I have officially finished another semester! Amidst late nights filled with coffee, studying, and YouTube videos, I have survived finals week and now have a couple weeks off. This past semester has been the most stressful semester to date, but I learned a lot: subject matter from my coursework, better study habits, and how important a strong support system of friends and family can be. (On a lighter note, I also learned how to sing an awesome Lion King Medley, ran 4 miles straight for the first time ever, and … drumroll please… started this blog!)
So, how does a 6 year medical program work? I’ll offer a brief overview of the current program structure, and then reflect on the pros and cons of this set-up. [Please keep in mind that the following views are of my personal opinion and do not reflect the opinion of UMKC School of Medicine.]
The traditional route to becoming a doctor is as follows: graduate from high school, attend college where you receive your undergraduate degree as a pre-med student (4 years), take the MCAT sometime within those 4 years of college, apply to medical school, attend medical school for 4 years, then match into residency (which will last from 3-7 years, depending on the specialty you choose). So undergrad + med school = 4 + 4 = 8 years.
Here’s what my route will look like: apply to college and medical school as a high school senior, receive an invitation to interview at UMKC SOM, graduate high school, enter the med program (at this point I am officially a medical student, no further application required), receive my white coat at the beginning of Year 3 of 6, graduate medical school, then match into residency. So BA + MD = one program = 6 years.
The first two years are approximately 75% undergraduate coursework and 25% medical coursework. In January of your second year you begin a 7-month-long course entitled “Human Structure Function” (HSF). This is a medical school course which encompasses the basic sciences: anatomy, biochemistry, embryology, histology, and physiology. At this time the MD only students join the class — it’s getting real! I am super excited to start HSF; we will be learning so much information which is the foundation of all our other medical school coursework.
We continue taking classes at the med school, finish up our undergrad coursework during Year 4 (one semester), and also conclude Year 4 by taking Step 1. We then spend Years 5-6 on clinical rotations, match, then graduate!
Pros and Cons
Obviously different people have different expectations and desires regarding their educational experience. Personally, I have found that the 6 year med program fits well with how I learn and has been the right decision for me. This is not to say I have not had doubts, but overall I believe I am at a great medical school where I am in a collegial learning environment. When you enter the med program, you enter a supportive environment where your advisors and professors want you to succeed. We have many great physicians, researchers, and teachers who challenge us with wonderful content and who truly desire to see us grow into compassionate, knowledgeable, and honest doctors. What follows is a somewhat objective/somewhat subjective look of my personal viewpoints on the major pros and cons of being in the 6 year med program.
- Early clinical experience: Within the first month of Year 1 we begin “Docent,” which is part of our Fundamentals of Medical Practice classes. We spend time in the hospital with an internal medicine physician (though may be pediatric depending on the hospital you are assigned to) for Years 1 and 2, and also with a psychiatrist for Year 1. Through this we learn how to conduct patient interviews, how to take a thorough history, and the basics of physical exam and physical findings. The internal medicine doctor that I have been assigned to is wonderful; he has taught us so much about patient interviewing, symptoms, and conditions, and has always demonstrated compassion and professionalism towards his patients. He challenges us to remember what we have been taught and to apply it. We are already being asked to think through differential diagnoses, and it is only our 2nd year of 6! [Note: I definitely realize that I still have a vast amount of information to learn, but the fact that we have already learned a fair amount and been able to spend weekly time in the hospital since the very beginning is a definite pro of this program.]
- No MCAT: This, along with #1, is one of the most common pros that students in this program will tell you. When you enter the program you are literally accepted into medical school, and thus do not have to take the MCAT or go through more interviews. They treat you as a professional student, and expect a high level of integrity from you. The fact that you are already accepted into medical school is worth a great deal, because in 2013 only 42% of medical school applicants entered medical school.
- Collaborative learning environment: Since we are all accepted to medical school already, there is not the cut-throat competition that I hear exists in some pre-med programs. Yes, most people still want to do well and get very good grades — but there is a level of collaboration in my class that would not exist if we were all fighting to get into medical school. Study guides are shared, treats are passed around, and people alleviate pre-test stress by sharing humorous and encouraging posts on Facebook. You get to know your classmates extremely well, as you are taking the majority of your classes (in the first couple years) with the same ~100 people.
- School is pretty much year-round: During the first year and a half, you still get the normal undergraduate breaks. In the last 4 years you follow the medical school, 10 month calendar: one month completely off (vacation month), one month of no classes but you still have clinic once a week (study month), and ten months of classes and clinic. I am actually listing this under the pros category, because I enjoy school and like to be busy. I’ve always been that person who got tired of summer break when it was only halfway complete. Some people may see this point as a con, but I count it as a pro because I am able to spend most of my time learning what I love.
- You need to know that you TRULY want to be a doctor: This program is great if you know that you are 100% positive that you want to spend your life and career as a physician. It streamlines that goal and cuts your schooling from 8 years to 6 years; most students graduate with their MD at the age of 24. However, if you enter this program and then decide you no longer want to become a physician, you will most likely have accumulated a fair amount of debt, and also have quite a few credits for classes that will not count towards another degree. If you enter this program you do not have the normal 4 years of college during which you can change your major and anticipated career field. I have known for most of my life that I wanted to become a doctor, and so this program is great for me — it allowed me to start working on that goal straight out of high school. But this would be a con if you do not know for certain that you want to become a physician.
- Stressful — high expectations and lots of credit hours from the beginning: My first semester I took 22 credit hours, and I was not the only student in my class who did this. It was a common occurrence. These 22 credit hours included anatomy lecture and lab (a very time consuming course), chemistry and lab, and fundamentals of medical practice — along with some other undergrad general education requirements. Understandably, time management was one of the most important skills to learn. In addition to this, because we are officially in medical school, any grades that we get in our first semester of classes go into the GPA that will be on our residency application. Thus you begin your first semester out of high school with many challenging classes, a very busy schedule, and high expectations and requirements. HOWEVER — there is not the stress of needing to achieve incredibly high grades, participate in a plethora of extracurricular activities, and get shining letters of recommendation, just to be accepted to medical school. In this program, you have already been accepted to medical school. I, for one, would rather choose the stresses that accompany medical school in lieu of the stresses of building up a near-perfect application to medical school.
- Not the traditional college experience: If you enter the 6 year program, it will be a more focused and serious experience than a normal undergraduate route. This is because you are working towards your MD, and this requires a lot of time in classes and studying. That is not to say that you will not have fun — on the contrary, I have had tremendous amounts of laughter. You are surrounded by people who share your aspirations, and I have found some very good friends in the program. There are students in my class who are involved in Greek Life, and there are a lot of interest groups at the medical school that you can get involved with (On Call Musicians, anyone?).
- Midwest school: This has previously been a point of concern for me. UMKC is not an East coast Ivy or West coast big-name school. I am from the Midwest and so I am used to the culture here, but I know that there can be a lower level of prestige associated with schools in the Midwest. Looking at it objectively though, UMKC SOM still has a great match list and the quality of training that I receive is wonderful.
As you can see, there are many different aspects of attending a 6 year BA/MD program. I have found that UMKC has been a good fit for me. I like to be challenged, and this program fulfills that desire. I feel confident that the education and clinical experience I receive will prepare me (as much as possible) to enter into internship and residency with a solid knowledge base and great clinical skills.
Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions regarding my views on the 6 year medical program!