The commonality between star athletes, championship teams, and award winning singers and actors is coaching.  In order to reach one’s peak potential, we must have guidance, be it written or spoken to help direct us towards achieving our goals. Becoming a doctor takes hard work and dedication.

There will be many nights spent staring at open textbooks, but for all of the long hours and extra help sessions, there is no way I would go back and change my dream of becoming a doctor.I have found that most pre-medical students lack any type of pre-med coach and thus will often fail to have an undergraduate experience which puts them in the best position for medical school.  When I began to write The Ultimate Guidebook For Getting Into Medical School, it was with the intention to help pre-med students who are often left to figure out the intricacies of being a strong candidate for medical school.  No matter how much “insider” information students hear from their friends, having a guide to get you through the pre-medical years is invaluable.

My hope is that The Ultimate Guidebook For Getting Into Medical School will help be your coach to help aid you in gaining a competitive advantage in your goal of getting into medical school and becoming a doctor. So here are three tips to getting into medical school:

TIP #1: Recognize that Yes, the MCAT is important!
If there is one area that is most crucial, most utterly important for acceptance to a top tier medical school (or any medical school for that matter), it’s the MCAT.  The MCAT is now a 5 ½ hour computer-based exam testing physical science, biological science, verbal reasoning, and writing skills.  The biological science, verbal reasoning, and physical science sections are each scored scale from 1 to 15, with a perfect score equaling 45.For the first time in my career, I can say that back in my day, I took the MCAT with a pencil, scantron, and giant test booklet filled with the questions that would essentially determine one’s candidacy for medical school.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported the average score in 2011 for students in the United States who completed the MCAT was between 26.0 and 30.1.  Additionally, the average MCAT score for students who entered medical school in 2011 according to the AAMC was 31.1.

The question that is always asked by undergraduate college students is what score they need to get into medical school.  The truth is, there no magic number that guarantees acceptance.  Every medical school applicant has heard stories or myths of a 4.0 college student who scored a 42 on their MCAT but didn’t get into medical school. My response to that myth is to ask the question, “Are they really telling the truth?”  If so, what on their application stands out so blatantly poor that they would not be granted admission to medical school?

The reality is that you do need to score highly on the MCAT if you want your application to appear strong enough on paper so that you will be invited to an interview for medical school admission.

When I was in college, there was another rumor that circulated amongst the pre-medical students on campus that an MCAT score of 30 would be a “magic” number to be invited to a least a few interviews.  While many would subscribe to this rumor, it really is not true.  A score of 30 has become much more commonplace at competitive medical schools and a score above 30, along with a strong application, letters of recommendation, and personal statement are now the norm.

Admissions directors typically say that the MCAT score is not the sole reason why students are invited or rejected for an interview.  Truth be told, there still is a cutoff point where schools typically will not invite students to interview if their scores fall below an arbitrary mark.  Unfortunately, no one will admit what that number is, but searching online for average class MCAT scores for the schools you are interested in applying will give you the idea of what caliber of students are typically accepted to a particular school.

TIP #2 Don’t take the application lightly.

In addition to the MCAT score, all parts of your medical school application should be considered supremely important. Having an outstanding application, complete with a high GPA, great letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, a phenomenal personal statement, leadership experience, research experience, and publications can together make up for an MCAT score which may not be as high as you would like.

There is no sure combination of MCAT score, grades, extracurricular activities, research, etc. that will guarantee your admission into medical school. Every student’s application is viewed in its entirety, assuming they meet minimum GPA and MCAT requirements.  Excelling, not just getting by with mediocrity, at each of the parts of the application should ensure that you are invited to interview at several programs across the country.

There are very few students who are invited for medical interviews and even fewer students who are granted admission to medical school who do not have a résumé that boasts a number of extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and volunteer hours.  Your extracurricular activities should also help tell medical school admission boards a little more about yourself prior to them reading your personal statement and inviting you for an interview.  While it is nice to be a member of many different student associations on campus, it looks even better if you have held a leadership role within that organization.  This helps medical school admission committees realize that along with a busy college course schedule you are able to also handle the responsibilities that go along with being a leader in a student run organization.

