Is it worth doing a BS/MD program?

If you were to do a quick Google search of all the pros and cons to a BS/MD program, you’ll find a strong debate happening on sites such as Student Doctor Network (SDN) or College Confidential. Obviously, as a BS/MD student myself, I find that the pros outweigh the cons, but not everyone feels that way. In the points outlined below, I’ve discussed some of the most prominent cons that are associated with BS/MD programs and have either debunked or validated them.

Cons

Lack of preparation for the USMLE

Concern: Since not all BS/MD programs require students to take the MCAT, it is sometimes a concern that this will hurt students in the future when they have to take the USMLE. For those who are unaware of what the USMLE is, it’s the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which is a 3-step exam you take throughout different stages of medical school that tests the knowledge, skillset, and attitudes necessary for you to receive your medical degree (MD) and is used to determine your residency placement. When preparing for the MCAT, you go through rigorous study, and students fear that without having experienced that process before, they may not be ready to handle a similar type of process when it comes time to take the USMLE.

Reality: Having spoken to upperclassmen who’ve avoided the MCAT because of their program enrollment, I haven’t heard of anyone complain that they had a harder time studying for the USMLE because they hadn’t taken the MCAT. Even though BS/MD students may haven’t had to take a standardized test such as the MCAT, they have learned all the same material and gone through the same classroom testing as other pre-med students. Additionally, it seems that BS/MD students place successfully into their top residency choices just as often as their classmates, so even if they were at a slight disadvantage with USMLE preparation, it doesn’t seem to impact their career in any way.

Less prepared for the rigors of medical school

Concern: There’s a common misconception that BS/MD programs are an easy, guaranteed route to medical school. People think that if you’re part of a BS/MD program, it doesn’t matter which classes you take or what grades you get because, hey, you’re already in medical school! And from these misconceptions, the idea stems that due to the lack of rigor in undergrad, BS/MD students are not going to be able to deal with the heavy workload in medical school.

Reality: While BS/MD programs do provide you with a slightly easier (note this is relative!) route to medical school, by no means are they easy. Some programs do not require the MCAT, while others only require you to achieve a certain score (usually lower than that medical school’s average MCAT score). Nearly all programs have a specific GPA requirement, and many also either strongly encourage or require involvement in medical activities (such as hospital volunteering, research, etc.). So as a BS/MD student, you are essentially doing everything exactly as you would if you were a traditional pre-med. The only difference really is that there is less pressure on you concerning whether or not you’ll get into medical school (which is the greatest fear of most pre-meds). BS/MD students still take on the same pre-med course load, still have to secure high grades, and still need to show some involvement in medical activities, meaning that they face almost the same rigor as traditional pre-meds just without the added stress. If you decide to slip up on one of these, then you will likely be dropped out of the program. So really, there should be no reason that any other student is better equipped than a BS/MD student while in medical school.

Too much acceleration

Concern: Many students are concerned that by accelerating your undergraduate experience, you have less time to understand the same amount of material and are thus unable to properly absorb all the information you need for medical school. And if this is the case, then people believe you’ll be at a disadvantage in medical school.

Reality: From what I’ve gathered in talking to upperclassmen who’ve gone through accelerated programs, there is actually no reason to worry about lacking a solid foundation in coursework simply because the speed of your classes is slightly quicker. If anything, I’ve actually heard the opposite. Students often say that accelerated programs are better in helping you understand material because you have no time to forget the material you just learned. And if you think about this logically, it makes sense. Information that you learn in one science class is generally going to be applied in some other science course that you eventually take. Now if you take the first class one year and the second class the following year, then you are more likely to have forgotten material you learned in the first class than if you had taken the two classes within a time span of a few months. Similarly, students often claim that summer classes are better for learning material than regular semester classes simply because you have class every single day in the summer and thus it’s easier to remember exactly what you learned in the last lecture and build upon it.
In an accelerated program, this is exactly what you do; you take more classes during the summer and you take related science classes within a shorter span of time. Thus, there is really no reason for you to be at a disadvantage when you enter medical school; if anything, you probably know the information better!

