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Pre-med guide

Pre-med guide

Medicine is a highly respected career which brings many rewards. Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients, take medical histories, prescribe medications, and order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries (such as broken bones) and disease (such as cancerous tumors and deformities, e.g., as cleft palates). Career outlook is strong. Employment is expected to grow by 13% from the period of 2016–2026, faster than the average for all occupations. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Occupational Handbook)

"It is an extraordinary time to be a doctor. You will be entering medicine at a time when the country needs your services most, given predicted physician shortages in coming years, and when national attention is focused like never before on the need to improve health care delivery. It is also a time when our profession is undergoing an exciting period of transformative change, with clinical care becoming increasingly patient-centered and team –based, biomedical research more technically sophisticated and collaborative, and medical education itself evolving into a continuum of lifelong learning."

Darrell Kirch, MD
President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges

The physician of the future will value diversity (from personal experience getting out of their comfort zone), be culturally competent, understand the social dimensions of health, will think critically like a scientist, will understand research design, will meet most of the competencies, especially the ability to be resourceful and resilient, and will be a team player. They will be chosen holistically, taking into account their family background.

Individuals interested in medicine can answer "Yes" to the following questions: Do you like challenges? Are you interested in science and how the body works? Do you care deeply about other people, their problems, and their pain? Are you a good listener? Do you enjoy learning? Are you intrigued by the ways medicine can be used to improve life? (Association of American Medical Colleges)

The OSU pre-med program provides extensive resources to support our applicants through all aspects of their preparation and application, and this is reflected in the high success rate of our students who are admitted to medical schools.

Getting started

There is no one specific major for pre-meds. Common majors include those in Science (e.g., Biology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Microbiology), Engineering (e.g., Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Radiation Health Physics, etc.), Public health and Human Sciences (e.g., Kinesiology, Nutrition, Public Health), Agricultural Science (e.g., Bioresource Research), and Liberal Arts (e.g., Philosophy, Psychology, Spanish, etc.). Medical schools are looking for academic rigor and depth, so choose a major that interests you.

For most medical schools, the prerequisite courses needed include a year each of the following:

  • General Chemistry: CH 231/261 series
  • Principles of Biology (BI 211 or BI 221 series)
  • Organic Chemistry: CH 331, 332, 337, or CH 334 series
  • General Physics: PH 201 or 211 series

OHSU (as well as other schools) also requires Biochemistry (BB 450 or BB 490 series) and Genetics (BI 311 or MB 310). Many schools also require some liberal arts courses. General Psychology (PSY 201, 202) and Introduction to Sociology (SOC 204) in particular are good preparation for the MCAT. You might also consider a minor, or the Medical Humanities Certificate. It can be beneficial for students in the more technical majors to enhance their curriculum to incorporate more humanities courses relating to health and medicine.

Get good information

Be sure to stay connected with the latest information through the listserv, and the Pre-medical orientation course in the spring, BI 109.

Pre-Med Listserv: Join the pre-medical listserv to learn about opportunities for pre-med students. To join, send a blank email using your official OSU email account to, and reply to the email response to confirm your subscription. To leave the list, send an email and replace "join" with "leave."

OSU has a number of advisors who are members of the Pre-medical Advisory Committee; connect early with your pre-med advisor and stay in touch.

Get informed about the profession

Become familiar with the application services AMCAS at the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and AACOMAS at AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine). Learn about professional trends and initiatives at these websites.

There are many opportunities to hear from speakers, so attend lectures when you can. We have physicians who speak, panel discussions, and there are activities at the osteopathic medical school in Lebanon, COMP-NW which you can learn about. Be sure to note that both MDs (allopathic) and DOs (osteopathic) physicians are fully licensed to do all specialties. DOs also receive training in osteopathic manipulation. By 2020, graduates of both MD and DO schools will be eligible for all medical residencies in the United States.

Get involved

Once you have settled into your academic routine, get involved on campus and in the community. See the volunteer information page for some examples. Choose some activities which broaden your perspectives, and work with people who are different from yourself. Research adds a great deal to a medical school application and there are many opportunities to get involved at OSU. However, research does not take the place of clinical experience, which is required in order to be competitive.

