What’s the purpose of a BS/MD Program?

For anyone familiar with what a BS/MD program is, it seems that their goal is quite obvious: to give a select few high school seniors early, conditional acceptance into medical school. But why? If these students really are as exceptional as the programs advertise, then why do they even need that early acceptance? Shouldn’t they easily be able to get into medical school four years down the road, through the traditional route?

Indeed, most of the students who get selected into these programs have already developed the study habits and strong work ethic required to be successful as traditional pre-med students. But that just means that by offering these students early acceptance into medical school, the BS/MD programs are aiming to achieve some other goal. This “true purpose” is something few applicants are aware of, but it is something that can give any student a huge advantage, whether that’s at the essay stage or the interview stage of the application process.

Too many students apply to these programs simply because they’re looking for the easy way into medical school. And if we’re being realistic, then of course having an “easy route” into medical school is a strong motivation for anybody (including me!) to apply. But what I’ll try to emphasize throughout the rest of this post is that that shouldn’t be your only reason. If it is, then perhaps you should reconsider applying, because any experienced BS/MD professional will be able to easily see through that.

So I’ll just cut straight to the chase: the purpose of BS/MD programs is to provide intellectually curious students with an opportunity to use their time to explore their interests and enhance their education rather than waste an unnecessary number of hours being burdened by traditional pre-med hurdles. Sounds like a mouthful, right? Well, let’s try and break that down a little.

Intellectual curiosity

The first, and possibly the most important, part of the underlined statement above has to do with regards to a specific type of student: an intellectually curious student. From my personal experience of BS/MD interviews, I can tell you that the students I always found most interesting (and the one’s who I’d categorize as the “Oh yea, they’re definitely getting in”) were those who could not only talk about their previous accomplishments, but also are able to effectively communicate their future undergraduate goals. Whether those goals were or were not academically related was largely irrelevant. The point of focus, rather, was that these students had a plan of action. They knew what there interests were, and they knew what they wanted to spend their time pursuing in the future. Students like this are less likely to waste the precious free time that a BS/MD program grants to its students, and ultimately that is what the selection committee is looking for. Most of your competitors for these programs are going to be just as, if not more, qualified as you. The best way to convince the selection committee that you are the best pick for this program is to show them that you are a proactive student who will use your time wisely to pursue whatever intellectual curiosity you may have.

Academic and extra-curricular pursuits

The second part of a BS/MD program’s purpose is to find a student that wants to “explore their interests and enhance their education.” Depending on the length of your program, your undergraduate career can last anywhere for 2-4 years. And what you get out of those 2-4 years is entirely dependent on yourself. The problem for most traditional pre-meds is that they have to spend so much time securing the highest GPA possible while simultaneously building a resume and acing their MCATs that they are left with no time to pursue outside interests. And while getting good grades and developing a strong work ethic are both essential, they don’t do much to enhance your overall college experience.

Something as simple as studying abroad or getting a major in a non-science related subject sounds like it’s easy enough to incorporate into your college timeline. But it’s not always that easy for pre-med students. Studying abroad requires extensive planning to make sure you’ve got enough time to study for MCATs, write medical school applications, and preparing for interviews. Pursuing a non-science major, on the other hand, means taking extra coursework on top of your required pre-med classes (which coincidentally happen to overlap quite a bit with biology-related majors) and a possible disadvantage when it comes to taking your MCATs. It thus comes as no surprise that most pre-meds choose to forgo such experiences in hopes of maximizing their chances of getting into medical school. But such experiences are just as, perhaps even more, important as studying. Studying abroad, for example, helps students better understand medicine on an international level, and non-science majors, such as economics or philosophy, help students understand medicine from a more liberal arts perspective. Both such experiences can be extremely valuable when it comes to working with patients or running a private practice, but unfortunately, most pre-meds lack these unique perspectives. Therefore, what BS/MD programs are looking to do is grow the best possible future doctors by encouraging them to invest their time in experiences that provide them with a more well-rounded education.

Knowledge

The final part of a BS/MD program’s purpose has to do with knowledge; understanding the difficulties of being a pre-med student is essential for you to understand why these programs were created in the first place. Being a pre-med student is hard. Regardless of whether or not you’re selected for a BS/MD program, that’s a fact you cannot get around. Professors challenge you like no other, and the amount of time and dedication it requires to be a successful pre-med student is no joke. With that being said, though, there are a number of hurdles that can be minimized, and that’s why so many people support BS/MD programs.

Back in April of 2015, when I was deciding which university I wanted to commit to, I consulted a number of my mentors who had themselves gone through the traditional pre-med to medical school route. I informed them of all my options, including the REMS program at the University of Rochester, and nearly all of them told me to accept the offer at U of R without hesitation. But why? These people were some of the most successful physicians (or soon-to-be physicians!) that I knew, and all of them had gone through the traditional route. One had graduated from Princeton University and later from David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, another had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and had also gone onto attend UCLA’s medical school, and the last one had graduated from Ohio State University with a full-ride (though she’d rejected a number of other prestigious college, including Columbia University) and was soon to be a MD/PhD student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. So if all these ex-premed’s had successfully fulfilled their traditional pre-med duties, then why were they all so strongly pushing for me to accept the BS/MD offer?

Because there is only a finite amount of time available to us in our undergraduate career. And even though any hardworking, dedicated student could use that time towards studying and applying for medical school, why do so if you don’t have to? Instead, use that time and energy to do something that will enrich your life and college experience. Medical school is stressful as is, and there is no point in having to cope with such stresses earlier in life if it can be avoided. Even the most successful pre-med students will tell you that if they could, they would go back in time and try to strengthen their chances at being a strong BS/MD applicant. It’s a prestigious offer that everyone wants, one that could completely change the course of your undergraduate career.

So when deciding whether or not a BS/MD program is right for you, ask yourself three questions:

  • Why do you really want this?
  • What would you do with your free time in college?
  • Do you understand and feel prepared to take on the challenges of being a pre-med student?

If you can confidently answer all the above questions, then you’re most likely on the right track. Keep it up and good luck with the rest of your application process!

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