me was that in that particular program, they did not have to take the MCAT (!!) while everyone else who traditionally applies to medical school does. It’s a huge relief to get that out of the way, although some programs do require their direct admits to take the MCAT. Typically the threshold for scores is lower than the average traditional applicant. Students in the direct admissions programs must maintain a certain overall GPA and a certain science GPA in order to matriculate into the medical school. These grade thresholds, similar to the MCAT thresholds, tend to be lower because they have already “proven” themselves in the eyes of the medical school for being accepted in the first place. Life becomes much easier!
I know it can sound tempting to apply to one of these programs given the perks, but my advice would be to consider your options carefully. If there’s something else you even remotely want to explore and think you can make a career out of, do it. This is one person’s opinion, but it’s worth exploring all of your options before making such a big commitment if there’s a slight chance that you can discover another passion. For students who are 100% certain that they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else after college, go for it! As mentioned before, these are typically very competitive programs and many look for top notch grades and standardized test scores in high school, not to mention participation and outstanding accomplishments outside the classroom. Many universities with medical schools have these programs, so research thoroughly to find which one is a good fit. Typically these also have a separate application in addition to the standard undergraduate application and require in-person interviews. The program that my sister is attending is fairly unique: she will finish all of undergrad in 2 years (!!) and enroll in medical school at the age of 20. I think that’s a bit too intense for me, but there are those who choose to pursue it and thrive! These very young doctors can bring a fresh outlook onto practices that may be getting old and have the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine. There are so many benefits to having diversity in such a complex field as medicine, and it really takes the contributions of people from all paths of life to enrich the lives of their colleagues and ultimately their patients.