In high school, I was always working toward college. The classes I took, the groups I joined, and the activities I tried all had an end goal in mind: that college acceptance letter. While I still enjoyed high school, I hadn’t been able to experience the years in the way that I wanted to. Instead, I did it in the way that I thought I had to. Because I was certain about medicine, many years of school were ahead. So, when I learned about combined undergraduate/M.D. programs, I jumped at the opportunity to change my mentality. Instead of spending another four years working toward a goal (medical school) with blinders on as I had in high school, I would be able to branch out, take risks, and discover what I enjoy.
Combined undergraduate/M.D. programs, sometimes called B.S./M.D. programs, accept high school seniors simultaneously to an undergraduate institution and medical school. The application process to these programs is more intensive than the traditional undergraduate route, because most programs ask additional essay questions and some require interviews at the medical school. Although the process may seem daunting, it saves the time and energy that would be spent in the traditional route of applying to medical schools during college. Additionally, as a high school senior, the energy and excitement about college fueled my motivation to finish these longer applications.
In my program at Northwestern, the Honors Program in Medical Education, the MCAT is not required for continuation to medical school. Instead, a minimum overall GPA is necessary, with a slightly higher GPA requirement for science classes. I was able to pursue any major of my choice and ultimately decided on psychology, what I saw as the perfect blend between natural and social sciences. In three years, I was able to complete my major and a global health minor, with time to spare for electives, internships, and study abroad. Although combined programs may appear limiting at first, whether with course restrictions or time, I found myself with an unprecedented amount of freedom to explore in college.
The extracurricular experiences and social interactions I’ve had in college have been crucial to becoming the person I am and the doctor I will one day be. The time spent outside of the classroom or library with friends, acquaintances, and strangers has broadened my perspectives and challenged my ideas. Good physicians must treat their patients physically, but also understand, empathize, and connect with them. I never felt like the time I spent having adventures, taking risks, and making memories was wasted or better spent studying. Without the stress of MCAT studying or maintaining perfect grades, I was able to throw myself fully into the experience and truly grow on a personal level.
The college experience is full of challenges, mishaps, success stories, hurdles, and conquests. Together, these pave the way for self-discovery, as clichéd as it may sound. Through a combined medical program, I was able to find what drives me, what makes me happy, and what makes me tick. I believe that when we are content and fulfilled ourselves, we are able to successfully help others do the same. Combined medical programs afford the freedom, time, and reassurance necessary to make these discoveries.
Although I’m sad to be leaving Northwestern a year before my classmates, medical school represents a new, exciting part of my life. I am ready to finally study what I have wanted to study all my life. I am ready to apply my classroom knowledge in real practice. Lastly, I am ready to take on the challenges of medical school because of the growth I have made in my time as an undergraduate. Never once have I looked back and wished that I had gone a different route. A combined medical program was exactly the right option for me, and if you’re a high school senior with your heart set on medicine, it might just be for you too.
For a list of universities offering undergraduate/M.D. programs, visit https://www.aamc.org/students/aspiring/347100/bsmdprogamlists.html.
About Arianna Yanes
Arianna Yanes is a senior in Northwestern University’s Honors Program in Medical Education majoring in psychology and minoring in global health studies. She plans to begin medical school at the Feinberg School of Medicine in August. She is the daughter of two physicians who immigrated to America from Iran and Syria to pursue their passions for medicine. Although they encouraged her to consider other career options, Arianna ultimately developed the same passions that brought her parents to the U.S.
As an intern with CNN’s Medical Unit, Arianna became passionate about communicating medical news and making health information accessible and digestible. She currently blogs for Northwestern’s Global Health Portal and the Huffington Post’s College section. She plans to continue writing and blogging through medical school and hopes to eventually incorporate this into her future career.