I now get about as many emails asking about my post bac pre-med program as I do about eating disorder recovery. I guess lots of people are looking into career changes, and I’m so thrilled to provide some advice and share my experience. However, most people tend to ask similar questions I thought it would be helpful and time-saving to compile all those question into one post.
Before I get into the questions, here are a few posts I wrote back when I was going through the process:
Is a post bac right for me?
Post Bac Pre-med programs are designed for complete career changers that have decided they want to be physicians. Generally you will not qualify if you have taken more than one of the medical school prerequisites already. They are different than “special masters” programs that are more like GPA- or resume-boosters, although some of those programs do call themselves post bacs. If you are sure you want to change careers and go to medical school, think about a post-bac program!
Is doing a post bac necessary or can I take the classes on my own?
Post back aren’t necessary, but I think they are incredibly helpful. So long as you have taken the prerequisite classes and the MCAT you can apply to medical school. The problem is that it can be pretty difficult to take, organize, and do well in all of the prerequisite classes on your own. When I spoke to my alma mater about that possibility they said of course I could do it, but that I’d have to contact each individual professor and ask special permission to be put in his or her class. That just seemed like a lot of headache and red tape.
The benefit of a post bac is that it’s taken care of for you. The classes are organized so they don’t overlap and tests don’t conflict. Usually you get either a private post bac class, or if it’s a large lecture, you can get some 1-on-1 time with the professor. Post bacs have built in advising and usually some MCAT prep as well. Some, like mine at UVA, even have volunteer and shadowing opportunities and a special class on the US healthcare system. Most boast a medical school acceptance rate of over 95%.
Post bacs are definitely more expensive, but having all of the organization taken care of and the advising readily available was very much worth it to me.
What did you do to get into post bac?
Post bac applications generally require submitting high school and college transcripts, ACT/SCAT scores, a resume, a few essays, and a few recommendations. No specific previous medical experience is required, though it definitely doesn’t hurt. I’d say what’s most important is showing that you have a good, solid reason for wanting to become a physician and that you are at least familiar with the field you are trying to entire. The essay is one of the most important parts, as well as showing a previous history of success (via grades and recommendations) in whatever you were previously pursuing.
I didn’t have any true medical experience when I was applying, though I did have some lined up. I had reached out to a few doctors I knew and asked if they needed any help or knew anyone that may need help with research. I got lucky and was able to be a research assistant for a few months! I also set up some shadowing experiences with different specialties.
What I did have was pseudo doctor-patient relationship experiences via my health coaching. It’s not (and I didn’t make it out to be!) medical experience, but it was related to the healthcare field and provided me with a huge desire to become a physician. I can’t say how that affected my application.
What were you’re grades? Are mine good enough?
I hesitate to share my grades, but I figure it probably does help to see where you stand. I graduated Notre Dame with a 3.78 and had a 33 on my ACT. I have heard that some post bac programs require a GPA of at least a 3.5 but I can’t say that for sure. I would say certainly programs would allow for some lower scores so long as you have showed improvement, the ability to succeed, and a true passion for medicine. Their goal is to accept people they truly believe will be able to succeed both in post bac and medical school.
What if I don’t have any medical experience?
That’s okay!! That’s the point of a post bac — you are changing careers! These programs know that you aren’t going to have a huge amount of medical experience, but definitely value if you’ve volunteered, shadowed, or worked in healthcare in some capacity. Like I said, I didn’t have a whole lot going into it. I think it helped that I had already made plans to get some prior to the beginning of classes.
You can volunteer at a local hospital, shadow physicians, help with research or any other variety of situation. Talk to other physicians or medical students to get a good idea of what medical school and working as a physician is like. It’s important to be able to talk intelligently about the field during your interviews. Medicine is a demanding, complicated field and they want to make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
How did you convince them you wanted to be a doctor?
My essay and my interview. First you need to nail down your concrete reason about why medicine is right for you. And make sure you can discuss why medicine vs. nursing, NP, PA, etc. Then write and edit and get feedback on your essay. Share a little bit about your background, your WHY, and how you think you can contribute to the healthcare field. What experiences led you to this decision?
I had multiple people read over and help me with my essay. My parents, both physicians, were invaluable with helping me talk about medicine in appropriate and effective ways.
How did you pay for your program?
Loans loans loannnnns! Becoming a doctor is expensive, y’all! Unfortunately post bac pre-med programs require some private loans since it’s not a degree seeking program. This is not ideal, but it’s part of the process. I talked to a financial advisor to discuss my options and choose what was best. Obviously if you have money to pay for the program with or can get help from family that’s great! But most people will be on loans. You’ll most likely end up with more loans for medical school, too. It’s not fun, but get used to it!
What is hard? Will I be able to do it after being away from school for so long?
That depends on whether or not you like school and like science! I adore being in school so it wasn’t too bad for me. Obviously there are pros and cons to a student lifestyle. You get more flexibility in your days, but you also end up studying on weekends and late at night.
I picked back up on my old study habits pretty quickly, plus I was really engaged and interested because I very purposefully chose to be there. I was surrounded by some of the most brilliant and motivated classmates I had ever met, and they made studying really fun. If you are serious about becoming a doctor, post-bac is just one of many years of school ahead. Plus, it’s way easier than medical school itself! 🙂
Why did you choose UVA?
I chose UVA because I felt most comfortable on my visit. I loved Charlottesville, loved the teachers I met, and was told nothing but wonderful things about the program and advising. The program seemed very collaborative and not at all competitive. I truly felt I’d be supported and best able to succeed there.
There are lots of other things to consider when choosing your program, including cost, location, linking options and medical school acceptance rate.
How did you study for the MCAT?
UVA had some built in MCAT prep, with 12 optional tutoring sessions and the Exam Kracker books provided. I mostly ended up studying on my own via the Exam Kracker books, a Kaplan book, and practice tests available through AMCAS. I had about a month after classes ended to study and just buckled down each day. The practice tests were probably the most valuable.
When did you take the MCAT?
I took the MCAT in early June, just after I had finished my post bac classes. This is a good time because you’ve gotten through all the class material and still have a few weeks to study. Some people took it earlier if they felt ready or if they had special circumstances like linking.
The con to this decision is that I submitted my applications to medical school before I go my scores back. I had an idea of what my score would be from my practice tests, but I really didn’t know for sure so I wasn’t able to narrow down the schools to apply to very well.
How many medical schools did you apply to?
TOO MANY. WAY TOO MANY. I applied to 19 schools, which is crazy and expensive!! I was told the average is 15 but that still seems like a ton. Like I said, at the time I didn’t know my MCAT score and so didn’t know how competitive my application would be. I was also so freaked out about not getting in anywhere that I figured the more schools the better.
Looking back, I think I would have skipped out on some of the way way reach schools (like top ten schools that I really didn’t think I’d get into, nor would I be happy at) and applied to more like 10 schools that seemed like good fits for me.
Was it worth it?
YES. Once I started medical school classes I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was excited and happy throughout the process, but I was a little scared deep down that I’d end up hating it or something! Realizing that I love my classes, classmates, and school was so wonderful. I could not be more confident in my decision to change careers, and know that a post bac was the best way for me to get there.
Would you do anything differently?
Nope! I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Hope that was helpful! Any other questions I can answer?? Any one else that has done a post bac want to share their thoughts on these questions??