Pursue Alternative Routes to a Medical Education

From primary care-focused M.D.’s to programs in Qatar, here are some nontraditional options.

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Texas Tech University, which offers an accelerated M.D.
Texas Tech University is one of the first U.S. med schools to offer an accelerated M.D.

Most of us know the traditional way to study medicine; go to medical school after college, study hard, and complete a residency. Partially because of the medical field's new emphasis on empathetic, well-rounded medical students and physicians, programs that once seemed to be on the fringe are gaining in popularity not only among premedical students, but also among medical schools and hospitals.

The medical establishment has increasingly adopted the mindset that physicians should be trained not only in the bread-and-butter sciences, but also in effective communication with patients. Specialized programs have been developed to allow premeds to pursue other disciplines, or paths in medical education, with the understanding that they will most likely be accepted to medical school or residency.

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Some of these programs include:

• The Mount Sinai School of Medicine Humanities and Medicine (HuMed) program: One of the more established programs in the United States, the Humanities and Medicine Early Acceptance Program, has trained premedical and medical students in a wide array of disciplines since its founding in 1987.

The program embraces the influence of humanities, and other fields, in the practice of medicine. In keeping with that philosophy, the program requirements state that applicants are not permitted to take the MCAT. Students in their sophomore year of college typically apply to the program.

Perhaps because of its unusual focus, the program is competitive. During the last application cycle, only about 5 percent of applicants was accepted. The program places minimal emphasis on science courses during an applicant's undergraduate years, which is in line with studies that have shown that these students perform just as well overall as medical students who had taken the traditional path in their studies.

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• The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center F-MAT Family Medicine Accelerated Track: Though schools in Canada, such as the University of Calgary, have offered similar options in the past, Texas Tech became one of the first U.S. medical schools to establish a three-year, accelerated M.D. program for students interested in primary care. The program, which was approved by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in 2010, abbreviates the M.D. curriculum for students who have already decided to pursue careers in primary care. It is based on the view that the fourth year of medical school is typically a low yield for primary care specialties.

Another benefit of the F-MAT program is that enrolled students receive at least one year of scholarship support, in addition to one year of savings in student loan debt due to the accelerated pace.

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Some international programs also offer the potential for a unique path to an M.D. that offers a combination of U.S. and international experiences.

University of Queensland, Australia: The University of Queensland has established a program that combines studies on its campus in Australia with the potential for clinical experiences at the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans called the UQ-Ochsner Partnership Program.

The program not only creates opportunities for Australian students, but it also reserves an additional 120 places for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. For this program, you will need to have completed, or be in the process of completing, a bachelor's degree. Typically, medical schools in Commonwealth countries, such as the United Kingdom, admit medical students as soon as they graduate from high school.

Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University in Qatar: For those who want an M.D. with the same admissions requirements as Cornell University, and with the experience of having clinical rotations in Doha (and possibly in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Manama expected in the near future), the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar may be a good international alternative.

Cornell also offers a premedical program that allows applicants to be reviewed separately for the medical school program. Arabic is not required.

As some schools enhance and diversify their student bodies and their clinical opportunities, more schools will probably offer variants of the above programs. Knowing what is available is key to making the best decision possible for your academic future.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How to Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.