SIUE Department of Biological Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Biological Sciences


The Decision to Pursue a Career in Medicine


Having career aspirations for one of the health professions is a challenging and exciting choice. Your undergraduate pre-professional preparation will be a key element in your overall comprehensive master plan for success (i.e., ACCEPTANCE). You should be aware that competition for admission to medical schools is very intense. Currently, only about one-half of those who now apply gain admission - even though the majority of those rejected would, by common agreement, be able to successfully complete medical school, and could make competent and dedicated physicians. Each year, the number of applicants increases while the number of positions remains relatively constant. Thus, competition for admission is becoming even more intense.

Many young people enter college expecting to become doctors. But with little real knowledge of what is involved in the practice of medicine, dentistry, or other health-related professions. Often students have little real understanding of the trade-offs that are made when choosing medicine as a career goal, particularly concerning the pressure and demands made by the profession. Hopefully, the Health Professions Advisory Office can be a valuable source of information as you make your "choices and trade-offs" in preparation for a career in the health professions.

We look forward to working with you as you embark on a career pathway that will make heavy demands on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. It is essential that you maximize your awareness, make informed judgments, pay attention to details, minimize errors, and excel academically. The Health Professions Advisory Office exists to help you enjoy a positive undergraduate preparation. However, YOUR academic performance, YOUR admission test scores, and YOUR overall credentials will determine YOUR success. We want to help you and we wish you all the best as you prepare to join the health care delivery team.



College of Arts and Sciences Advising Coordinator



The following timeline lays out the steps you must take to prepare for admission:

1. Decide on medicine
2. Complete undergraduate science requirements
3. Get volunteer/work experience in health-related fields
4. Consider a broad course selection
5. Develop staff/faculty advisors
6. Prepare for the MCAT
7. Take the MCAT exam
8. Submit transcripts and application materials
9. Monitor application completion/distribution
10. Interview if invited

Undergraduate Studies:

While a Bachelor's degree is not a requirement for admission into all medical schools, more than 99% of accepted students in 1999 had one. Until recently, nearly all pre-med students majored in Chemistry or Biology. Today students with all kinds of majors are being accepted. In fact, a recent study shows, "acceptance rates range from 45 percent in biology to 48 percent in nonscience and 55 percent in physical sciences. There is an apparent trend among admissions officers to encourage potential applicants to medical school to consider nonscience majors during their college years." (Fruen) The changing face of medicine is looking for "people" people, not just academic superstars as in years past. You are better off majoring in Philosophy and maintaining a 3.9 GPA (grade point average) than majoring in Biology and only getting a 3.5. So by all means study what you are interested in and what you're good at because admissions committees are looking for well-rounded candidates who have studied a variety of subjects while in college. However, there are still some very specific requirements for admission into most US medical schools, they are:

  • One year of General Chemistry with lab
  • One year of Organic Chemistry with lab
  • One year of Biology
  • One year of Physics
  • College level math

While these courses are pretty standard, medical schools do vary slightly in their admissions requirements. Even if you are a junior in high school, it won't hurt to take a look at the requirements for the medical school you are most interested in attending and plan your undergraduate program accordingly. The biggest variance seems to be math. Some schools want to see a year of calculus, while others only require one college-level statistics class and others have no math requirement at all. Many schools are beginning to expect undergraduate course work in biochemistry and/or genetics. Again, check with the admissions office of the schools you are interested in for specific requirements.

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT):

Upon completion of the mandatory course work, the next big hurdle you will face is the MCAT. The MCAT is the first of many major exams that you will have to pass on your way to becoming a practicing physician. All but one major US medical school uses results from this test to select candidates. The MCAT is offered in April and August of each year. It is a good idea to take the exam in April of your Junior year of college so you can have your results back in time to begin applying to med school in the summer. Most programs begin taking applications in the summer a year prior to fall admission. If you do poorly you can re-take the test in August, but doing so will probably delay your admission into medical school by a year and shouldn't be considered unless you are sure that you can increase your scores significantly. Many students take prep courses before sitting for the exam and find them helpful. However, the courses are quite expensive and if you are good at studying on your own, you can probably do as well without them. The prerequisite courses mentioned above all help prepare you to pass this test which consists of four sections:

MCAT scores are based on the four parts of the MCAT exam: Physical Sciences (PS), Verbal Reasoning (VR), Biological Sciences (BS), and the Writing Sample (WS).

  • For PS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
  • For VR, there are 60 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
  • For BS, there are 77 questions, with a scoring range of 1 to 15.
  • For WS, there are 2 questions, with a scoring range of J to T.

Visit the AAMC Medical College Admission Test page.

Acceptance Statistics:

There are two different types of physicians that we think of as "Doctors". The MD degree is granted from allopathic medical schools and the DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) is granted from Osteopathic schools. Training and curriculum is very similar between the two, with the main difference being that Osteopaths learn skeletal and muscular manipulation (similar to Chiropractors) to complement traditional medical treatment. Both are recognized and board certified by the American Medical Association. Although Osteopathic schools have lower requirements for GPA and MCAT scores, their acceptance rate is lower because there are less positions available. Also of note is that tuition for Osteopathic schools is generally higher since most of the programs are private.

Following is information compiled in 2005 (* figures are for 1999) for acceptance to US allopathic medical schools. As you can see, only about 4 out of 10 applicants are accepted.

US Medical Schools (Allopathic)

  • 125 schools
  • 37,304 applicants
  • 17,004 entrants
  • 42.4%* acceptance
  • 48.5% women
  • 11.3%* US under-represented minorities
  • 11.7 applications/applicant*
  • 59% Public/41% Private*

Average Matriculant Scores


  • VR 9.7
  • PS 10.1
  • BS 10.1
  • WS P


  • Sciences 3.56
  • Total 3.63

* Adapted from: Pfizer Medical Manual, 1999 and AAMC FACTS 


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Published by: Department of Biological Sciences, SIUE
For information, email: Dr. David Duvernell, Chair
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Last updated July 29, 2012