Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries and diseases.
To become a practicing physician, there are two degree paths: Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). The basic training for Allopathic Physicians and Osteopathic Physicians is nearly identical. Both are trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care. The main difference is that Osteopathic Medicine places additional emphasis on the body’s musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic (whole-person) patient care. Allopathic Medicine takes an approach based in biology toward diagnosing illnesses and treating injuries.
Physicians may work as general practitioners or choose to specialize in any number of over 120 specialties and sub-specialties.
Physicians typically do the following:
- Take a patient’s medical history
- Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
- Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform
- Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
- Recommend and design a plan of treatment
- Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
- Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene
- Additional responsibilities vary widely based on specialty
- Communication skills: Physicians and surgeons need to be excellent communicators. They must be able to communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.
- Compassion: Physicians and surgeons deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. Physicians and surgeons must be able to treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
- Detail oriented: Physicians and surgeons must ensure that patients are receiving appropriate treatment and medications. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
- Dexterity: Physicians and surgeons must be good at working with their hands. They may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.
- Leadership skills: Physicians who work in their own practice need to be effective leaders. They must be able to manage a staff of other professionals to run their practice.
- Organizational skills: Some physicians own their own practice. Strong organizational skills, including good recordkeeping, are critical in both medical and business settings.
- Patience: Physicians and surgeons may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.
- Physical stamina: Physicians and surgeons should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as lifting or turning disabled patients. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.
- Problem-solving skills: Physicians and surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.
Learn more about Medicine:
- Similarities and Differences between MD and DO Programs
- Explore Health Careers: Allopathic Medicine
- Explore Health Careers: Osteopathic Medicine
- Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
- AAMC Aspiring Docs
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)
- American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
- The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) provides a detailed explanation of the differences in its Brief Guide to Osteopathic Medicine.
This is a list of common pre-medical requirements and the Kalamazoo College course equivalents. The course prerequisites vary across programs. This list does not include all courses that may be required by medical schools. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites. Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and policies of the schools to which they plan to apply. Helpful resources include the MSAR (allopathic schools), the AACOM Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, and individual school websites.
* BIOL 123 while this course is not a medical school requirement, BIOL 123 is strongly recommended to first-year students, as it includes physiology and is required for the Biology major.
GPA and Extracurricular Experience
The average cumulative GPA was 3.73 for allopathic (MD) matriculants in 2020-2021 and 3.54 for osteopathic (DO) matriculants, in 2018. Aside from test scores and grades, medical schools look for holistic candidates that exhibit the AAMC’s 15 Core Competencies, which can be shown through clinical experience, research, volunteering, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, interviews and leadership roles. The average age of medical school matriculants was 24 in 2018 (per AAMC data was removed removed from the FACTS website due to low usage). Many students take a growth year before entering medical school for various reasons (e.g., they have not met prerequisites, want to travel, or want to gain additional experience to strengthen their application).
Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
Students are required to the read the MCAT Essentials before submitting an application to test. This test is a standardized, multiple-choice exam created to assist admission offices access your problem solving, critical thinking and knowledge of natural, behavioral and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. The MCAT is scored on a scale up to 528 and medical schools will look at both your overall score and the scores you received in the four sections of the exam.
Admission to medical school is competitive and rigorous. An average MCAT score (50th percentile) is approximately 500, a good MCAT score (80th percentile) is approximately 508 and a high MCAT score (95th percentile) is 516 and above. Please keep in mind, these numbers are based on students who take the MCAT, not those who actually matriculate into medical school. In 2018, the average MCAT score was 511.2 for allopathic (MD) matriculants and 503.8 for osteopathic (DO) matriculants.
Length: 7 hours and 30 minutes
Sections: Four sections:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Scores: Scores range from 472-528
Timeline: The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends that applicants start studying for the MCAT only AFTER all required MCAT coursework has been completed. This means you should complete all MCAT coursework at least three months before you plan to start studying. Students should plan to take the MCAT by the second week of April and no later than May* in the year they intend to apply to give enough time to receive your scores. Taking the test earlier will help to determine if you would like to retake the test prior to applying to medical school. Scores are generally valid for two to three years depending on the individual medical school’s admissions requirements. For students applying for June-August 2022 matriculation, the MCAT should be completed in or no later than May 2021.
Rules and Regulations: There are testing limits on how many times you can take the MCAT exam. Voids and no-shows count toward your lifetime limits. Remember that you can only be registered for one seat at a time.
- Single testing year: The MCAT exam can be taken up to three times.
- Two consecutive-year period: The MCAT exam can be taken up to four times.
- Lifetime: The MCAT exam can be taken up to seven times in a lifetime.
Cost: The basic registration fee for the MCAT is $320, which covers the cost of the exam, as well as distribution of your scores. Late registration and changes to registration will result in additional fees. Applicants with financial need may apply for the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program to receive reduced MCAT registration fees.
*Since application processing begins earlier for AACOMAS and TMDSAS, students applying through those CAS should take the MCAT no later than April.
Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 12-20 medical schools.
Factors to consider:
- Location I: Students have the best chance of admission at the public medical schools in their state of residency. Outside of your in-state school(s), consider private schools and other state public schools that accept a reasonable number of out-of-state residents.
- Location II: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc.
- Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.
- Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.
- Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available
Don’t focus on “rankings”. In fact, the governing bodies of the medical schools (AAMC and AACOM) do not rank or endorse any ranking of the accredited schools and programs within their organizations. There are no “safety” medical schools. Each and every accredited medical school in the U.S. has rigorous admission standards.
Additional resources for school selection:
- AAMC Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) (U.S. and Canadian Allopathic Medical schools, including Texas schools).
- AACOM Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (Osteopathic schools)
- Mission Fit: Applying to the Right Medical Schools for You – AAMC video
- Factors to Weigh Before Applying Worksheet
Since the application cycle for medical school takes a full year, students should apply in the year prior to when they plan to matriculate. For example, students who wish to go straight from their undergraduate degree to medical school would apply in the spring/summer of their junior year (as long as all prerequisites are complete at that time). Students who apply in their senior year would have a gap year and matriculate in the year following their graduation.
Allopathic (MD) applicants apply through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is the centralized application service used by most medical schools. Many (but not all) Texas medical schools use the Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) and osteopathic (DO) applicants apply through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS).
Applications for AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS are reviewed on a rolling basis. We recommend applying as early in the cycle as possible. For additional information on Centralized Application Services, see the “Apply” section of the Careers in Health and Medicine website (Coming Soon)!
Allopathic Medicine Primary Application:
- Centralized Application Service: American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)
- Number of Participating Schools: 149 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
- Cost: $170 which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school is $41.
- Fee Assistance? Yes, through the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all AMCAS fees for up to 16 medical schools, along with other benefits. Applications for FAP open in January. Apply early.
- Personal Statement Prompt: “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” 5,300 character limit.
- Applicants will write 3 additional essays on their most meaningful activities (1,325 characters).
- MD/PhD applicants will compose 2 additional essays explaining their motivation for pursuing an MD/PhD and a detailed explanation of their research.
- Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. AMCAS application opens in early May for edits; Applicants can submit in early June.
Osteopathic Medicine Primary Application
- Centralized Application Service: American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS)
- Number of Participating Schools: 33 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
- Cost: $196 which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school is $46.
- Fee Assistance? Yes, through the AACOMAS Fee Assistance Program
- Personal Statement Prompt:“In the space provided, write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a DO.” 4,500 character limit.
- Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. AACOMAS application opens in early May for submission.
Texas Medical Schools (Allopathic and Osteopathic Primary Application)
- Centralized Application Service: Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS)
- Number of Participating Schools: All public Texas medical schools (9 allopathic, 1 osteopathic)
- Cost: $185 flat fee, which includes all TMDSAS participating medical schools.
- Fee Assistance? No fee waivers available
- Personal Statement: Two required, One optional. Additional essay required for MD/PhD or DO/PhD applicants.
- Required: “Explain your motivation to pursue a career in medicine. Include the value of your experiences that prepare you to be a physician.” 5,000 character limit, including spaces
- Required: “Learning from others is enhanced in educational settings that include individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Please describe your personal characteristics (background, traits, skills, etc.) or experiences that would add to the educational experience of others.” 2,500 character limit, including spaces
- Optional: “Briefly discuss any unique circumstances or life experiences that are relevant to your application which have not previously been presented.” 2,500 character limit, including spaces
- Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. TMDSAS opens in early May for submission. Students applying after Junior year should wait until their Spring grades are posted before applying.
Almost all medical schools require a secondary or supplemental application. Some schools send secondaries as soon as the primary has been submitted; others will wait until the primary is processed and only send secondary applications to selected applicants. Secondary applications for medical school often involve one or more essay questions, and often involve a fee, averaging around $75. The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends you submit your secondary applications within 2 weeks of receiving them. Secondary applications for Texas public schools are included in the primary application and should be completed at the same time as the TMDSAS application.
Medical schools typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends at least one of your letters be from a science faculty member and one be from a PI or research supervisor (if you participated in research). The other letters should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career in medicine. Students should check each school’s requirements to ensure you have the required letters.
Although most DO programs require a letter from a physician only a few DO specify that the letter of recommendation be from a DO. Visit Explorer-Choose DO to search for the requirements of each program.
If you are applying to medical school and you are a current Kalamazoo College student or an alumni, you are eligible for a Health Sciences Advisory Committee letter. Committee letters are strongly recommended, although not required, for medical schools.
After submitting the primary application and secondary applications for individual schools, students may receive interview offers any time between August-April in the year preceding matriculation. The interview is one of the most important elements in the healthcare professions application process. When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you for their school based on your application. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.
Medical schools require personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in medicine and the experiences that have motivated you.
What to Expect at a Medical School Interview
Medical school interviews are typically conducted on campus, which means you should be prepared to travel during interview season. Part of your preparation for the application process should be saving money for flights and hotel stays. Interviews may involve a tour of the school, information sessions, lunch with a current student, and the interview itself.
How to Prepare
Your interview prep should be different basd on the type of interview the school employs. In general, you should always:
- Review your application materials (including activities log, personal statement, and essays) and be prepared to discuss them in detail.
- Brush up on current events in healthcare and in your profession specifically.
- Research the school. Do an in-depth review of the school’s website and any additional materials you have. Remember, the interview is your chance to show them why you are a good fit for that particular program.