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February 19, 2007 12:51 PM   Subscribe

BA to MD/PhD - how do I do it?

So I'm currently an undergraduate in International Affairs with a Global Public Health concentration. After reading one of Paul Farmer's books and thinking very hard for a few months, I've decided that I want to go to medical school, preferably one with an MD/PhD program in epidemiology and Global Public Health or something along those lines. Naturally, a few major problems and about ten to twelve years separate me from my goal.

I graduate next year with a BA, having taken no science classes since high school. This necessitates premedical study. I've looked around and have found a few 1- and 2-year MS programs, but is this the only way? Also, how does a BA in what is ostensibly a humanities program make himself attractive to a hard science masters program?

I'm already an EMT, though not currently practicing, and I'm looking for health-related internships over the summer, but is there anything else I should be doing? I don't have any room in my academic schedule for science courses, so should I be studying orgo in my spare time?

Any and all help is much appreciated. I found the advice in this question very informative.
posted by The White Hat to Education (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As long as you have the required science courses, I don't see why you would need an MS program. Just take the courses at whatever college you are currently attending. You will need to take them, though. I don't think any med school will let you in without 4 semesters of organic chem, 4 of inorganic, anatomy, physiology, and others that I'm not thinking of right now. I would check various med school's web sites and see what the prerequisites are.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:01 PM on February 19, 2007

I have a friend who had to go back and get a second undergrad degree prior to applying to medical school (this was when she was about 30 and had been working in IT for a while). I'm not sure if she HAD to get the second degree or if she could've gotten away with just taking the classes.

Also - my sister got into a really good med school with an english literature degree, and I don't remember her degree being a problem at all (although she took all of the pre-med undergrad classes as well).
posted by echo0720 at 1:03 PM on February 19, 2007

You don't need a MS. My wife (BA in Spanish/Anthro) completed a pre-med program at the Harvard Extension and I'm sure many other schools have the same thing. She ended up getting a MPH also, but didn't have it when she started medical school.

So plan to do that (in Cambridge or elsewhere) next year.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:04 PM on February 19, 2007

Best answer: Post Baccalaureate Pre-Med programs.
posted by alms at 1:07 PM on February 19, 2007

2nd the post-bac, it seems like the most established, well-known way for someone in your position to move into medicine. Also, since you are still in your undergraduate institution, is it at all possible to just stay for another year and pick up a minor in, say, biochemistry (or whatever it is that allows you to cover the most ground in terms of what premeds need to take)? I don't know if expense is an issue here or not, but it seems less painful than switching schools to do a post-bac.
posted by crinklebat at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2007

A post-bac pre-med program probably makes more sense than an MS, but just completing the requirements at a community college makes even more sense. If you haven't taken science in college, then you are probably under-prepared for master's level science coursework, making the post-bac program a better fit. Still, such programs are usually very expensive and offer little financial aid (they're generally money-makers for the school offering them), so the community college route probably makes the most sense of all. I have two friends who did this and both were accepted to the medical schools of their choice.

Also, re-consider whether you need to do an MD/ PhD to accomplish your career goals. Unless you want a research or teaching oriented career, an MD/MPH probably makes more sense. A PhD program will be heavily focused on research, while an MPH program will emphasize praxis.
posted by chickletworks at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2007

Also, the single way to be most valuable to an organization like PIH is fluency in a language in an area they work (Spanish, French, Kinyarwandan, Hatian Creole for that org). So languages classes when you have free time from your post-bac pre-med program would be good.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:45 PM on February 19, 2007

Best answer: I'd ask this question at one of the many different medical school forums (ex. student doctor network (I never use that one though and stick to a Canadian one)).

You might have to do a lot of research and look at all the different universities you might like to apply to. They have very, very different requirements. Based on the ones in Ontario (I'm sure there'd be even more variation in the US), things to keep in mind:

- are you required to write the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), and how recent in relation to when you expect to apply

- some schools might have no science requirements at all, just want a certain # of courses (1 in Ontario like that)

- do they require a honours degree? a 4 year degree?

- How was your GPA in your undergrad, how do they mark it? Some schools look at every single course you took, some at just the courses you took during the school year and not the summer, some just look at your best 2 years, some weight it to give your most recent year more weight and older years worth less. Some allow you to drop 1 course a year if you've always taken a full course load. (Be aware of how they calculate the GPA as well, ex. Ontario - you would much rather have five 80% than: one 79%, three 84% and one 89%). Some schools might ignore your GPA from a previous degree, for some it might still count. In regards to a Master's, some schools might have a lower GPA cut off for the Master's (some might still use your undergrad GPA and have a lower cutoff for Master's students).

- How do they determine interviews and admissions? Do extracurricular activities matter? (ex. they do for Ontario meds, but not so much for Ontario dentistry)

- Do they require references? How many? What type? Do you know who you'd ask?

- Are you good at interviews? What could you do to practice? What is the interview process at the schools you are interested in (MMI, 3 on 1, etc.)

- Are you missing any of the non-science course requirements?

- Do you have any scientific research experience? How do different medical schools regard research (important/unimportant).

I'm not to sure if that was helpful, just wanted you to know that each medical school has an extremely different process for admitting students, you'll have to research all the specifics yourself. It might even matter where your home is (applying to an out of province/state school might have higher requirements and make it tougher, some schools might favor local applicants). Are you limiting yourself to the US, many people go to international schools (a bunch in the Carribean, though returning to work in the US could prove almost impossible), what about somewhere in the UK (I think they enter med school straight out of high school and maybe you don't need any other university courses).