Get to know some professors who have taught you in classes, as you will need letters of evaluation.

Get health care experience

Connecting with physicians and volunteer opportunities in your home community is advantageous, so look for opportunities to do that. Many students continue a relationship with a physician they established while in high school. It is a good idea to keep a reflective journal along the way as you gain experience and make observations. Learn more about how to navigate finding opportunities and how to get the most out of your healthcare experiences.

Eligible OSU undergraduate students can also apply for the Medical Preceptorship which matches junior or senior pre-med students with local physicians for a term for shadowing.

What's important

Know what lies ahead

Medical schools want to know if you have a realistic view of what lies ahead in medical school and in the profession. Have you worked around people who are sick, in pain, have no access to medical care? Do you understand the scope of practice of a physician, compared to other members of the health care team, and is that where you see yourself? Learn about the many other careers in the health professions.

Medical schools want you to know yourself; what are your values, what is important to you?

Teamwork and leadership

Teamwork is very important, so look for opportunities to work in groups where everyone has a role. The trend toward IPE (interpersonal education) is growing. In medical school and residency, it is likely you will interact with other professional students in classrooms and on case studies.

Leadership is also very important, and there are many opportunities on campus including a leadership minor.

Core competencies

The AAMC has been involved in a long term project researching what is important for medical students and pre-med students to know. They published a report, Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians (pdf), in 2009. This led the way for a revision to the MCAT and to the establishment of Core Competencies for pre-med students before they enter medical school. These can be a good guide for you, as you evaluate some areas that you need to work on. Note that many medical schools also have their own set of Core Competencies for their graduates (for example, OHSU). Many medical schools including OHSU have a competency-based curriculum.

Diversity and holistic admissions

Medical schools are very interested in diversity and they want people who are culturally competent and sensitive, who show a desire to learn, value and respect others' culture. They want you to work with people who are different from yourself, getting "out of your comfort zone." They are moving toward Holistic Admissions, where they will look at all aspects of your application and pay special attention to your experiences (family background, community service, research, leadership, affiliations, life experiences, and general "distance traveled"); attributes (ethnicity, race, values and beliefs, general identity, maturity, intellectual curiosity, etc.), in addition to your metrics (GPA, grade trends and MCAT).

OHSU and COMP-NW value holistic admissions, and they especially value diverse, life-enriching experiences. This is reflected in the average age their matriculants (26 for OHSU and 29 for COMP-NW) compared to the national average of 24. Osteopathic schools have also always looked more broadly at applicants and this is reflected in their wider range of GPA and MCAT scores and life experiences of matriculants.


Professional attitudes and behavior are important and expected. Keep in mind that your social media presence could also potentially play a role in how medical schools admissions view you, so be sure to make good decisions.

Criminal background checks are in your future, so always use good judgment.

Along the way, keep in mind that you should be well rounded in academics and activities, well grounded in knowing yourself and your values, and well surrounded by people who support your goals. Medical schools are quite concerned about resiliency skills; they want to know you can bounce back from a setback.

Get ready to apply


  • Choose a major that fits your interests and skills
  • Take advantage of the many resources on campus to help you succeed in class
  • Once your routine is established, get involved in campus and community activities, and attend lectures and meetings, paying special attention to opportunities which put you in touch with people who are different from yourself.
  • Take advantage of the many resources for pre-med students: listserv, BI 109, pre-med advisors, clubs, speakers, application seminars, etc.
  • Make good connections for letters (faculty, physicians, other professionals)
  • Pay attention to every detail throughout the application process

Bottom line

All of these need to be excellent

  • Academics
  • Patient-focused clinical experience
  • Understanding of medical issues/ awareness of trends and concerns and medical ethics
  • Community service
  • Teamwork and leadership
  • Understanding of multicultural and social issues which affect health
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Scholarly work (research, or something else with depth)
  • Diverse life experiences/ communication skills/ maturity

More information