If you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine, you should combine a strong academic record with outside-the-classroom experiences that allow you to explore your interests in medicine and build a record of distinction and accomplishment.
M.D. vs. D.O. Degree
There are two routes to achieve your goal of becoming a physician:
- Allopathic medicine, where you earn an M.D. degree.
- Osteopathic medicine, where you earn a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree.
In many ways, the training and responsibilities of M.D. and D.O. physicians are similar:
- M.D. and D.O. physicians must complete the requirements of a rigorous four-year curriculum, generally followed by a residency in their chosen specialty.
- M.D. and D.O. physicians assume the primary role in treating their patients.
- M.D. and D.O. physicians can prescribe medicines, perform surgery, and may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics and offices.
The osteopathic medical philosophy emphasizes a holistic approach when treating patients and includes a system of hands-on diagnosis and treatment known as “osteopathic manipulative medicine,” which involves hands-on manipulation of the body. For more information on osteopathic medicine, see the following resources:
As an aspiring physician, you should strive to reach a high level of academic achievement in challenging courses. Medical schools do not show a preference for any particular academic major. Therefore, you should choose a major that gives you the opportunity to engage in coursework that interests you the most.
While the specific choice of major is not important, it is essential that you plan your undergraduate years carefully so you can take all courses required by medical schools, which emphasize the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.
Other Important Elements of Pre-Med Preparation
- There are a wealth of research opportunities here at Merrimack College throughout the academic year and in the summer. Consult departmental pages and talk with your professors about how to get involved in research on campus.
- The National Science Foundation funds a variety of summer research programs for undergraduates.
- Speak with your career advisor at Merrimack’s O’Brien Center to learn about internship opportunities.
- Merrimack has a strong tradition of service to the community. The Office of Mission and Ministry has a variety of opportunities and resources enabling you to give back to the community.
- Lawrence General Hospital
- Southern New Hampshire Health
- Healthcare Advocacy
- Lower Merrimack Valley Boys and Girls Club
- Merrimack Valley Food Bank
Before making the commitment to a career in medicine, it is essential to spend some time “in the shoes” of a physician (ideally, several days or weeks). Contact your health professions advisor for ideas on how to set up shadowing experiences.
Applying to Medical Schools
You should review the following checklist if you are applying to either allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) medical schools.
Please note that the application process is quite time-consuming and difficult to successfully complete while still focusing on your undergraduate studies. Medical programs increasingly prefer older, more experienced students who have completed one or more “gap years” following completion of their bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, we highly recommend that you do not begin the medical school application process until at least your senior year.
Register to take the MCAT
The MCAT exam is a critical component of your application to M.D. and D.O. schools. The MCAT exam has 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
Before you register for the MCAT, please keep the following in mind:
- It is highly recommended that you complete the MCAT by the spring of the year prior to when you wish to matriculate. For example, if you wish to begin medical school in Fall 2022, you should plan on taking the MCAT exam March-May of 2021.
- When you register, make sure you can commit to a rigorous study program. There is no “one size fits all” approach to studying. On average, examinees spend 20 hours per week studying for three months prior to the exam. There are many resources available to help you put together a study plan:
- It is highly recommended that you have completed all required and recommended coursework prior to your test date (Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Psychology and Sociology). Since these courses form the basis for the competencies that are examined on the MCAT, you will be at a severe disadvantage if you proceed without having completed them.
- MCAT scores are valid for 2-3 years.
Begin drafting your personal statement. A strong, well-written personal statement is a critical element of a successful application. The personal statement gives you the opportunity to present a compelling snapshot of who you are, what motivates you to seek a career as a physician and what personal qualities and experiences make you an excellent candidate. This takes time, careful thought and will likely require many drafts before it is ready to submit. Begin early (several months before submitting your application)!
Personal Statement Resources:
Identify individuals who are able and willing to write you strong letters of recommendation and can complete these letters by mid-May (just prior to when you submit your application). Your recommenders should be individuals who know you well and can comment at length on your talents, accomplishments and unique attributes. These individuals will ideally include:
- Two science professors
- One non-science professor
- M.D. or D.O. physician with whom you have worked (i.e. through shadowing or other clinical experiences)
- Additional recommenders may include non-faculty individuals such as coaches
It is also recommended that you request a committee letter. Please contact the health professions advisor by March to begin this process.
Create an account on AMCAS and/or AACOMAS. These application services typically open in early May and applications may be submitted in early June.
- Allopathic medical school applicants apply via AMCAS.
- Osteopathic medical school applicants apply via AACOMAS.
Submit your application in early June.
Complete secondary applications (generally, throughout the summer).
Interview! Interviews generally take place in the fall. There are many resources available to help you prepare for a successful medical school interview. Here are a few:
Wait for acceptances. If you are waitlisted, do not be discouraged. Reach out to the health professions advisor for advice on how to proceed.
Accept at your top choice and matriculate!
Fee Assistance: Highly qualified students wishing to apply to medical school should not be discouraged from doing so for financial reasons. More information on the fee assistance program for AMCAS and AACOMAS applicants: