What should high school students know before they commit to majoring in pre-med or search for the best teen pre-med programs? How can you find out if medicine is your true interest? What should you look for in a high-school summer medical program?
High school is not too early to start thinking about pre-med. You can prepare academically, explore various careers in medicine and attend a medical or science summer camp program. Not only will these preparations help you decide if a career in medicine is for you, but they will look great on your high school resume and translate into positive responses from the colleges where you apply.
Is medicine the right career choice?
Many high school students only know about medicine through television shows or a trip to the doctor. Before you start pursuing medicine as a career path, think about why you want to go into the field. According to Medical School Headquarters, there are five good reasons:
You want to improve the lives and health of others.
You have a sense of leadership.
You like the variety of career options.
You like the intellectual challenge.
You want to perform surgery
There are also reasons not to go into a medical career, including pressure from parents, the drama and romance of television medical dramas, or the inability to cope in a high-stress environment.
How can high school students find out about medical careers?
If you are thinking about pre-med, explore the areas of medicine that interest you. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers fact sheets about medical school. It also has inspiring stories from people about their journeys into medicine and a video series answering questions about the path to medical school.
Next, interview or shadow someone in the areas of medicine that interest you. Interviewing a health-care professional is a good way to learn about the different careers in health care by asking questions such as:
Why did you choose a career in the health sciences?
What is a typical day like in your field?
What would you recommend I do to prepare for a career in medicine?
What do you like or dislike about your career?
How did you choose your pre-med program and/or medical school and why?
You can also sign up for a summer medical program for high school students or high school internship at a hospital or medical facility. (Some college summer programs for teens waive tuition for low-income students or offer financial aid.)
See if a local hospital, medical facility, or ambulance company in your community accepts high school volunteers. Volunteering gives you the opportunity for patient contact and helps you decide whether or not medicine is something you want to pursue. Medical schools look for students who have shown an interest in medicine during high school.
How can high school students prepare for a pre-med college major?
To prepare for a pre-med major, you must take the right courses in high school. These include the sciences, such as physics and chemistry; math, including calculus and statistics; and even English. Pursue a rigorous combination of AP, Honors or IB courses and strive for the highest grades possible.
It’s important to note here that although your college may accept AP credit, medical schools may not. If you are pursuing a medical career, take the college course and pass up the AP credit. Not only will this college level course look better on your pre-med admissions application, but it will also prepare you for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and medical school classes.
Next, look for a high school summer medical program. These programs will give you exposure to the world of medicine and also the opportunity to work with medical professionals. Colleges such as Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown and many others offer summer programs that introduce students to the medical field. Some hospitals, such as Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, also offer summer internships or research opportunities for high school students.
High school medical summer programs offer learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. Many include hands-on lab training. For instance, the Pre-Med Institute at the University of Texas at Austin allows students to study anatomy by handling real human remains and soft tissue specimens. Students also learn how to examine MRIs, X-rays, and CTs. If you are looking at summer medical programs, consider who is teaching the classes and whether it includes opportunities to be in the lab or even do your own research.
If you like what you experience at one of these pre-med summer programs, it is a good indicator that you are on the right track toward a career in medicine.
Can I go straight to pre-med out of high school?
If you’re already sure you want to be a doctor, you might consider a BS-MD program in college, which combines undergraduate school with medical school, giving you both your bachelor and medical degrees. These programs last seven years, and requirements vary from program to program. The benefit of these programs is they usually offer guaranteed admission to medical school after the third year of college. After completing medical school, courses apply toward your BS and your MD degrees.
As you can imagine, these programs are popular among students who are sure medicine is the field they want to major in. Because of this, the colleges that offer these programs can be highly competitive.
You need a strong GPA, high standardized test scores, and will also have to prove your interest in medicine by writing an essay or attending a special interview. These programs are not for everyone. You will have to commit to academic excellence because you will be completing your prerequisites for medical school in just three years. You will need to have your priorities in place and be prepared to sacrifice some of the normal college experiences in order to focus on your academics. If you have any doubt, it would be better to enroll in a normal pre-med program and take the time to discover whether or not medicine is the right field for you.
P.S. Here's a list of a some great pre-med programs!