My updated perspective on the BA/MD program experience

I wrote a post during my freshman year–now in hindsight, it was prematurely written–about being a student in a BA/MD program.  After having recently graduated from Rice as a student in the program affiliated with BCM, I have some additional (a wiser?) perspective to share.  You can also read some of my thoughts on accepted.com.

During high school

My senior year of high school was very untraditional since it served as my medical school application year.  The BA/MD application process is quite involved and really deserves a post of its own.  However, some of my short-and-sweet takeaways are as follows.

I have spoken with many students who had different mindsets in applying.  Some are 200% confident in their aspiration to become physicians, while others are considerably interested but may end up changing their minds in college.  Your mindset will dictate your approach to applying.  Imho, you should think about applying to BA/MD programs in the same way you think about applying to colleges, regardless of your mindset.  They unofficially fall into tiers on the basis of undergraduate and medical school ranking, academic resources, research opportunities, local environment, etc.  Here is a complete list of them.  Which programs best fit your needs?  Do you want to primarily pursue medical research?  Do you want a traditional undergraduate experience with a heavy sports culture?  Do you want a culturally diverse surrounding city?  Keep in mind that you will typically be spending 6-8 years in the same city.  Also keep in mind that you will have unique access to the medical school’s opportunities as an undergraduate in the program.  Categorize the programs as you would universities.  Which programs are “safety,” “target,” and “reach”?  Note that no BA/MD program is a “safety” on its own, but perhaps is a relative “safety” compared to other programs.

Be confident in how you will respond to the question of why you want to become a physician.  Be able to support your answer with several clarifying experiences.  The program directors and your interviewers know that you are only 17 or 18 years old, so you are not expected to wow them with years of research or clinical experience.  Instead, be able to tell your story, and how your trajectory is headed toward a life in the medical field.

Programs have different interview styles: one-on-one, group, and panel.  You should be prepared for all of them.  The interviews involving multiple students were always most intimidating for me, since it wasn’t unusual for many students to have research publications or letters of recommendation from renowned physicians and scientists (I didn’t!).  There were two students who had patents, and another who had scrubbed into 20+ neurosurgeries.  Everyone is putting his or her best foot forward, so do not be intimidated!  Programs want accomplished students, but more importantly they want humble, down-to-earth people who they feel can take most advantage of the additional flexibility afforded during the undergraduate years.  Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve done in high school.  But also take interest in the stories of your peers, and celebrate their accomplishments.  They will likely be your colleagues in a decade!  Start to build your network now!

During college

Explore your interests, but pick your major wisely.  In college we are bombarded with new areas of study and interact with hundreds of students with different academic interests.  You are encouraged to take advantage of the additional flexibility afforded by the BA/MD program, since you will not be participating in the extensive application process of other medical school applicants further down the road.  Nonetheless, even though you may not be required to take all of the pre-med classes through your program, I recommend that you take them anyway.  Early exposure to the fundamental concepts of biological structures and processes will stick in your brain, and you will learn some study skills (e.g. how to memorize a lot of information and how to apply elementary concepts in complicated scenarios) which will prove useful for medical school.  I am confident that I will have to adopt new study skills in medical school, since we are all told that medical school is like drinking out of a firehose.  However, take a jumpstart on this during college.

Keep track of your overall and science GPAs each semester.  I made a spreadsheet for doing so and used it not only to predict my grades but also to plan ahead for my courses the following semester.

Talk to peers in your program and share information.  You will be spending up to eight years with these people, so make friends early!

Have fun (but not too much)!  In high school, I spent little to no time socializing, so some relief from the medical school application process provided me with extra time to relax and also to get more involved within my future medical school.

I am happy to address questions about specific programs, but as a disclaimer, I only really know Rice’s program very well!  Good luck!  đź™‚

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