Sorry, I'm rambling. It is possible to do though (I did horribly in an undergrad in Statistics, and now in the 4th year of a Science undergrad, I have 3 med interviews over the next month). Oh, and if you really do have your heart set on a Science Master's Program, you should check to make sure you have the necessary courses & grades at the school you want to do your masters, as well as actually meeting with some potential supervisors to see if they'd even take you (and if volunteering in their lab might make them more apt to be your supervisor).

Definitely check out the medical specific forums though.
posted by curbstop at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2007

Is there a particular reason why you're tied to medical school? Most epidemiology programs are within schools of public health where a medical degree is not a requirement. In fact, many won't even accept MCAT scores with your application. What, in particular, do you aspire to do with the education? Without understanding the goal, it's difficult to give educational advice.
posted by B-squared at 2:11 PM on February 19, 2007

According to a few friends of mine who just recently entered medical school, MCAT scores are just as, if not more, important than your previous educational history.
posted by dantekgeek at 2:13 PM on February 19, 2007

I would strongly encourage you, as a non-classical potential medical student, to get an MPH first. I had several classmates at medical school who went and got an MPH first and were very happy with their decision. You can get in a year.

You can research a lot of options and talk to other non-classical medical school applicants at the Student Doctor forums.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2007

Post-baccalaureate premedical programs are what you seek (at least as a starting point), provided you don't have all of the coursework completed.

Second the SDN forums as a valuable resource. Specifically, you probably want to browse this forum, and maybe read this FAQ posted there.
posted by killdevil at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2007

Best answer: To get into medical school, you need an excellent GPA and excellent MCAT scores. Coursework matters less, but you will not do well on the science portion of the MCAT without a decent background in science. I agree with the suggestion to take the basic science courses at a local college or stay on a 5th year at your current school- it will much cheaper and faster than getting an MS.

I second chickletworks' suggestion about an MD/MPH instead of an MD/PhD. It sounds more suitable for your ideal career, and you're talking 5 years for an MD/MPH degree versus a minimum of 7 for the MD/PhD. Also, you may have difficulty getting accepted to an MD/PhD program unless you get some laboratory research experience.

And definitely talk to the admissions people at several medical schools to see what kind of programs they offer that match your interests, and what you can do to facilitate your future acceptance. Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 3:07 PM on February 19, 2007

It's rare to have a MD/PhD do their PhD in a non-basic science/engineering field, but there are a couple of current students who I've heard about during the interview trail for MD/PhD admissions that are doing their doctorial work in the humanities/social sciences. So don't let that discourage you.

MD/PhD admissions are very competitive and they mainly look at four things: GPA, MCAT, letters of recomendations, and your commitment to biomedical research. I would imagine for someone who intends to do a PhD in the social sciences/health policy, you should have undertaken significant research or internship experiences in your field of interest.

Like what's been said up-thread, you should examine what your ultimate career goals are before you embark on the MD/PhD application process. You have to ask yourself: Why do I need an MD or a PhD to accomplish what I intend to do as a career? It's a long hard slog and you should be sure that you can convince yourself and the admissions committees that both the MD and the PhD will be useful. Finally, you should also consider that your MD/PhD might not be fully funded (i.e. covered under the MSTP grant) if it's not in a basic science.
posted by scalespace at 5:17 PM on February 19, 2007

doctoral...not doctorial
posted by scalespace at 5:19 PM on February 19, 2007

Best answer: This post-bac is one that I've heard a lot of good things about. In fact, many of the non-science MDs at the Ivy med school I attended had completed it.

If you're interested in epidemiology, you don't need to set your sight on the MD/PhD. MD/PhD programs are monstrously competitive because they come fully funded; all 6 of the MD/PhD students who were admitted to my med school dropped it after the second year of med school and pocketed the $120,000 (2 years of tuition, fees, and a living stipend, all paid for by the NIH).

A better way to do this is the way I did it; I finished my residency training and then spent two years working for a master's in epidemiology, again on the NIH dime. By this time I had a lot of contacts in the field and obtaining the grant (tuition, stipend and loan rebates) was almost a rubber stamp.

You don't need a PhD if you want to work or teach in public health. An MD and an MPH is more than sufficient.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:07 PM on February 19, 2007

It occurs to me, also: If waiting until your residency is done doesn't appeal, you should seriously rethink going to medical school. Medical school is for those who wish to learn to care for sick people on an individual basis. I found that the epidemiology classes were much more meaningful after some years of taking care of people on a daily basis.

However, if you're only interested in health policy and research, an MD will be a 4 year sidetrack; without the motivation and drive shared by your classmates, you will find it a very unpleasant four years. After that you would do residency training, and I would never wish that on anyone who didn't want to take care of sick people. That plan makes no sense.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:14 PM on February 19, 2007

Response by poster: Many thanks to those who've answered- especially those who've e-mailed me. This is just the advice I'm looking for.

ikkyu2- The bryn mawr program is one I've looked at and am seriously considering (close to home, good price range). MPH is also a good practical alternative to PhD. As for residency, I switched from considering the foreign service/development aid to med school precisely because consular work wouldn't be as hands-on as I'd like.

Anyway, I'm taking this whole thing in baby steps. Get the BA. Apply to post-bac programs. Take science courses I haven't taken in three years and pass them. You get the picture.

Thanks again.
posted by The White Hat at 9:07 PM on February 19, 2007

The PhD is good because med school is paid for though (I think you even make some money).

Post-bac is a great thing but that's a couple more years tuition and your life is almost two years of studying before you enter med school and your life is the same thing.

Be a doctor because you can't be any other thing. I've learned that such people are the happiest MDs I've met.
posted by skepticallypleased at 4:41 AM on February 20, 2007

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