Hi HPA – I want to know more about the different specialties I could pursue after medical school. What’s the best way to learn about them?
The way that most premed students learn about different kinds of specialties is by shadowing physicians in those specialties and using the experience with someone in the field to think about their own fit for that field. Volunteering in a patient care setting will also provide some insight into a certain specialty; while you won’t necessarily spend a lot of time with doctors, you will get a sense of how the general environment and culture feels, for example, in an inpatient vs. outpatient setting. Rather than trying to learn about all 120+ specialties before medical school, focus on the kinds of interactions you might like to have with patients (some specialties focus on long term and continuous care, others with shorter interactions but perhaps more variety), what kind of work/life balance you seek, how much time you want available for non-clinical activities (e.g., research, policy), and whether you prefer work that’s more hands-on and procedural or more focused on reasoning and deduction. If you keep these factors in mind now, you’ll have more information to start narrowing down specialty choice once you get to medical school. Once you get to medical school, you’ll have an advisor who can help you think through your residency choices, just like at Princeton you have advisors to help you think through major choices. No need to absolutely decide until you’ve had much more exposure to medicine and much more time to think about other long-term life factors.
Of course, you can certainly read up and become more familiar with specialties beforehand if you’d like. The AAMC has a list of all of the specialties; the American Medical Association has blog posts about specialty choice, including specialty profiles; Wash U School of Medicine has some simplified specialty descriptions, and we have explored a few specialties in our HPA Careers of the Month.
And don’t forget, there are three human medical specialties that you “declare” before you begin professional school: dentistry, optometry, and podiatric medicine.
If Not Medicine, Then What?
Question: Hi HPA – I’m feeling less certain about premed than I used to be. What other careers do you see students go into when they leave premed?
Answer: While we don’t have any real data on this, anecdotally, students’ career paths when they decide against the MD are often guided by where they found the most satisfaction, personally or academically (or both!), during college. From my (Kate’s) example, I was pre-vet during college, and I liked my science courses, but I loved being the equivalent of an RCA on campus. I enjoyed providing guidance to others as they navigated the college experience, working in an environment that supported lifelong learning, and basically, I just loved college. So, I dropped pre-vet mid-junior year, finished out my Biology major, and went to graduate school for higher education administration. At Princeton, we have worked with students who want to continue in a health care role other than medicine who went on to optometry, physician assistant, dentistry, and other health professions; we’ve worked with students who followed a love of service to non-profit work, students who loved fast pace and problem solving who went into consulting, students who wanted to share their love of the sciences with others as teachers, students who were passionate about a discipline they discovered at Princeton and pursued it in graduate school, and countless other routes. It can feel scary to give up the “premed identity” and the reasonably straightforward path to medicine for the seemingly infinite number of other, less straightforward career trajectories, but at the end of the day, with a Princeton degree and the experience that four years on campus affords for students to grow and mature, to become liberally educated, deeper thinkers and stronger communicators who want to help others and their communities, we are confident that our former premeds are going to do great things no matter what careers they ultimately choose.
Applying to MD/MPH Programs
Question: Dear HPA: I know that I want both an MD and an MPH, but I don't know if I do a joint program what the applications are like. I will be applying to medical school next summer, I think. Do I have to fill out separate applications? How does it work? Thanks.
Answer: When you apply next summer you will complete the online AMCAS application and will be given the option of choosing joint degree programs at your schools. Once you've checked the joint "MD/MPH" boxes for the schools you've chosen, you have alerted the medical schools of your desire to apply to their Schools of Public Health. However, they have separate application processes. In some cases, the medical schools ask that you wait until they admit you before you complete a separate application for the School of Public Health, but in many, if not most, cases, you will want to complete your MPH application during the process of review by medical schools (in other words, early next fall). Most Schools of Public Health now use a centralized application service kind of like AMCAS, called SOPHAS (go to http://www.sophas.org/). The schools not participating in SOPHAS will ask you to complete their own individualized application. Generally, you will want three letters of recommendation; these can be written by the same individuals who recommend you for medical school but they should be revised to talk about public health and your interest in the MPH; these letters go to SOPHAS or to the individual schools on their own, without coming into our office. Most MPH programs accept your MCAT as the required standardized test.
