She earned an M. A. in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, focusing on Tibetan and East Asian Buddhist. Was that any background for going on to medical school?
No, of course not. But it doesn’t matter anymore.
“Eventually, I realized that I was more interested in a service-oriented profession than a purely scholarly one,” recalls Jennifer Carnahan.
After graduate school she had various jobs such as working for the public library system in Madison, Wis., before concluding that what she really wanted was to become a doctor.
In years past, she would have found it difficult to acquire the specific science and other courses required to be accepted to medical school. But today, in common with many others who decide later in life they want to become doctors, Carnahan found a school offering what is usually known as a pre-med post-bacc program.
“In 2002, I entered the post-bacc program at Goucher College where I spent a year completing the basic science prerequisite courses for medical school,” she says. She went on to the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine.
Her story is not uncommon.
A growing number of post-baccalaureate programs are “designed to give the requirements or additional experience and competitive edge you need for entering a graduate health professions program,” says the Association of American Medical Colleges (AMMC).
“Those programs are for students who did not decide to choose the medical school, vet school or other professional school route until late in their under-gradate career or after graduation,” the AAMC says.
The group also says the programs are helpful for pre-health track students who need to finish some of their requirements for getting into medical school.
“In recent years, more and more people have decided to apply to medical school after having tried another career path, and they are often successful applicants,” says Robert Resnik, associate dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of California-Berkeley.
He points out that returning adult or post-bacc students often show the kind of determination and maturity that medical schools value.
Over the years, student interest in attending medical schools has waxed and waned. A record 45,000 applicants for 15,000 openings signed up in 1996. But now there’s about 35,000 applicants for the number of positions, which has remained around 15,000, according to various records. But there’s been an increase in schools offering post-bacc programs.
“The number of post-baccalaureate or post-bacc programs has steadily increased over the last ten years. The reason is there are a lot of people out there seeking a medical education,” says Dr. Wayne Shelton of AdmissionsConsultants. (Wayne served on the admissions committee at Albany Medical College for over ten years.)
Bryn Mawr, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania are among the many colleges offering programs that have attracted accolades. “Typically, these post bacc-programs are offered at colleges and universities where there are existing medical schools. That’s because students have easy access to them,” says Wu, who adds that some students choose to take the programs and enroll in other schools.
Wu’s own interest in the intricacies of getting into medical school was acquired when he was one of 1,500 freshmen medical students at New York University. “They had one pre-med advisor for 1,500 students, so you didn’t exactly get a lot of attention,” he recalls.
Post-bacc programs in some schools offer students a better chance of being accepted in medical school in part because schools feel the type of coursework mandated prepares them for the rigors of medical school, which the US Department of Labor says remains the longest training period for any profession. There’s usually four years of medical school, followed by anywhere from 3 to 7 years of residency, and then advanced residency or “fellowships” that can last up to four years.
How well do the programs work?
There are no readily available national statistics, but some publish numbers. The Creighton University Medical Center, for example, says more than 90 percent of their enrollees have been offered acceptance to at least 45 medical schools. “The retention rate of program graduates in medical schools is over 95%,” according to the school’s Web page.
Among those who feel strongly about the subject is Bahar Mojgani, who took a post-bacc program at Georgetown University before entering medical school at the University of California-Berkeley.
“It gave me an extra year to learn medical school curriculum more thoroughly and to acquaint myself with all the aspects of medical school life,” he says. For others in his class, he added, the program helped them decide whether they really wanted to practice medicine or preferred instead a career in research.
If there’s any downside to entering a similar program, it’s the commitment of time and money, which Mojgani said should be a decision involving research and talking with many people.
“I think that anyone considering medicine should make a huge effort to speak to people in the post-bacc and medical school programs,” he says. “It is a key to know how much of an investment of time, money and energy you are committing to…since once you are in the program it is often too late to change your mind.”
The University of California’s Resnik agrees. “There’s no rating system for these programs, which vary widely in objectives, cost and effectiveness,” he says. He urges prospective students to ask a lot of questions, and talk to current participants and faculty. One important question, he says, is finding out the acceptance rate to medical school for graduates of the post-bacc program. Other basic questions:
How will students access the faculty teaching the program? What is the average length of stay for students? What types of other support including help in the critical MCTA test and other services are offered?
Study the issue, and take time to make up your mind, Resnik urges