When I Grow up I Want to Be a Doctor

After careful deliberation and lots of texts, Anna chose Pitt over Lehigh, Lafayette, Fairfield & Muhlenberg. After careful deliberation and lots of texts, Anna chose Pitt over Lehigh, Lafayette, Fairfield & Muhlenberg.

A few thoughts on combined programs:

Baccalaureate/MD & Baccalaureate/DDS

A doctor. A dentist. These are not uncommon answers to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

One of our students this year, in fact, got to choose between two acceptances. She first earned admission to the Muhlenberg College/University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine 3-4 BioDental Program. Her second offer came from The University of Pittsburgh’s Guaranteed Admit Program. Pitt sweetened deal with half-pay tuition and a seat in the University Honors College. She will be a Panther next year.

Each year, many students with dreams of attending medical or dental school start down the traditional path—apply to and enter a BA or BS program, work hard for three years in a rigorous preparatory curriculum, apply to medical schools, and then finish the fourth and final undergrad year while anxiously awaiting acceptance or rejection letters. But four years can seem like a long time to wait to know if a dream will come true, and some especially motivated students may wonder, “Is there any way to know sooner?” Yes, for an exceptional few, there is—the combined programs offered by a handful of schools around the country.

Unlike the traditional approach of separate undergrad and med school applications, combined degree programs require a single admissions process that grants the successful applicant simultaneous acceptance into a BA or BS program and to an affiliated medical school. (Though admission to the medical school is typically conditional on maintaining a minimum GPA during the undergrad years.) A few programs even offer an accelerated timeline, allowing students to earn both their undergrad and medical degrees in a total of 6 or 7 years as opposed to the traditional 8.

Sounds great, right? Maybe. While combined degree programs can offer significant advantages to the right student, they present challenges not necessarily found in the traditional approach. These include:
  • Exceptionally rigorous admission requirements. While all med school applicants should be able to demonstrate strong academic credentials and a commitment to the field of healthcare, those following the traditional approach may be able to establish that track record during their early undergrad years. Combined programs, however, require that students establish that track record during high school. Typical requirements include combined SAT scores of 2100 or higher, ranking at or near the top of the class, and often a history of volunteer work in healthcare or a related field.
  • Potentially limited undergrad degree options. Unlike the traditional approach, which typically allows students to pursue any undergraduate degree as long as they also complete the necessary pre-med courses, many combined degree programs are focused solely on preparing the student for medical school. Is your student also thinking about a BA in the arts or business? A combined degree program probably won’t allow that.
  • Rigorous retention requirements. Admission to the medical school is typically conditional on maintaining an impressive GPA during the undergrad years—often 3.5 or above. Some programs require students to maintain that average without earning less than a C in core classwork or repeating courses.
  • An exceptionally heavy workload. Accelerated programs reduce the number of years required to earn a medical degree, but they often do so by requiring students to spend summers between semesters taking courses or performing research. So while it may be possible to complete the program in 6 or 7 years, those will be intense years.
  • No change in scenery. In the traditional approach, undergraduate and medical education often take place in different regions of the country. If the student didn’t like something about the undergrad environment—if it was too urban and crowded, if it was too far from home—there’s always the opportunity to find a better environment in med school. Entering a combined degree program means the student will spend the next 6-8 years in the same region, perhaps even in the same city.
So who is the right student for these programs? One who knows early in life that he or she is called to the field of medicine. One who is both academically gifted and dogged in the pursuit of goals.

Is your student thinking of medical school? Could a combined degree program be the right fit? We can help you find out. And if the answer is “yes,” we can help you chart the way there.

Jessie and the future dentist, Anna Lackey. Jessie and the future dentist, Anna Lackey. Class of 2015, West Orange


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