There are two adequate lists of MD/MPH joint degree programs:
For a few more related links, go to our little Public Health section on the HPA site under "Other Health Professions."
Question: Hi HPA - I’m about to apply to medical school but I’m still on the fence about MD versus MD/
PhD. Does anyone apply to both? How does the application process differ between the two? Is it
more competitive to get into an MD/PhD program?
Answer: About 10-15% of our applicants in a given year apply MD/PhD; Princeton gives you a better
taste of what it might be like to carry out independent research at the doctoral level than most
colleges and universities, and many students develop a passion for inquiry within their discipline.
That said, some of the students most passionate about their research also choose to apply MD
only with plans to incorporate research into their four years in medical school. Students applying
MD/PhD complete the same “common application” (the AMCAS), but some of the details are a
- Essays: MD/PhD candidates write two additional essays: one about their rationale for pursuing the dual degree and the other detailing their research experiences.
- Standardized tests: most programs will only require the MCAT, but some may ask for a GRE score – be sure to check your prospective schools’ requirements.
- School Selection: your research interests will come into play as you decide where to apply. Some of our applicants choose to apply to some schools MD only and some schools MD/PhD, depending on what a given medical school offers.
- Letters of recommendation: some programs will ask for letters from each of your significant research experiences.
- Interviews: most interviews will be over two days while MD only interviews are one day. You’ll meet with potential research mentors as part of the MD/PhD interview process.
Statistically speaking, the acceptance rate for MD/PhD candidates is not too different from MDonly candidates. In 2017, there were 1,858 applicants and 646 matriculants, so about 35% of students who applied eventually matriculated into an MD/PhD program, and we can assume (based on our experience with our own applicants) that a number of students who were not accepted MD/PhD joined MD only programs. MCAT and GPA metrics for MD/PhD were a touch higher than for MD only applicants nationally, and we’ve seen the same for our Princeton applicants, but we’ve also seen success for students from a range of academic metrics, from a 3.1 GPA supplemented with postbac science coursework, up to a 4.0, with MCAT scores from the 84th through 100th percentile (512-526). The commitment to research, as demonstrated through experience and supported by letters of recommendation, can make a significant impact on the success of an MD/PhD candidate. You can find more specifics in our Explore Careers: Physician Scientist page on the HPA website. This FAQ is particularly useful.
Applying MD/PhD and MD Only?
Question: Hi HPA. It’s OK to apply to both MD/PhD programs and MD Only programs at the same time, right?
Answer: We do not recommend it. While the fact remains that many medical schools will consider you for the MD Only if you’re turned down from their more competitive MD/PhD program, applying to a combination of types of programs from the outset tends to look to schools like you’re indecisive (at best), or you’re lacking commitment to either path (at worst). Come talk with us at HPA about whether or not you’re a good candidate for the MD/PhD. If you are, then go for it—100%!
Question: I don’t know but I think I might be interested in doing a joint MD/MBA. Do you have any information about what programs exist and whether or not I should do it?
Answer: Individual programs provide a lot of useful information, and researching them will show you the diversity of offerings: for example Penn, NYU, and U of Miami. You should also look at http://www.mdmbaprograms.org/, the site for the Association of MD/MBA Programs, run by program administrators. Lastly, you might search for Princeton alumni who hold both degrees, and talk to them about the advantages and disadvantages of their chosen path. Career Services has an alumni database where you can look for alumni holding certain advanced degrees, then contact them with questions. Go to: https://careerservices.princeton.edu/undergraduate-students/making-connections/meeting-people/alumni.
Question: Hi HPA. What's involved in getting a joint degree like MD/PhD? I'm thinking it might be the route I want to take. And also how can I learn more about different schools and whether or not they offer the MD/PhD? Thanks!
