| Pre-Med Survival Guide
Advice and Opinions from Students, for Students
|Required Courses*||Recommended Courses**|
|1 semester mathematics (calculus and/or statistics)||Anatomy and Physiology (Bio 243)|
|1 year general biology||Genetics (Bio 233)|
|1 year organic chemistry||Microbiology (Bio 231)|
|1 year physics||Biochemistry (Chem 379)|
The courses above are the foundation of your medical education and teach you concepts that will be covered on the MCAT. The more of them that you can take beforehand, the better prepared you will be. Although many of the necessary concepts can be learned in your preparation for the MCAT, you will have a much deeper understanding of the material if you can take these courses beforehand.
* Specific coursework requirements vary between medical schools. Consult the Medical Schools Admissions Requirements (MSAR) book or visit a school's website to be sure of the requirements. To see the page created by Ted Johnson for the specific requirements of a couple midwest schools, click here.
** Several other courses may enhance your understanding of
testable material or look good on a resume, including: Peruvian Medical Experience (Bio 298),
Statistics for Science (Stats 212),
Hospital Health Care (ID 255), etc.
Although some advisors may suggest that you start out freshman year by taking either Chem125/Chem126 or Bio125/Bio126, many students take both general biology and chemistry courses freshman year. Although this may seem daunting at first, the reality is that by undertaking the pre-med path, the majority of your semesters will include two laboratories per week and may even include three or four depending on your major(s). If you desire to go directly to medical school after graduation from St. Olaf, then most students will take these four general biology and chemistry classes freshman year, followed by organic chemistry sophomore year and physics junior year. Thus, at the end your junior year you will have completed the minimum required courses for the MCAT and medical school applications. No rush though. Many students take the MCAT during their senior year and take a gap year before going to medical school.
The (Dreaded) MCAT
When it comes to preparing for the MCAT, you really have a choice between two options: an MCAT preparation course or self-directed study. Both methods rely on the student to keep up on the material. In both cases, if a student fails to study on his/her own, that person is likely to be ill-prepared come test day.
If you are thinking about enrolling in a course, both the Princeton Review and Kaplan offer courses on-campus that begin anytime from November to February
and last until early April. They end around this time because common test dates begin in early April and continue through mid-May. The
Princeton Review course focuses exclusively on content that is
considered fair game for the MCAT. The Kaplan course is known to focus
more on test-taking skills than content.
The MCAT is divided into 4 sections and administered in the order below:
- Physical Sciences (1-15): 70 minutes long and 60 questions. It includes general (inorganic) chemistry (Chem 125/126) and physics (Phys 124/125).
- Verbal Reasoning (1-15): 60 minutes long and 40 questions. This is really the same old standardized test section that measures reading comprehension. Passages tend to be obscure and esoteric. Designed to test one's faculties in inference and decision-making.
- Writing (J-T): Two essays written in response to a vague prompt (e.g. the object of education should be to teach skills, not values). Measures argument strength and writing fundamentals (spelling, grammar, punctuation, flow). It's graded by two sources: a computer and an actual person. If the two sources differ significantly in scoring, a third person is brought in to repeat the grading.
- Biological Sciences (1-15):70 minutes long and 60 questions. It includes human physiology, genetics, organic chemistry, developmental biology, and microbiology. Approximately 25% is organic chemistry and 75% biology.
MCAT Registration - Attached is a link to the AAMC webpage that nicely summarizes the process and offers tips.
Test Preparation Advice:
1.) TAKE PRACTICE TESTS. Perfect practice makes perfect. Wake up as you would for the actual test--many tests are at 8am--and find a nice secluded place to colonize. Practice your pre-test routine. When you wake up, what you eat and drink (coffee? if so, remember the cage won't be open on Saturday before your 8am test), and the snacks you bring into the test with you. Take timed computer-based exams with the writing sections included. These two caveats--electronic rather than hard copies and with the writing section--will make you comfortable with the 5+ hour long test and the time of its administration. Practice tests are also a great way to learn what topics you need more review of prior to the actual test.
2.) Alleviate potential stressors come test day. Don't bog yourself down with any more stress: know where your going, how to get there and how long it takes to get there. Once you know these simple things you can prepare accordingly and thereby keep yourself calm and collected on the big day.
