One thing I will emphasize repeatedly is that there is no single, cookie-cutter path to medicine. That includes how you decide to go about completing your pre-requisites. If you’ve been on the site for a hot minute, you know that I did a 12-month post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at Goucher College, and it was easily the single best decision I could have made. That being said, there are plenty of reasons to explore other options. While I’m going to lay out a more complete picture of said options in future posts, I’d like to take a moment to discuss my own experience doing a post-bacc and just why I felt that it was so valuable.
The program was invested in our success. Anyone who’s ever gone back to school later in life knows that it can be hard. Simply re-learning how to study and stay on top of reading and projects is bad enough—try doing all of that AND trying to wrap your head around organic chemistry, studying for the MCAT, and maintaining a 3.8 GPA. I was so, so thankful for how my program was single-mindedly committed to our success from the very first day. The class was small—only 32 people—so the amount of personal attention we got was extraordinary. There were two program directors whose sole purpose in life was to make sure we got into medical school. If anyone was struggling at all, either in class, in their personal life, anything, we could sit down with the directors or our professors and work through it. The program has a nearly perfect success rate (meaning nearly every graduate in its history has been accepted to medical school) for a reason.
The curriculum was tailored to our needs. This isn’t the case with every post-bacc program, but at Goucher the curriculum is written specifically for the 30-some post-bacc students. Further, the cohort is completely separate from the rest of the student body. This meant that we took all our classes together with a group of professors who had written individualized versions of their courses. This allowed them to strongly emphasize what was most pertinent for both medical school and the MCAT. When you consider that we had 12 months to learn this enormous quantity of new material and make the jump from whatever background we started with to medical student, it was incredibly helpful to know that we were getting the most important stuff without being bogged down with topics that we’d never see again.
The programs held our hand throughout the entire application process. Applying to medical school is long, tedious, and complicated. There are several distinct phases, lots of deadlines, and it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. My post-bacc ensured that, no matter what, I had a team of people guiding me through every step of the application process and staying on top of me so I never missed a deadline. Every single student got individualized help writing essays, perfecting resumes, requesting letters of recommendation, and practicing mock interviews. We even got a committee letter from the program itself that was made up of comments from all of our faculty and advisors. Feedback was frequent and honest—often brutally so—and by the time applications went out and I sat for my own interviews, I can honestly say I could not have been better prepared.
MCAT prep was part of the package. One of the biggest things that scared me off from a more unstructured approach was having to go it alone while studying for the MCAT. It’s easily the hardest entrance exam in all of American academia and the bane of existence for pre-meds. It’s not just something you can prepare for by breezing through a review book in your spare time…it takes a lot of work. That’s why it was so important to me that my post-bacc program included weekly prep classes—again run specifically for the post-baccs—with regular outside reading and assignments to keep us on track. For the two to three months running up to our test date we took practice exams every 10-14 days to assess our progress. Then we routinely sat down with our advisors to discuss how we were doing in each area and adjust fire as needed to be sure we were ready on test day.
Access to an amazing network of people. Just having the chance to meet and get to know people with such a broad range of experiences and talents was enormously inspiring to me, but it also helped that we genuinely got along really well with each other. The small size of the program facilitated a tight bond, a strong sense of teamwork, and unbelievable social support. In a field as challenging as medicine there are few who can go it alone. I made some very close life-long friends at Goucher and, despite being scattered to the winds after graduation, my class has retained a tight network across medical schools and specialties as we all prepare for residency.
All of these facets of my post-bacc experience made the transition to medical school feel almost seamless, but I really do believe it helped me adjust better to medical school itself when I finally got there. It was a chance to be surrounded with other, like-minded people who had a similar passion for medicine and serving others while also functioning as a kind of boot-camp for medical student life. Again, everyone’s situation and needs are different, and there are certainly pros and cons to every path to medical school, but while I certainly made plenty of mistakes while trying to pursue medicine, this was not one of them.
As always, please reach out with any questions or comments. I’m more than happy to speak with anyone individually who may be looking at similar options!