Answer: Many medical schools in the U.S. offer a joint MD/PhD. Approximately 40 of these schools call their MD/PhD programs "MSTP" programs, for "Medical Scientist Training Programs," and have complete funding by the NIH. All MD/PhD programs are competitive to get into, and the Princeton students who have had success in this endeavor have generally had numbers above the averages for applicants accepted to straight MD programs. Above all, however, they have deep and continuous research experience. We have collected some useful resources to explore this option on our website (see Explore Careers: Physician Scientist), and we have additional resources in our library.
MPH to Prepare for MD
Question: I’m a current senior and I know that my science GPA is not reflective of my ability, so I want to do more course work before I apply to medical school to become a more competitive applicant. I’ve heard that doing a Masters in Public Health is a good way to get preparation that’s relevant to being a doctor that will give me an edge in medical admissions. Is that true?
Answer: The best evidence for ability in the sciences is taking additional, advanced courses in the sciences and doing well (hopefully also securing letters of recommendation that speak to your ability). Most MPH programs do not provide access to these kinds of advanced science courses. The academic record enhancer post-baccalaureate programs are more specifically geared toward students in your situation. Many of them allow you to take the same courses that first-year medical students are taking, so if you do well in them, it’s showing that you’ll also be able to do well in medical school. We have a handout and some sample programs listed on our website under Record Enhancement Programs. Of course, if you’re interested in public health, it’s a great career path for which pursuing an MPH could be a next educational step, but doing an MPH shouldn’t be seen as a stepping stone to medical school admissions.
Question: Dear HPA - I've heard of DO's but I don't know much about them. Is it as hard to get into DO schools as MD schools? What are the differences between DO’s and MDs? Is going to DO school a legitimate thing to do?
Answer: Yes, becoming a DO is a “legitimate” thing to do! The field is experiencing rapid growth, with more than 20% of current medical students training as osteopathic physicians. The American Osteopathic Association has a lot of good general information on their website, www.osteopathic.org, including a section called "What Is a DO?" Also, the association of DO schools (AACOM) publishes an information booklet describing the 30+ programs in the country, which can be found in the HPA library and online. You should also look through the bins in our office labeled "Osteopathic Medicine," and spend some additional time at http://www.aacom.org/. While the “numbers” needed for admission to osteopathic medical schools tend to be somewhat lower than those for MD programs, you must show a clear strength in the sciences and a record of academic achievement overall (and yes, you still need to take your MCAT). It is also crucial to have shadowed or interned with a DO so that you have some credibility when you say you know what osteopathic medicine is.
Similarities between DOs and MDs:
- Both complete a four-year medical education
- Both can participate in any specialty
- Both are found in private practice and hospitals all over the country, and can practice abroad
- DOs practice a 'whole person' approach, with an emphasis on the body as an integrated whole
- DOs emphasize preventative medicine and the majority of students go into primary care, often in underserved areas
- DOs can participate in the MD board exams (USMLE) and residency match system, and also have their own DO exam (COMLEX) and match.
- DO training includes extra work in the musculoskeletal system and in manipulative treatment
Osteopathic medicine can be a viable alternative for those who are interested in a holistic approach to medicine and also for those whose 'numbers' may prevent them from being competitive at allopathic (MD) programs.
Why Consider Osteopathic Medicine?
Hi HPA – I met with an advisor who suggested that I consider DO school. Is this because they didn’t think I was good enough to get into MD programs?
There are a number of reasons we might suggest osteopathic (DO) medical schools. We are likely to suggest DO for students who we think would be a good fit for the philosophy of the profession, or whose interests and career goals align with those of other students we’ve seen find success in the DO profession. For example, if a student is expresses interest in working primary care and preventative medicine in underserved communities, that may fit well with DO. If a student’s highest priority is attending medical school in a specific area of the country, adding DO schools to a school list opens up more options. If by “good enough,” you mean that there may be concern regarding the strength of an applicant’s academic metrics, then yes, this can be a factor: in terms of straight statistics, DO programs often have lower average MCAT/GPA metrics for accepted applicants. But, we don’t think that this means DO programs are “worse” than MD programs, nor does that mean that you should treat it as a “fallback” option. Any student interested in becoming a physician would do well to learn more about osteopathic medicine and see if it’s a good fit for them.