The Application Timeline*
* Ted Johnson's "Preparation for a Career in Medicine" has an excellent timeline on page 2. 1
February - Preparation for HPC Interview. See Piper Center for resources specifically for the HPC interview here. Obtain Letters of Evaluation (at least 3) from professors. NOTE: Meet with professors who you want to write Letters of Evaluation for you. Make sure they know your passions and motivations for pursuing a career in medicine. Give professors AT LEAST 2 weeks to complete Letters of Evaluation. Tip: Include your motivation/personal statement along with your Letter of Evaluation request form to aid their writing. In addition, let them know where/who to turn it into (Karen Renneke). Keeping everything in a labelled manilla envelope with key information (Due Date, Who/Where to turn LoE to) is a nice way to keep things organized and ensure things are done correctly. Another nice thing to do is to include a notecard that you've filled out that says "I've turned it in". Instead of you having to flood your professors' inboxes or constantly remind/ask them, they can let you know it's been completed by putting the notecard in your P.O.
March - HPC preparation. Utilize Piper Center for revision/edits of application/motivation statement.
April - HPC application due April 1st. Interviews begin.
May - Obtain transcript from registrar (request form) and send into AMCAS!!! This step may seriously slow your application if you wait until June to request a transcript. It takes a couple days for the registrar to print your transcript, a couple more days in transit to AMCAS, and an additional 2-6 weeks of processing by AMCAS depending on how early you get the primary application submitted.
June 1st - AMCAS application opens and you may submit the primary application. Attempt to finish by mid-June or earlier if possible. Prompt submission of materials is essential.
July/August - Secondaries arrive. Wahoo!!! Attempt to fill out each one as soon as possible, but most allow 2-4 weeks to complete. Note: Processing time will depend on the school and the percentage of applicants that receive a secondary application. Similarly, selectivity varies. Some schools send secondaries to every applicant (show me the money!); others do not. Cost varies significantly between schools, some as low as $50, others as high as $125. See the MSAR or school websites for figures. Note: There are financial aid opportunities available, so don't let money get in the way of applying to schools of interest! (LINK)
August/May - The Black Hole... Now there are two waiting periods that await you. First, you will likely wait a couple weeks to several months before you receive an invite for an interview. Because most medical schools operate on rolling admission, the sooner you receive an invite, the better your prospects because more spots will be open.
After the interview, you may have to wait for another 8 weeks (varies between schools) just to hear if you were accepted, denied, or wait-listed. If you were wait-listed, you have another waiting period ahead of you and the most schools will only remove you from the wait-list once classes for the upcoming year have started (a.k.a. you may wait for months). In addition, some schools may tell you where you lie on the wait-list while others may leave you in the dark.
Volunteer Opportunities at St. Olaf
Northfield Hospital - there are plenty of opportunities in the hospital's Long Term Care Center. Most of the work is really just interacting with the residents and may include playing cards, games, or socializing with residents. See the organization's website for more information. 3
Three Links Care Center - this assised living facility is right across the street from the Malt-O'-Meal plant and previous students have not only worked part-time as CNAs here, but have organized weekly games and activities (i.e. bingo, baking, etc.). Check out the website link for more information. 2
Northfield Retirement Community - this facility is located off of Highway 3 and the Cannon River. Like the other retirement facilities in town, it could always use more help. Contact them via the website below. 4
APO - APO is a national co-ed service fraternity based on the founding principles of service, friendship, and leadership. Along with hundreds of other chapters around the nation, St. Olaf's Iota Tau chapter is committed to service to the college and the community and to developing leaders to serve this campus and beyond.
Project Friendship- In Project Friendship, students are paired with children from the Northfield community and they spend an hour per week together “hanging out” on campus- playing games, throwing a baseball, making cookies, etc. Students serve as role models to the children. They will also attend seasonal events for all of the Project Friendship programs at St. Olaf such as a Halloween party, a Christmas party, etc. (LINK)
Work Opportunities at St. Olaf
EMT-Basic (EMT-B) - This hands-on medical experience looks great on a resume and is one way to get the coveted patient interaction as an undergraduate. Classes are offered annually at St. Olaf and certified EMTs can volunteer on-campus as part of the St. Olaf EMTs. See The St. Olaf EMTs section below beneath the on-campus organizations header.
ER Scribe - Each year, several students commit to work part-time for a full year at St. Francis Hospital in Shakopee, MN. The committment requires that you work, on average, a minimum of 12 hrs/wk. Contact Jaime (email@example.com) during spring semester if interested in a position for the following year. An additional opportunity for summer work that may continue throughout the school year is offered through the Emergency Physcians Professional Association (EPPA). Contact Dr. Michael Bryant (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly or see the main page listed below for more information.7
Nursing Assistant (CNA/NAR) - There are several nursing homes in Northfield and nursing assistants are frequently in demand. Check the off-campus websites in the section below and browse for available job opportunities. The best option for current students is an accelerated training course through the American Red Cross Twin Cities chapter. 1 The course is 10 days long, 8 hours per day (8am - 4pm) and is divided between lecture and practical skills practice. You might want to bring a laptop because the lecture can be boring.
