When we connect with students hoping to enter the medical field, they are understandably eager to attend a BS/MD program to be able to skip the dreaded medical school application process, and in some cases, the MCAT altogether. But what is it truly like as a student to attend one of these programs?
Moon Prep counselor Nidhi, also currently finishing Brown University’s BS/MD program, has all the insight into how to prepare for these competitive programs and how to navigate college life once you’re accepted. The way you spend your time in college is just as crucial as the time you spent preparing for college applications, and here is Nidhi’s advice on how to create a roadmap to success.
There is no “cookie-cutter” BS/MD student
There is genuinely no specific checklist to ensure a spot in a BS/MD program. If I had to highlight one main theme, many applicants have shown some degree of medically-related service or have worked on a specific cause that they are passionate about that intertwines with medicine. Personally, I was very interested in global and environmental health as well as disaster preparedness. I sought out opportunities (i.e.: first responder training, creating a youth-led environmental initiative) to meld my passions together.
Many of my peers within Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) and those enrolled in other BS/MD programs showed their passion for medicine through activities apart from shadowing physicians or getting involved in research. I’ve had friends work with community-based healthcare organizations, explore the intersections of medicine and law, or even dabble in the field of medical journalism. The possibilities are endless, and aspiring BS/MD candidates should choose extracurriculars based on causes and fields that are meaningful to them, rather than perceived expectations of what a BS/MD applicant “should” look like.
It’s not all about academics
Although strong academic performance in STEM and the humanities is often a prerequisite for getting into a BS/MD program, each program prioritizes certain qualities and experiences. For example, the Rutgers 7-Year BA/MD joint degree program prizes patient interaction (ie: hospital volunteering and physician shadowing) most, while the Virginia Commonwealth University- Guaranteed Admission Program values community service experiences. More broadly, programs such as the Brown University PLME and University of Oklahoma’s Medical Humanities Scholars program look for well-rounded candidates whose interests span both the sciences and the humanities.
Even once you gain an assured seat in medical school through a BS/MD program, you should still explore meaningful extracurricular experiences that complement your learning within the classroom. Seeking research opportunities and internships as a student on campus such as working on healthcare technology or a startup can help broaden your understanding of the medical field while developing a resume for medical school.
Professionalism should be on your mind from the time you apply
The role of a physician comes with great responsibility and often involves the blurring between one’s personal and professional life. From the first day you walk into the classroom, your mentors and professors will reiterate that medicine is a “profession” rather than merely a “job”.
You will be expected to manage and demonstrate responsibility in both the private and academic facets of your life. This may include (but is not limited to) maintaining attendance at program-specific events, promptly responding to appointments and assignments, and conducting yourself in an academically honest manner. Above anything else, understanding and preparing yourself to demonstrate professional merit and strength of character throughout your undergraduate and medical school journey is crucial to setting yourself for success as a BS/MD student.
There will be a PLETHORA of medically related opportunities
Finding the perfect volunteer/research role always requires some trial and error; however, BS/MD students do have a leg up in finding research roles and receiving mentorship from medically affiliated professors and faculty. Beyond research and volunteering, many BS/MD programs have their own medical exchange programs or study abroad programs that increase your understanding of medicine on a global scale. As a PLME student, I was excited to pursue a summer grant to fund my public health research and applied to one of the several exchange fellowships to Germany.
Although these resources may involve hard work and research, your advisors and older peers are there to help! Make sure to do your research and ask around to take full advantage of the resources that are available to you as a student. As a side note, speaking directly about these resources and opportunities in your application programs is key to ace-ing the “Why Us” supplemental essay or interview question that your favorite BS/MD program may ask you.
You will cultivate longitudinal relationships with a diverse set of mentors
Mentorship plays a huge role in any undergraduate experience, but BS/MD students are specially positioned to garner a diverse set of mentors throughout their undergraduate and medical experiences. From my PLME advising dean, to the principal investigator in my undergraduate research lab, to my anthropology-specific advisor, my mentors have seen me grow throughout my undergraduate years and will continue to stand by my side as I navigate medical school.
Your mentors will be the ones who advise you on course paths and write your recommendations for jobs and internships, but they will also be the individuals you will learn from year after year. Keep your mentors looped into what is happening in your life and don’t be afraid to expand your mentor network as your interests evolve.
Your best friends may not necessarily be in your program
While having a close-knit BS/MD cohort is wonderful, it may also seem daunting to be with the same group of people for seven or eight years. The good news is that college is inherently a spectacular place to meet people! Most BS/MD programs hold activities and socials while completing your undergraduate degree and through medical school but leave ample space for students to form connections and friendships outside of their program.
During the first few weeks of college, I found that having a pre-formed BS/MD community was incredibly helpful in helping me navigate my new environment. However, by my senior year of college, I had maintained friendships with some members of my cohort, but the majority of my close friends were outside of my program. I found it very easy to meet people outside my BS/MD cohort within my classes, the student groups I joined, and events on campus.
Your undergraduate years should be a time of exploration
Early assurance takes a HUGE weight off the shoulders of any medical school applicant! Within the PLME, I was able to use this academic flexibility to explore classes and join clubs apart from medicine, while also completing my core requirements. For example, I chose to major in both anthropology and public policy, pursued a summer internship at a startup in Berlin, and joined groups such as the Brown Daily Herald, the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Society, and Brown Effective Altruism. While none of these were directly related to medicine, they helped me discover and refine interests in writing, entrepreneurship, and policy making and allowed me to enter medical school with a non-traditional set of skills and experiences.
If your program allows, use the assured acceptance to pursue studies in fields apart from medicine, start a passion project, or study a new language or culture. Although these experiences may not seem to parlay into the journey towards becoming a physician directly, they will be invaluable in providing interdisciplinary perspectives, sharpening critical and reflective thinking, and fostering a holistic approach to your education.