A combined B.A./M.D or B.S./M.D. program is a one wherein admitted students complete both their undergraduate and medical education at the same or partnered institutions concurrently. Typically, students apply directly out of high school, similar to the traditional college application process. Most programs do not allow transfer into the program past the first year, if at all. Students admitted to these programs enrolled within the institution for their medical education after completion of their undergraduate degree, offering continuity for your education.
Early Assurance Programs are essentially where undergraduate students apply for early acceptance to medical school. However, the two are similar in that students are accepted to medical school prior to the completion of their undergraduate degree. The purpose of these programs is to allow students committed to medicine the opportunity to circumnavigate the medical school application process, and instead undertake their undergraduate education with the assurance and confidence that they have received admission to medical school.
Some programs have a focus on admission of students with backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine, while others emphasize the ability of students admitted to study their interests during their undergraduate education without worry or stress that occasionally comes along with the application process, perhaps enhancing their early secondary education. However, all programs are similar in that their intention is to deeply invest in their students throughout the duration of their college and medical education in order to produce motivated, successful physicians.
The application requirements are similar to those of any undergraduate institution, though emphasis is placed on a strong commitment to medicine and perceived interest in the field. Additionally, these programs tend to be highly selective, with acceptance rates below 10%. Depending on the program, students may be required to take the MCAT during their undergraduate education, with or without a specific scoring threshold for continuation of the program.
Though these programs allow their students to avoid the stress of applying to medical school as an undergraduate, their pre-medical experiences are not necessarily easier, as evidenced by additional requirements. While obtaining their bachelor’s degree, students are required to maintain a GPA designated by each program, with varied requirements and content of the undergraduate courses.
The benefits of these programs include decreased stress and the ability to focus on extracurricular activities, community involvement, or other academic pursuits. This autonomy is coupled with admission to medical school without the necessity of an additional or tradition application process. Additionally, because these programs invest 6-8 years into each graduate, the continuity of faculty and administration can allow more time for sustained mentorship.
Often, students within the same class take courses together for the duration of the program, which aids in creation of a supportive environment. These programs are also good for people who are interested in completing their medical education quickly, if they perhaps intend on completing an extensive residency or fellowship training.
The negative aspects of combined programs reflect the necessity of applicants to possess not just a commitment to medicine as a career, but to the program to which they are applying. These programs screen applicants to ensure they are willing and able to complete both degrees and are deeply invested in becoming physicians, sometimes in that specific location. This can be difficult for a student to know early in their education, especially if they have not graduated high school. It is also important for the applicant to establish that they want to attend the specific program that they are applying to, as they would be spending a significant portion of their education in a single location with the same cohort of people.
Another potential negative with BS/MD degrees are the possibility of academic difficulties if a student decides to leave the program. Many of these undergraduate degrees are specific to the program they are granted by and may not be as transferable to another college or graduate school. Depending on the program, the undergraduate curriculum may be so strict that students are unable to take any classes outside of those already predetermined, or at least very few.
The main negatives stem from the necessity of students to decide at an incredibly early age that they want to pursue a career in medicine. Traditional medical school applicants have the ability to take other college courses, major in any discipline they see fit, pursue clinical or non-clinical employment, immerse themselves in shadowing experiences, and carefully weigh whether the life of a physician is right for them. Additionally, there is time for non-traditional students to pursue entirely different careers before deciding to return to school to study medicine, perhaps enhancing their maturity and motivation to become a physician.
Those interested in applying to combined programs are not only excellent students academically, but also demonstrate they are certain of their decision to become a doctor and possess the capability to be successful medical students.
Applications may require that students complete multiple essays through which programs pinpoint clear, thoughtful reasoning for why students feel that they are right for the program and suited for a career in medicine. Significant care should be taken to seek out shadowing experiences, research, and volunteer positions within the medical field prior to application – often as early as high school. Some programs encourage their students to pursue primary care specialties, which should also be a consideration of those applying, as the faculty and administration who review their application may factor their interest into their decision.
The application timeline is similar to that of other undergraduate universities, or may require that students apply slightly earlier, closer to the deadline of an application that would be submitted for Early Decision. If invited to interview for the program, students can expect multiple interviews with faculty, current students, administration, or alumni of the school. They also tend to be more in depth than those of typical undergraduate interviews, with a focus on eliciting the students’ motivations for applying and dedication to the medical field. Students can consider these interviews akin to interviews for medical school as similar questions are often asked.
Students must weigh the pros and cons of combined BS/MD programs carefully before applying. These programs are good for people who are certain that they want to become physicians. Students also must be willing to stay in a single location with the same people for the entirety of their education. To that end, if a collaborative environment suits you, perhaps consider BS/MD. If interested in one of these programs, careful evaluation of your goals for your undergraduate and graduate school education and consideration of your career ambitions are necessary before deciding that a combined program is right for you.