Being a physician is one of the most exciting and challenging careers, but also requires some of the most extensive training of any profession. Medical school requires four years beyond your undergraduate degree. The first two years of medical school focus on coursework and the last two on clinical studies. During the first year students take basic-science coursework that is biology-intensive. First year courses typically include gross anatomy, histology, embryology, neuroanatomy, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and behavioral science. During the second year coursework focuses more on understanding, diagnosing, and treating diseases. Coursework includes pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and diagnostic examination and evaluation. During the third year students begin clinical rotations where they gain expertise in specialties within medicine, such as surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, and internal medicine. The last year involves clinical electives where individuals enter additional rotations in specialty areas of their choosing. After medical school you are a "doctor" (MD or DO), but you are required to spend at least three to four years in residency before you can practice medicine independently. Residency is performed at a hospital or clinic, usually different from where you went to medical school. However, the first step in becoming a physician is to gain admittance to medical school.
As an undergraduate, your primary focus should be on completing all requirements for applying to medical school, excelling at academics, and preparing to take the MCAT.
What are the minimum course requirements?
As a general rule, medical schools require:
- two years of chemistry (including one year of organic)
- two years of biology
- one year of physics
Some schools require calculus, so Math 191 (calculus I) is recommended. Please note that all these requirements are the minimum, the better your background in all of these areas, the more likely you are to succeed in the application process and in medical school.
What should I major in at UNC Asheville?
Pre-med is not a major. You'll need to declare a major at UNC Asheville. What interests you? Regardless of your major, to prepare for the MCAT, you’ll need courses in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. If you choose a major not included in the above list, you will need to carve out room in your schedule to take the courses needed for the MCAT. Students with satisfactory AP or IB exam scores may satisfy introductory requirements. Additionally, introductory classes taken at a community college may transfer to a four-year institution. However, it is strongly encouraged that courses needed for medical school should be taken at UNC Asheville. Make sure to investigate the policies of the medical school(s) you want to attend before deciding to take the classes somewhere other than UNC Asheville.
What is the MCAT?
The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is one of the most important exams that you will take. The MCAT is required for all medical schools, allopathic (MD degree) and osteopathic (DO degree). Your score will be a key factor in determining whether you are accepted to medical school. The test consists of four sections: physical sciences; biology; verbal reasoning; and a writing sample (essay). The test is intended to determine how well you understand basic concepts in biology, chemistry, and physics. It also assesses problem solving, critical thinking, and writing skills. Information about applying to medical schools is available at the American Colleges Centralized Application Service.
When should I take the MCAT?
Take the MCAT 18 months prior to the semester you want to enroll. For example: if you want to enroll August 2025, take the MCAT the spring/summer of 2024.
How important is my grade point average?
Your grade point average is an important criterion for evaluation. You must demonstrate that you are able to achieve good grades under a challenging course load. It is critical that you do well from the onset, and that you learn to develop good study skills during your freshman year. Your advisor can provide helpful suggestions on developing good study habitats beyond the obvious of attending every lecture and taking copious notes.
How important are personal interviews?
Most medical schools require a personal interview as part of the admissions process. The importance of the interview with respect to your overall evaluation depends on the school, your application and how you do in the interview. Good interviewing skills are not innate, so you should work on developing your verbal skills. For example, you may want to take a speech class as an elective. You may also want to attend career days or other functions where you can gain experience in interviews. It is also a good idea to practice interviews with a friend or member of the pre-med club on campus. Most interviewers are less concerned with your opinions than with your ability to communicate effectively. They are also assessing your ability to interact with future patients and colleagues. For example, are you confident but not overbearing? Are you friendly and calm? Can you handle intimidating questions or stressful situations with confidence?
Any suggestions about letters of recommendation?
Most medical colleges require letters of recommendation from university professors or other individuals who are qualified to judge your abilities. At UNCA this is fulfilled by a single letter from the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee, with input from faculty members who know you. Ask your advisor or one of the premed committee members to begin this process. The better the faculty members know you, the better the letter of recommendation they can provide, so talk to your professors. Fortunately, small classes and close relationships between faculty and students at UNCA make it relatively easy to get to know professors. Before asking for a letter of recommendation, come prepared with a summary of your accomplishments, your coursework and grades, and any other relevant information that can facilitate writing the letter. If needed, have forms filled out and signed and envelopes preaddressed. Let individuals know that you are both organized and unique!
Should I engage in extracurricular activities?
Because so many med school applicants are exceptional, your chances of getting admitted will be enhanced by engaging in relevant college and extracurricular activities. Examples include volunteering or paid employment in health clinics or medical centers, shadowing physicians, engaging in undergraduate research, and being an active member of organizations or clubs.
What will I do if I do not get accepted to medical school?
Only about 10% of applicants are accepted to medical schools nationwide and many who are not admitted have excellent credentials. Competition is so keen that it is wise to consider other alternatives. Here is where you should give much thought to your major. If you are not accepted, then your future career pathways may be limited by your choice of major. By majoring in the subject you are most passionate about, you will be assured of having meaningful alternative career opportunities if you are not accepted to medical school.