High school students interested in applying for a medical degree may think their only path into medicine is by attending undergraduate school, declaring a STEM major, and having an extracurricular resume filled with medically based volunteer work and research experiences before applying to medical school.
Fortunately, this is not the case. High school students committed to careers in medicine can also enroll in direct medical programs (also known as BS/MD, BA/MD, BS/DO, and BA/DO). Once a student is accepted into the competitive program, they are guaranteed a place in medical school as long as they continue to meet the undergraduate requirements.
While some of these programs are rigid, requiring students to complete their courses on a set schedule, choose a specific major, or attend school in the summer, there are direct medical programs that are more flexible.
BS/MD counselor and current Brown PLME student, Nidhi Bhaskar, says: “A misconception students have about BS/MD programs is that to be accepted you have to focus solely on STEM, with no time for anything else. than medical activities.” She explains that some BS/MD programs allow students to have an undergraduate experience filled with diverse activities that are nearly identical to the typical college student. Here are five of the most flexible direct medical programs out there.
Brown University: Program in Liberal Medical Education
The program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) is one of the most prestigious direct medical programs in the United States. Not only is it the only direct med program in conjunction with an Ivy League, but it is also one of the most flexible programs.
Students can declare a major in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, or behavioral sciences, making it a great avenue for students looking to explore other interests. Although the program lasts eight years, students have the option of taking a gap year before entering medical school. Taking advantage of the year by pursuing opportunities in education, research, public service, healthcare, government or business helps PLME students work towards becoming more all-round physicians.
Bhaskar took advantage of the flexibility of the program by majoring three times in public policy, anthropology and health, and human biology. Before studying medicine, she took a gap year and completed a master’s degree in medical anthropology at Oxford University. Bhaskar believes that these diverse activities have helped her discover her unique passions and will ultimately help her become a more committed doctor.
PLME also offers science concentrations, an elective program where students create an academic product, which can be a curriculum project, research paper, or manuscript in a specific area of interest. Some of the disciplines students can explore include global health, translational research in medicine, or biomedical informatics.
Through PLME, students can live life like a typical pre-med student without the added pressure of taking the MCAT or applying for medical school at the end of their undergraduate degree. As long as they maintain a good academic reputation, they are guaranteed a place at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.
SUNY Upstate: Upstate Accelerated Scholars (UAS) Program
SUNY Upstate partners with 11 undergraduate universities to create a pipeline in their medical programs for exceptional high school students. Students in the UAS programs have some significant advantages: Not only do they have to take the MCAT, but the GPA requirements are also reasonably set at 3.5.
Another benefit of this program is that students are encouraged to explore non-traditional majors. “We’ve had students apply for and gain entry into the UAS program with majors like political science or computer science,” Bhaskar says. “It’s perfect for students who want to explore non-traditional pre-med interests.”
SUNY Upstate cooperates with the following universities:
- Adelphi University
- Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
- Hampton University
- Purchase College
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- SUNY Polytechnic Institute
- SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
- Spelman College
- Syracuse University
- University of Albany
- Yeshiva University
The University of Oklahoma: Medical Humanities Scholars Program
The Medical Humanities Scholars Program at the University of Oklahoma is another direct medical program that allows students to choose any major within the school. With a strong emphasis on the liberal arts, the program looks for students with a general interest in the arts, humanities, social sciences, or social determinants of health.
A unique facet of the program is that students are required to take a minor in Medical Humanities, but it can be adapted to their interests. Some examples of what students have done include studying the cross-cultural perspectives on health and disease, spirituality and medicine, bioethics, and health disparities.
During the eight-year program, students are encouraged to pursue some of the abundant research opportunities or study abroad.
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ): 7-Year Medical Program
TCNJ’s seven-year direct medical program is yet another flexible option for students considering a fast track to medicine. Although the program is accelerated, students have quite a bit of freedom with their academics and can choose from a variety of majors, including biology, chemistry, English, economics, math, Spanish, or history.
According to Dr. Sudhir Nayak, co-director of the program, said: “We are looking for students who want to attend a liberal arts college. Although this is a Bachelor of Science degree, we want people who want non-traditional pre-medical experiences to see value in diversity and have plans to study abroad.”
Nayak sympathizes that he wants students in the program to have time to grow and mature. The program encourages them to explore liberal arts classes or participate intensively in both medical and non-medical activities.
The culture between current program students and alumni is also strong. Alpha Zeta Seven-Year Medical Society is an established club that helps build community among current students as they usually have different majors. The Society also brings in alumni and organizes events so that students can get advice from past students.
There is also no MCAT minimum for students in the program; they simply have to pass the exam before enrolling in New Jersey Medical School.
University of Cincinnati: Connectivity Program
The University of Cincinnati’s Connections program is another flexible option that allows students to explore majors outside of the traditional sciences. It does require students to graduate with a minor or major in medical science, but students are welcome to double the major in the program.
“Students with many credits from dual enrollment, AP or IB courses can really take advantage of the flexibility of this program,” says Bhaskar. While this is not an accelerated program, if students complete their major requirements early, they can pursue other opportunities such as research, internships, double majors, and double degrees before enrolling in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Students also automatically participate in the University Honors Program, which gives them unique access to leadership, research, and community engagement opportunities.
Flexible Direct Medical Programs: Choosing the Right One for You
High school students interested in medicine, with a variety of other interests, can take advantage of these five flexible direct medical programs as a way to secure their way into medicine. As you do your research, take the time to make sure you find the right one for you and your future.