Pharmacy School Prerequisites
Question: Dear HPA – I’m interested in drug development and patient care, and I think I want to go to pharmacy school. I’ve looked into a few schools’ prerequisites and they want me to take Microbiology with Lab, two semesters of Anatomy and Physiology, and Public Speaking. Are these classes that I can take at Princeton?
Answer: Good question! Unlike medical school requirements, which are a little more uniform, different Pharmacy schools will have different course requirements, and may accept Princeton courses, but it’ll be a case-by-case basis. The courses that are most like an Anatomy and Physiology sequence are Human Adaptation (ANT 215 / EEB 315, offered in Fall) and Comparative Physiology (EEB 314, offered in Spring). Princeton offers Microbio with lab in some years – it’ll be MOL 380B, and Public Speaking is offered as ENG 230. We recommend researching Pharmacy schools of interest and making note of their prerequisites (you can find a list of programs online: www.pharmcas.org/school-directory/#/) , and if a school requires Anatomy and Physiology, reach out to them directly to find out if our ANT 215 and EEB 314 will satisfy their requirements. Send an email to the admissions office, introduce yourself as a pre-pharmacy student attending Princeton, and attach copies of the course descriptions from Course Offerings along with the texts used in the courses. If you have trouble getting through to any of the schools, let us know and we can try to intervene on your behalf. It may be difficult to fit these courses into your Princeton curriculum, and you may hear from schools that these courses will not meet their requirements. Many pharmacy schools require significant work in a hospital/pharmacy setting, so many pre-pharmacy students choose to work for a year or two after graduation; if you did this, you could finish up the required courses at a local college while you worked. You can learn more about Pharmacy careers on the HPA website: hpa.princeton.edu/exploring/pharmacy.
Question: Hi! I received a mailing from the AACPM, the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. What is podiatric medicine, and is this something I should consider?
Answer: According to the AACPM, www.aacpm.org, an association of 8 podiatric medical schools, and about 200 hospitals, "Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs) strive to improve the overall health of their patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. They treat a variety of conditions and employ innovative treatments to improve the well-being of their patients." Applications to podiatry schools have been on the rise in recent years, and average GPA and MCAT scores for those accepted to DPM programs are somewhat lower than those for medical school. Most importantly, you might consider pursuing a career in podiatry if you've spent time with someone who practices in this field, and if you believe that the approach to the patient and the lifestyle is consistent with your interests. Getting exposure to a wide range of medical practices (as a volunteer, doing "shadowing," or in the course of clinical research) is the best way to assess which specific direction makes the most sense for you. HPA at Princeton sees many more students interested in allopathic medicine than podiatry or osteopathic medicine, but we do have information about numerous health professions (including dentistry and veterinary medicine) in our library and on our website. We hope you'll come to take a look at the resources soon.
Question: Hello, I am interested in becoming a dentist after college, not a doctor. What does your office do for pre-dental students? How many pre-dental students are there?
Answer: Good to hear from you. We have between two and five students who apply to dental school every year through HPA. Many students come in with an interest in the MD and over time realize that becoming a dentist is a better career fit for them after shadowing and learning more about the profession. If you are pre-dental, make sure you email Jennifer at HPA@princeton.edu and let her know, since the first thing we do for pre-dental students is maintain a separate email list in order to keep you notified of any academic or application-related information pertaining specifically to you. Most commonly, we answer pre-dents' coursework questions and discuss preparation of candidacy for dental school. When the time comes to apply, we do the pre-application interview, help you compile a list of schools, and write the letter of evaluation for you that goes with your letters of recommendation to dental schools via the online application service called AADSAS. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to come by so we can check on your progress through the pre-dental curriculum; also, while you're here, make sure you read through the "ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools" and verify that you're completing the requirements for any dental school you aspire to attend. We also encourage you to get involved with the Princeton Pre-Dental Association – since there aren’t many pre-dental students on campus, this is a good organization through which to network and support each other.
