MD/PhD & MD Applications: A Process of Perseverance

iStock_000016994590MediumBy Sai Phyo, St. John’s University

Preparing applications for MD/PhD programs not only requires years of preparation – from doing research, to participating in extra-curricular activities, to having good grades – but also requires perseverance during the application process itself. As a fellow MD/PhD applicant, I know firsthand that taking advantage of available resources and staying on top of deadlines can make the process less stressful.

The first step is being sure that you are really passionate about research. If your mind is set on becoming a physician-scientist, start getting as much research experience as possible. You do not necessarily need to be a co-author on a publication, but it will set you apart. Engage in your research project and be able to articulate your role in the project. MD/PhD admission committees are looking for students who are not only successful, but also those who have the potential to succeed.

Second, establish a good academic track record and participate in extra-curricular clinical and non-clinical activities. Be aware of the prerequisite classes for medical school. These classes can include one year of chemistry with lab, one year of physics with lab, one year of biology with lab, one year of organic chemistry with lab, one year of humanities, one year of mathematics, and one year of English or English intensive courses. Most medical schools accept AP credits, but some do not. Most medical schools also strongly encourage applicants to take certain biology classes such as biochemistry and physiology. Be sure to check with each school what their policies are regarding AP credits and prerequisite classes.

The most important step for getting into an MD/PhD or an MD program is the application. The application process includes the Medical School Admission Test (MCAT); letters of evaluation (LOE); The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is also known as the primary application; school specific supplemental applications, which are also known as the secondary applications; and the interviews.

The primary application is used by all medical schools outside of Texas. Texas medical schools use Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) instead of AMCAS. However, medical schools such as the University of Texas Southwestern use AMCAS for MD/PhD applicants, but TMDSAS for MD applicants.

Most students decide to apply for medical school by the end of their junior year in college. The application process takes one year, so you will need to apply by the end of junior year. The best time to take the MCAT is about a semester after you have finished the prerequisites for the MCAT: general chemistry, physics, biology, organic chemistry, psychology, sociology, and biochemistry. The MCAT score is released thirty to thirty-five days after the test date. By taking the MCAT at the end of junior year, students can start the application process knowing where they stand in the applicant pool.

Collect LOEs from professors who know you on a personal and an academic level as early as possible. Give them time to reflect on your strengths and write you a great recommendation letter. If you have a pre-medical committee, it is imperative that you utilize the committee letter service instead of sending individual letters. Contact your pre-medical advisory committee early and get information on how to proceed with the committee letter. Almost all medical schools participate in the AMCAS letter service. This means that all LOEs, including the committee letters, are sent to AMCAS before being distributed to your designated schools.

The AMCAS application cycle starts in early May, but you will not be able to submit the application until early June. The deadlines for medical schools vary, but the deadline for the primary application is usually in October. Research the schools you want to apply to and be mindful of the specific deadlines. In addition to the biographical and academic information, there is one personal statement for MD applicants and there is a personal statement, an MD/PhD statement, and a PhD statement for MD/PhD applicants. Once you have sent in the transcript from your school and filled out all required information, you can submit the AMCAS even without sending in your LOE/committee letter. The LOE can be sent later, but medical schools will not review your application until they receive all application materials.

After sending in the AMCAS, it takes about two to four weeks to get it verified and sent to your designated schools. The LOE is verified separately and it can take up to four weeks before it will be sent to your designated schools. If required, the designated schools will invite you to complete the secondary applications and pay an application fee. Policies on sending secondary invites depend on each school. Some schools send out invites to all applicants (e.g. Harvard), but some schools send out invites only to applicants they are interested in (e.g. Vanderbilt). The secondary applications ask for basic information and most medical schools will have additional essays. The deadlines for secondary applications vary as well. Some have rolling admission while others have deadlines in early October to early January.

After the medical schools receive your MCAT score, LOE, primary application, secondary applications and application fees, they will start reviewing your application. Strong candidates are then invited for an interview.

One tip is to first apply to schools with rolling admission after ranking them based on your preference. This will put you on the top of the list, giving you a higher chance of getting interview invites that are usually emailed starting in early August until the schools have run out of interview spots. After applying to schools with rolling admission, apply to schools with fixed deadlines. The actual interview dates vary, but will be during the fall or spring semesters. Students choose their own interview dates among the available dates depending on their schedules.

Also be sure to utilize your pre-medical advisor. They can offer you insight and can help you with your application essays as well. Get to know them well since they will be the one writing the committee letter.

There are numerous resources to help you in the application process, including:

Many schools such as MIT, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins offer great insights regarding application essays on their websites. Finally, an AMCAS fee waiver is available for eligible resident students. More about this can be found out at: www.aamc.org/students/applying/fap/.

So to summarize the timeline, aim to take the MCAT by the spring of your junior year, start your AMCAS in May, finalize AMCAS by June or early July, work on your secondary applications from August to December depending on your preference and the schools’ admission policies (rolling or non-rolling), go to interviews in Fall and Spring semesters of senior year, get accepted by medical schools during senior year, and matriculate in medical school the semester following graduation.

For more information on TMDSAS: www.tmdsas.com

For more information on the new 2015 MCAT: www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/mcat2015/

For more information on AMCAS Letter service check: www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/amcasresources/63226/faq_amcasletters.html

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