HealthFinders Pura Vida Internship - This internship involves being the main program director for the Pura
Vida Healthy Lifestyles program at HealthFinders. The program encourages healthy lifestyles, from fitness to healthy eating and stress reduction, within the underserved populations of both Northfield and Faribault. The internship requires about 10 hours of work per week and the interns work closely with community members, community leaders, and HealthFinders staff. An ability to speak Spanish and/or Somali is helpful. Contact Charlie Mandile (email@example.com) or Nate Jacobi (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
The summer is a great time to boost your resume for medical school. It's your opportunity to gain relevant experience at other institutions and doing things that are not as readily available in the Northfield area. Internships, research, job training, summer classes, abroad trips, etc. are all great ways to gain medical exposure.
In 2009, Jean Porterfield compiled an Excel document with summer research programs that previous students participated in and recommended to others. The document is a great resource when searching for opportunities during the spring. You can download the spreadsheet for yourself here. Email Jean if you have an opportunity that you think should be added to the list. If you are interested in conducting research at St. Olaf, projects for this coming summer are listed early in spring semester.
Important point: Do what you love and want to do. While many medical schools like applicants to have research experience, its importance varies greatly depending on the school. If you don't like spending time in the lab, then don't! Do something that is engaging , something that your passionate about. Enjoying bench research is not a pre-requisite to being a quality physician; great doctors come from a myriad of backgrounds and have a wide array of passions and interests. Knowing yourself, interests, and following them is genuine and will make you a better applicant and physician. For more information about great summer opportunities for pre-med students other than research, see the page soon to be attached.
More on research: Research experience does not have to be a summerlong program. St. Olaf offers a variety of research opportunities throughout the year within the Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Exercise Science departments.
- Ted Johnson's Guide For a Career in Medicine - Probably the most comprehensive guide for students interested in medicine, this 67 page guide is a must-read for students. It's long and you won't remember it all, but the more informed you are about the criteria, process, pitfalls, etc. the stronger your application will be.
- StudentDoctor.net a useful link for common interview questions at a given school and general information from people like you: students that are applying or were accepted to medical school. The Interview Feedback Section is particularly helpful. The on-campus advisers are ambivalent towards this site. Use it as a guide, not the ultimate source of truth.
- US News & World Report: Best Medical Schools
- MSAR(Medical School Admission Requirements)
- Health Professions Committee
- Piper Center Interview Resources
Pre-Health Advice From Other Students
- Volunteering as a Pre-Health Student
- Pre-Physician Assistant
- Pre-Occupational Therapy
- Pre-Physical Therapy
- St. Olaf EMTs - You can recognize an on-duty volunteer EMT because of the blue button down shirt, black pants, and brief case of medical supplies. Classes are offered annually during the Spring at St. Olaf or they can be taken at several metro locations. Most students take this course in their freshman or sophomore year. Class is 8+ hours per week and is usually divided into two classes per week on separate weekday nights. Plan accordingly.
- St. Olaf Cancer Connection - Hosts several events like Breast Cancer Survivor Panel, Lungstrong 5K, and Relay for Life and provides volunteer and service opportunities for both St. Olaf and the broader Northfield community
- Oles for Global Health
- Pre-Med Club
- Students for Reproductive Health
- Mind-Body Studies Student Organization - An organization dedicated to raising awareness about alternative medical practices, including careers as a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), in contrast to the historic norm of allopathic medicine (M.D.).
- Sexual Assault Resource Network- SARN takes a stand against sexual assault and intimate violence on the St. Olaf campus through supporting survivors and raising community awareness. They work to ensure that survivors of sexual, domestic and emotional abuse find their needs and concerns met with compassion and competence. SARN is a great organization, dedicated to a great cause, and a powerful experience in serving the needs of others.
- American Red Cross Twin Cities Chapter
- Three Links Care Center
- Northfield Hospital Long Term Care Center
- Northfield Retirement Community
- Northfield Care Center
- St. Francis Medical Center
- Emergency Physicians Professional Association
Page created by students Kurt Swanson '11 and Aaron Thompson '11, biomedical studies concentrators. The information contained in this page is the advise of the creators and does not reflect the official position of the biomedical studies program.