Medical, Dental, and Other Professional Schools

For international students interested in U.S. professional schools (e.g., medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, and veterinary school), there are some substantial hurdles. Some of these programs do not accept international students at all, while others only accept small numbers. Even when these schools accept international students, they often require prepayment of substantial amounts of money equal to some or all of the tuition.

If you are interested in attending a U.S. professional school, then it is important to be prepared even before starting an undergraduate program. Make sure that there are some that are realistic for you that would fit your needs. You may want to contact some admissions representatives at these schools. Here are some important questions to ask:

  1. Does your program accept international students? If so, is it more competitive for international students to be accepted than for U.S. students?
  2. Do you require prepayment of tuition? It may also be helpful to ask how other international students have funded their studies. In some cases, students may be able to work during their studies. In pharmacy programs, for example, students sometimes sign contracts to work for pharmacy chain stores while in school and for a certain number of years afterwards in order to get financial help with their tuition. One option for highly competitive students is to combine a professional degree (such as an M.D. degree) with a Ph.D. These programs take longer, but the Ph.D. program generally provides funding for the M.D. degree.
  3. What is the average G.P.A. (grade point average) and science/math G.P.A. of accepted students? They may give an alternate recommendation of a competitive G.P.A. for an international student because often international students must be even more qualified in order to be accepted.
  4. What sort of experience do you expect students to have? Some programs require shadowing or internship experience in the field; others want research experience.
  5. Are international students who graduate from your program able to obtain visas to work in the U.S.? If you plan to return home with your degree, then you need to make certain that your qualifications will be accepted. As an example, there are two types of medical schools in the U.S. Allopathic medical schools are traditional medical schools and graduates earn an M.D. degree. Osteopathic medical schools use a different philosophy (they teach traditional medical concepts along with osteopathic medical concepts) and graduates earn an O.D. degree. Osteopathic schools may be more willing to accept international students, but the degree is less well accepted in other countries.
  6. What prerequisite courses are required? Many programs require an undergraduate degree for admission, although some require a sufficient number of prerequisite courses. The particular name on your undergraduate degree is less important than taking the right courses.
  7. What sorts of residencies are popular with your graduates? This is primarily important for medical school.

Of course, it’s generally necessary to complete an undergraduate degree before attending a professional program. An undergraduate degree takes about 4 years, while many professional programs (such as medical and dental school) take an additional 4. Some programs are shorter (e.g., physical therapy). To become a practicing doctor, an additional residency is required (the shortest residencies are 3 years long).

Choosing an undergraduate institution is also important in successfully obtaining your career goals. When researching an undergraduate institution, here are some important things to consider.

  1. Are they responsive? If you contact the program and ask to speak with a pre-professional or health professions advisor, does someone respond to you promptly and provide helpful information?
  2. Are they familiar with the challenges facing international students? If not, are they willing to make the effort to help you find and prepare for the right programs?
  3. Do they have a suitable degree program for you? Remember, the most important thing is to complete the required prerequisite courses; it is not necessary to get a degree in science. It is also good to take additional advanced courses in relevant areas. However, you may also want to take courses that will give you alternate career paths in case you change your mind or have difficulty getting accepted to a professional program. Can you take the right selection of courses there?
  4. Can you get assistance in preparing for standardized exams like the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), DAT (Dental Admissions Test), or GRE (Graduate Record Exam)? These exams are an important part of being competitive applicant to professional programs and can be challenging, so you may want access to advice about how to prepare and about scheduling courses appropriately to be ready for the exam.
  5. Do they have undergraduate research opportunities or are they able to help you find these opportunities elsewhere? Research experience can help you to be a more competitive applicant to professional programs because it shows critical thinking skills, an ability to work independently, and motivation. If you want to attempt to apply for an M.D./Ph.D. or other combined degree program, then it is critical to get research experience.

This may sound daunting, but it isn’t impossible. The important thing is to decide on a realistic objective, to research specific schools carefully, and to have a plan right from the start of your undergraduate work in order to get the necessary preparation. There is a great deal of additional information on professional websites such as www.aamc.org. Being a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or veterinarian can be a rewarding and fulfilling career, but the best way to achieve these careers is to be careful, prepared, and informed.