Also, keep in mind that most accelerated programs offer you the chance to delay your entry into medical school by a year or so if you feel the pace of the program is too fast. Accelerated programs are meant for students who want to finish their medical training as quickly as possible, but if somewhere along the line you decide to change your mind on that, then most programs are flexible with it.

Cannot do a MD/PhD or pursue other graduate degrees

Concern: It is often thought that once you commit to a BS/MD program, you are required to go directly from undergrad to medical school. If you choose to pursue a different graduate degree (such as masters or PhD), then your spot will no longer be reserved in the medical school.

Reality: This concern is generally something that differs on a school-to-school basis. Some schools might reserve your spot in medical school while you take a few years off to pursue other graduate degrees, while others don’t allow you to do so. This generally depends on the school’s philosophy. For example, REMS at the University of Rochester is extremely encouraging of students who want to take gap years to pursue fellowships or other graduate degrees because they believe those graduate degrees will eventually help you become a better doctor. This same mentality may not apply across other schools though. Different schools will have different policies; the best way to find out is to ask such questions during your interview weekend. In my general experience though, most schools are quite flexible and open to allowing students to pursue other graduate degrees in between the undergraduate and medical school years.

Locked into one medical school

Concern: Applicants often worry that if they commit to this program, then they are bound to attended that particular medical school and have no option to apply out to other, perhaps more prestigious, medical schools.

Reality: This concern is also one that needs to be addressed on a school-to-school basis. Some schools, like the University of Rochester, has no problems with you applying out to other schools. If you choose to take the MCAT, fill out the AMCAS application for other schools, and get into another medical school that is perhaps better suited for you, then by all means you have the right to leave. During that process, though, the University of Rochester School of Medicine will continue to reserve a spot for you in case you choose to stick with U of R’s medical school. Other programs, however, might take away your reserved spot if you choose to apply out and will then require you to apply directly to the medical school to gain admission (of which there is no guarantee of being accepted). Still, other schools will offer contingencies on this unique situation; for example, if they don’t require their program students to take the MCAT and you choose to do so in order to apply out, the program will require you to achieve a minimum score in order to keep your spot reserved (otherwise you will be dropped from the program). So based on the information, this can be a valid concern for students who don’t want to commit to one medical school too early on. The best way to find your answer is, again, to ask questions during the interview process and decide in the end what is of greater importance to you: flexibility of choice or certainty of admission.

Locked into one career path

Concern: A main concern among BS/MD applicants is that if they choose to commit to a program, they won’t have the flexibility to explore other career options during their undergraduate years since they’ll be so skin deep into their science courses. As a result, it’s thought to not be realistic to change your career path into something completely different from medicine as a BS/MD student.

Reality: Depending on the school and program, it may be easier or harder to change out of a career in medicine, but by no means are you bound to the career path for life. In fact, many students choose to pursue different majors (while simultaneously completing their pre-med coursework). In fact, I personally know someone who kept up all his pre-med requirements while pursuing an economics degree and decided at the end of his senior year to drop the idea of going to medical school and instead to go to Wall Street. He still had everything he needed to go to medical school if he wanted, but ultimately he decided against it. With accelerated programs it can be slightly more difficult to pursue non-science majors since you’re expected to complete a set number of science classes in a limited amount of time, but it’s not impossible to do. So by no means does any BS/MD program limit your career options; the purpose of them is to offer you a less-pressured, more flexible route to medical school. But if you end up deciding that this isn’t the right path for you, then there is no contract type agreement binding you to it.
Hopefully addressing some of these BS/MD concerns gave you a bit more perspective in terms of what to expect and what not to expect if you choose to commit to a program. The next post might alter your opinion a bit more (in this case towards to positive side!) since it’ll discuss the pros to being a BS/MD student, so make sure to look into that as well. After hearing both sides, you can make a decision in a more confident and informed manner.

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