Post baccalaureate premedical programs

I recently met with a dean of admissions for a medical school in Chicago. We approached questions like, “is a traditional post bacc program better than the do-it-yourself approach?” and the generalities of what makes med school applicant stand out. A second post will be dedicated to the second topic, how to get accepted to medical school.

Whether or not a post bacc program is “better” than a “do it yourself” approach depends on the circumstances of the student (whether or not he or she has already taken college-level science courses, time since graduation, aversion to extra debt vs. need for structure) and on the program itself (what is the reputation of the school in general, as well as the post bacc program? Does it have any affiliations with specific medical schools? Does the program also have relationships with PA and advanced nursing programs? The best ones do). In short, if you are debating between a post baccalaureate premedical program or taking the classes a la carte at a state school or community college, only you can answer that question. In general, I’ve never heard anyone recommend community colleges for med school prerequisites. People I have heard of taking this route ended up in medical school in the carribbean. And I’ve read that many people who go to medical school in the carribean have a harder time matching for residencies back in the U.S. It may be easier to start down the community college path, but it is harder to finish. There are much better, less frustrating options with better career outlook anyway.

My advice is do not cut corners and do not go low-budget. If the sticker price of medical school scares you that much, then you need to consider a master’s level program like generalist nursing, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. NP’s and PA’s can earn around $100,000 a year (as opposed to family docs, pediatricians, or general practioners who average around $150K), with a debt that is usually half what doctors acrue (roughly $100K for nurses as compared with $200K or more for docs).

For nursing programs, community college is an acceptable way to get your prerequisites taken care of. In fact, my wife took biochemistry at a community college prior to starting a master of nursing program, while at the same time I was shelling out $30,000 per year for a post baccalaureate premed program.

Here is something to consider. At the medical school in Chicago where I met with the dean of admissions, they receive about 10,000 applications each year to fill 150 spots. This is a good medical school, but it is not top-ranked, and does not have the notoriety of medical schools like Harvard or Johns Hopkins. To get into the best schools, you have to be the most exceptional applicant. To get into a decent school, you still have to be in the top 1.5% of their applicant pool! And you do this not only by having the best grades and the highest MCAT score (see also: how to get into medical school). If you want to go to medical school, the question is far larger than “how/where do I take my prereqs?”

If you are not asking yourself (and others), “how do I make myself a stellar applicant?” then you are starting off on the wrong foot. You need to stand out in a good way, not in a cheap route/lowest common denominator way. You need to plan for your student loan debt, but not be paralyzed by it.

In summary, if you have a great state school/four year college nearby, and you are sure that you will be able to get enrolled in the classes you need, then I would consider that as an option for premed courses as it could save you some money. You will be on your own still when it comes to forging relationships with professors (which are needed for decent letters of recommendation), getting an internship, shadowing experiences, procuring study materials for the MCAT, and a few other odds and ends.

A distinct advantage of a post bacc premed program is the availability of internships, shadowing opportunities, MCAT prep, and letters of recommendation. If you get into the program, you are guaranteed to be able to take the courses that you need in the proper sequence. The structure will help almost any non-traditional student who has been out of college for over a year. All of this comes at a cost, as these programs typically run about $10K more per year compared with state schools.

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