Activities for Predental Students
I know that HPA emphasizes community service, research, clinical experience, and leadership for premeds. Is it the same for predental students? Is there anything else that I should focus on more or less if I’m hoping to become a dentist?
Just like premeds, focusing on your passions and pursuing them in depth and over time is key. Shadowing dentists in different settings so that you can gain perspective on the career opportunities is valuable. A couple of areas that are emphasized more for predental students than premeds are business skills and manual dexterity. Many dentists go into private or group practice, and if that’s a route that you’re considering, some early preparation in business/management can be valuable. Manual dexterity, developed though activities like ceramics, hand crafts, video games, etc., is also beneficial. It’s also important to be able to connect with others—both patients and colleagues—in close proximity. Dentists are working side by side with their assistants and techs, often in close spaces, and have to be attuned to patients’ feelings via verbal and especially non-verbal cues in ways that physicians in many specialties do not. Activities that develop this team mentality and ability to put others at ease will prepare you well for the career. For more perspectives on predental preparation, read through the information on the ADEA GoDental website.
Pre-Vet at Princeton
Question: Dear HPA, I’m a first-year and I’m considering becoming a veterinarian. What can your office do for pre-vets? Is there anything I should know about being pre-vet?
Answer: Thanks for checking in with us! It’s true that there aren’t many pre-vet students on campus, but we certainly enjoy working with pre-vets. We have specialized listservs for pre-vet, pre-dental, and MD/PhD through which we share targeted messages, so be sure to email Jennifer at HPA@princeton.edu and ask that she put you on the pre-vet email list. Most often, we answer pre-vet students’ questions about coursework (the required courses for vet school are very similar to the ones for med school, but there are a few anomalies at certain vet schools) and about applying to vet school. When it comes time to apply (your junior summer if you’re hoping to matriculate right after graduation, or your senior summer if you’re taking one glide year), we’ll work with you on application logistics. You’re always welcome at the programming we offer for pre-meds, such as the Interviewing Info Session or the session we do on writing a personal statement for your application, since the vet school application process is very similar to the med school one. The key differences are in timing and your letters of recommendation. You will need 3-4 individual recommenders who will complete forms via VMCAS, the application service that most (but not all!) vet schools use. The committee letter process through HPA is optional – vet schools do not expect committee letters in the way that medical schools do. You’ll also submit your application in the fall rather than early summer. The AAVMC website and their pre-vet newsletters may provide particularly advice, so we’d recommend bookmarking that site, as well as using our HPA resources, and be sure to contact Princeton’s Pre-Veterinary Society officers to be part of the pre-vet student community on campus. In any case, we’d like to meet you and talk about your pre-vet path in general, so please don’t be a stranger!
Question: I think I want to get an MPH and work in public health after I graduate. I'm only a sophomore now so I have a lot of time to decide. I'm going to do the Global Health certificate and keep thinking about it. What I'm not clear on is what I'd actually do with a degree in public health? And how does that differ from getting an MD/MPH? Thank you.
Answer: An MPH leads to a wide variety of career options. The best place to start researching career options is WhatIsPublicHealth.org, where you'll see, among other things, that an MPH leads to work in environmental health, biostatistics, health administration, nutrition, epidemiology, health education, and more. Many of the pre-health students we see at HPA elect to go for the joint MD/MPH degree because they want to study health as it pertains to larger populations and cultures (public health) while still treating the individual (human medicine). A background in public health can benefit nearly any doctor in his/her desire to treat the "whole" patient. For a list of joint MD/MPH programs and other information, check out the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, and AMSA also has some good info.