There are a number of student run organizations in medical school.  There is everything from medical specialty interest groups, such as cardiology, surgery, or pediatrics, to groups focused more on organized medicine and the future of the medical profession as a whole, like the American Medical Association (AMA).

Many of the faculty, with whom you will be interviewing, serve as advisors to student-run interest groups. They often like to recommend students for admission who they think will not only perform well in the classroom, but will also help to give back to the school and medical profession as a whole through their involvement with medical school student run organizations.

Your time in college will be full of free time, regardless of your major and course load.  It is important to spend free time doing things you love, but also important to volunteer your time helping an organization.

Volunteer hours are not something that you get paid for, so your summer job tutoring freshman in calculus or working as a lifeguard does not count as volunteer work, but does count as work experience on your résumé.

While most applications for medical school will not make volunteer work a requirement, I doubt there have been many medical students in the last 10 years who did not have a single volunteer hour on their medical school resume.

Fact or Fiction:
All volunteer hours need to be done at a hospital or in a patient care setting if you want to get into medical school.

Fiction: While it is always nice to have patient care experience while you are in college, it is about time spent volunteering with any charity or cause that is important.

However, students should note that many medical schools would prefer their students to have some clinical exposure prior to acceptance into medical school. After all, how do you know you if a career as a physician is for you if you have had zero exposure to it prior to medical school?
Tip #3 Find coaches to help guide you and bring out the best of your abilities.
Chances are you know someone, be they in your family, friends, or professors who will be able to help you with different parts of your applications.  This can be as simple as reviewing your résumé or reading your personal statement for grammar errors.  I encourage students to utilize as many coaches as they can in as many forms as possible. Students need to research MCAT preparation materials and whether you use a live review course or a review book, you should have a coach of some form.  MCAT review courses can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the type of review that the student wishes to have.  While the cost of a review course may seem expensive, remember, medical school is a commitment of your time and money. The cost of a review course, along with other sources of information to help boost your application pales in comparison to the cost of medical school.  Start saving money now to help yourself afford the best review materials.Coaches can also serve as writers of your letters of recommendation.  Letters of recommendation can be difficult to obtain, especially if you don’t have contact with your professors outside of a being a face in a lecture hall or a physician that you shadow. Identify potential writers for your letters of recommendation early in the semester and follow up with them throughout the semester by attending several office hour sessions. A tip I give to college students is to only ask for a letter of recommendation from a professor if you are going to earn an A in their class and be sure to follow up with a hand written thank you note once your letter is complete.

Other options to serve as your coaches along with The Ultimate Guidebook For Getting Into Medical School is information available via the Association of American Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org) and articles in PreMedLife  magazine.

You are already on your way to becoming the next great physician in your city, state, and even the country.  As a world renowned expert in your medical field, you will be involved in cutting edge research and will be providing the best evidence-based care for your patients.  I applaud you for taking one of the first steps toward your goal of becoming a doctor and becoming a part of the greatest and most rewarding profession in the world (yes, I am biased).

In 2011, there were nearly 44,000 applicants to medical schools in the United States. Of the nearly 44,000 students who applied, a little more than 19,000 were accepted into a medical school program in the United States.  You don’t need a PhD in mathematics to understand that earning an acceptance into medical school is no easy task.  Having a plan and starting to prepare yourself early will help you gain a competitive advantage over other students who are also vying to get into medical school.  These are just a few of tips and tricks found in The Ultimate Guidebook For Getting Into Medical School which along with your hard work aims to help boost your candidacy for medical school.

Dr. Chad Rudnick is a pediatric resident at Miami Children’s Hospital.  He is the author of The Ultimate Guidebook For Getting Into Medical School. Dr. Rudnick maintains a pediatric based blog and is a frequent lecturer to pre-medical high school and college students. More information can be found on his web site at www.DrChadRudnick.com.

This article appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of PreMedLife magazine.