Pre-med medical school

As a retiree in Missoula, I am thankful for the number of physicians active in Montana, despite its rural status. This is an significant healthcare concern for families and older adults. As I looked into it, I found that the University of Montana has a robust and successful set of programs that help students attend medical school and stay in Montana after completing residency in-state. These include the campus pre-medicine advising program and a residency program sponsored by UM. I contacted people in each for more information.

Applying to medical school is an arduous and costly endeavor. In 2018-19, for example, 9,024 students applied to University of Washington Medical School; 271 (3%) matriculated. Similar statistics are found across the U.S. Furthermore, it is expensive to apply. The organization that handles applications (AMCAS) charges about $170 for the first application and $39 for each additional school. Schools also collect fees as part of their secondary applications and students must consider travel costs for interviews. Nationally, students apply to 17 schools on average. More than 53,000 students submitted applications in 2016.

The good news for UM students is that the pre-medical advisory program does a stellar job of helping students prepare for entry into the medical profession and for gaining admission to medical school. Services include counseling about important tasks: selecting and keeping on top of coursework, participating in extracurricular activities (volunteering, shadowing physicians and gaining research experience), organizing and sticking to a timeline, and completing applications to preferred medical schools.

A hallmark of UM's PreMed Program's success is welcoming, inclusive, non-judgmental advising. For example, many believe that a GPA of 3.5 or higher is required. In reality, schools consider students who may have struggled academically initially but also have relevant experience. Although the probability is small for such students, and becomes significantly higher as GPAs climb towards 3.8, this chance of success, no matter how small, feeds the passion of UM students. Students intent on medical careers realize that, while there will be serious questions and demanding recommendations from advisors, students get the same array of services. Advisors appreciate that Montana students often graduate from small high schools, may have little exposure to chemistry and biology courses or labs, and may have limited family financial support.

In this challenging yet supportive environment, UM students achieved an acceptance rate averaging approximately 60% over the last 10 years, well above the national average of 40% (despite applying to fewer schools). UM students attend medical schools including Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Northwestern, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, UCSD, Washington, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt. As the path for a Montana student can be longer and have more inherent difficulty, the PreMed program has to be nimbler, more robust and more accepting of diversity. It has the full support of the UM administration and comprises 14 advisors covering unique aspects of pre-health advising.

UM is also home to the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana (affiliated with University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Network). The mission is to train family physicians who will be prepared and motivated to enter practice in rural and underserved areas of Montana. It is a three-year program based in Missoula (30 residents) with rural partners in Anaconda, Browning, Butte, Dillon, Hamilton, Lewistown, Libby, Plains, Polson and Ronan. The program will graduate its fourth class this June. Of the first four classes (39 residents), about 80% are practicing in rural or underserved settings and around 75% are practicing in Montana. The program had over 500 applicants for 10 positions last year.

These programs, among others, make UM a great place for aspiring physicians and healthcare professionals.

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Arlene Walker-Andrews is a professor emeritus in psychology and former associate provost at the University of Montana.

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