The post-baccalaureate pre-health program experience

After teaching biology and nutrition for three years, I began my journey back to my original dream: a career in medicine. The most common sense approach to me was to return back to college and start taking the necessary pre-requisites to apply for medical school. My original major in college begin special education, I had no previous college-level science background, so I began taking introductory biology and chemistry at a local community college, with the intent on transferring to a state university if I performed well in the introductory courses. While in biology lab one evening, my lab partner casually suggested that I attend a post-baccalaureate program instead, thus beginning my post-baccalaureate journey.

Informally known as “career changer” programs, post-baccalaureate pre-health programs began in 1955 at Columbia University, and, according to the AAMC website, there are currently over 200 programs of the sort. These programs allow students who have not taken the required pre-requisites to take these courses, usually at an accelerated pace, in order to apply to medical school. Students who enter post-bac programs come from a variety of career paths: from accountants, to investors, lawyers, and even nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants who are looking for more in their health care professions.

These programs are often coupled with advising and support from medical school faculty and admission committee advisors who are on the staff of the program, allowing for the mentors to provide insight from their actual experiences in the way medical schools evaluate applicants.  A post-bac can be the “full package” in terms of providing the coursework, advising, and training for becoming a stellar medical school applicant in anywhere from 10 months to two years, depending on the speed of the program. Some schools even offer medical school linkage options, where, while taking the courses of the program, a student has the ability to enter a contract with a medical school that allows them to quite literally link straight from the post-bac year into a medical school. These contracts are binding, and certain conditions must be met for these linkage arrangements to pull through. If the student does not meet the requirements for the linkage, he or she can still apply to medical school in the broad application pool.

Ten days after having my son, I moved from Baltimore to Philadelphia to attend a post-baccalaureate program. I chose my specific program for the advising and support that the program offered, the one-on-one tutoring, study skills training, and the medical school affiliations. My experience in the program has been intense and has taught me a lot about myself: what I am capable of, how far I can be pushed, and what I need to do to succeed in the medical world. The advisors of the program have helped me better present myself in interviews, carefully guided me through the application process, been realistic about my expectations as far as my goals and provided me with a support network. The advisors are available for mock-interviews, assisting with personal statements, MCAT study scheduling, or just for venting about personal life stresses and how they impact your studies.

A post-bac is by no means the easy road to medical school. I am in school taking classes every day anywhere from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and I stay to study sometimes until midnight, getting up early again to take care of my children and restart the cycle of classes and studies. The program I am a part of includes a full work-up of pre-medical coursework, including in-person MCAT training a few times a week built into the schedule as an actual course.  The organic chemistry class I took in the Fall included an accelerated organic chemistry 1 and 2 curricula squished into a four-month semester, which we took alongside physics and biology with labs, as well as psychology/sociology MCAT preparation.  The intensity of the program will certainly assist in my preparation for the learning intensity of medical school, and I am extremely satisfied that I chose this direction to achieve my dreams in becoming a physician. I am confident that after completing a post-bac program, I will enter medical school fully prepared for the academic rigor of a medical school curriculum, as well as the busy lifestyle of a training physician.

Sheindel Ifrah is a post-baccalaureate student.

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