The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) reported an increase of nearly 17% in medical school applications in 2020. Now contrast that with the average year-on-year increase of roughly 3% in the past decade (Weiner, 2020). This surge can be attributed to a variety of factors, but medical schools agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has something to do with the heightened interest in the medical profession. Aspiring physicians that intend to join the medical workforce are now looking for the easiest medical schools to get into, considering the rigorous admission process that applicants go through each year.
Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) show that applicants with high Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, usually above 490, and greater than 3.0 grade point average (GPA) typically make it to medical school. The selection process, however, is not fully dependent on the MCAT score and the applicant’s GPA since other factors, such as volunteer and extracurricular work, the qualities of the applicant as well as personal traits all add up to the final rating.
Aside from listing some of the medical schools in the U.S. with less rigorous acceptance rates, this guide will provide information on the requirements for admission to medical schools in the U.S. and Europe. Also included in the discussion is the average cost of going to medical school, the length of training, as well as the physician career outlook.
More than the prestige and above-average salary, the pandemic has shown the world that doctors have an extraordinary commitment to their chosen careers. While one study found that students choose a career in medicine for the perceived respect that they would get from society ( Zayabalaradjane et al., 2018), a career in medicine lets the practitioner contribute to society in significant ways that bring fulfillment and personal satisfaction.
The challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have at the same time, increased interest in the profession. Seeing physicians and other health care professionals challenged like never before in recent history has inspired thousands of young men and women to pursue a career in medicine.
Among the factors that motivate students to pursue a career in medicine are humanitarian and scientific reasons (both at 14.2%), societal (17.8%), and personal (53.9%). Being able to serve the community, as well as society, are the most common motivations cited (Zayabalaradjane et al., 2018).
Students from low-income backgrounds, however, face a significant barrier in pursuing the medical profession. Aspiring physicians may be held back by the rigorous application process, as well as the high cost of tuition. Add to this the very low acceptance rates among schools, and medical school applicants might get easily discouraged. But if you have a solid desire to serve, then everything is possible. A career in medicine can be very fulfilling and every individual who desires to serve the community should be given an opportunity.
Source: AMA Residency and Fellowship Database
There is a need for more medical practitioners. From 2020 to 2030, employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow 16%, which is equal to 2.6 million new jobs (BLS, 2021). The AAMC estimates that physician demand will grow faster than supply, leading to a projected total physician shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Back in 2019, the AAMC also projected that by 2032, the U.S. will need 122,000 physicians as the aging population demands increased medical services. In addition, a large part of the physician workforce is also nearing retirement. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has recalibrated this equation. Physician recruitment has slowed by more than 30%, while overall unemployment in healthcare went from 2.8% to 10.4% in April (AAMC, 2021).
But physician recruitment is slowly picking up. Even with the modern ways of delivering care, such as teleconsulting, the shortage of physicians will continue to require the training of more doctors in medical schools. On average, 30% of the physician population is at or near the retirement age, and it takes at least 10 to 15 years to train a physician from residency to specialization. The Medical Group Management Association believes that the COVID-19 crisis will not affect demand for physicians in the long term (Stajduhar, 2020).
The median annual wage for physicians in 2019 was $206,500, with the top 25% earning $208,000 and the bottom 25% making $112,210 per year. Applications to medical schools for the 2021 academic year surged by 18%, which could address the physician shortage being experienced in the U.S. even before the pandemic.
Regardless of what is going on in the world, people realize the importance of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. And volunteers will emerge, taking up the challenge, not at all deterred by the current circumstances. This very timely increase in applications has been accommodated accordingly by medical schools by extending application deadlines and waving MCAT requirements. Some schools have also restructured their admissions process by focusing on the competencies of the applicant.
The low acceptance rate among medical schools prompts aspiring physicians to find the easiest medical schools to get into with low GPA in the U.S. Typically, a medical school applicant faces two hurdles, the application for admission, and once admitted, the high cost of tuition.
In his work “Lessons learned from 15 years of non-grades-based selection for medical school,” Stegers-Jager (2018) focused on the non-grades-based selection for medical school applicants in the Netherlands. The study was conducted on the 30th anniversary of the Edinburgh Declaration—the outcome of an initiative of the World Federation for Medical Education that medical school applicants should be selected not only on academic but also on non-academic attributes.
Published in Medical Education, Stegers-Jager (2018) concluded that “Including non-academic criteria in the selection procedures does help to increase the diversity of medical student populations… using pre-university extracurricular activities for selection to medical school seems to lead to lower dropout rates and better pre-clinical and clinical performance, provided that the judgment process is sufficiently structured.”
The key lies in knowing how schools screen applicants. Most medical schools evaluate both the GPA and MCAT scores, plus the requirements that applicants must submit as requested by the AMCAS. For the selection process, students are asked to submit academic records, applicant essays, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, life experiences, and volunteer work within and outside the healthcare field.
Most schools cite academics, extracurricular affiliations, student qualities, and personal factors, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, as the main determinants for admission. Based on the report from the AAMC, the U.S. could face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033, thus for the most recent round of medical school applications in 2020, some medical schools offered flexibility around the MCAT requirement.
In contrast to the rigorous medical school admission process in the U.S., medical schools in Europe are quantitative in nature because the majority of admission procedures are based exclusively on academic criteria. While in the U.S. applicants are also evaluated for non-academic criteria, most medical schools in Europe require only a high school diploma, satisfactory grades in Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, letters of recommendation, and letter of motivation.
In the United Kingdom, medical school applicants are required to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). The UCAT is an online test designed to test cognitive abilities, attitudes, critical thinking, and logical reasoning. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland requires high marks in high school science courses or an undergraduate degree. Applicants also need to pass an admission test equivalent to the MCAT as well as an English proficiency test. Europe has an integrated bachelor’s-master’s degree program that offers significant cost savings to students.
A degree in medicine typically combines undergraduate and postgraduate work. The acceptance rate of medical schools in Europe is also higher compared to the U.S., which is mainly due to the more relaxed admission requirements. For aspiring physicians, identifying the easiest medical schools to get into in Europe depend not on admission exams or non-academic factors, but mostly on science-related grades in secondary school.
Source: British Medical Association
Located in Jackson City, the University of Mississippi School of Medicine offers students a variety of programs in the field of medicine and healthcare. The university aims to train physicians to deliver skilled, equitable health care to all citizens. The University of Mississippi School of Medicine prepares learners to provide excellent care through programs of innovative education, state-of-the-art research, and comprehensive clinical practice.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock has a curriculum that is always evolving to reflect the rapid advances in biomedical knowledge and new, more effective approaches to medical education. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has been a leader in simulation education for many years, with the goal of training physicians who will become leaders in improving the health, health care, and well-being of communities.
The Kansas School of Medicine offers a six-year combined B.A./M.D. program as well as the traditional four-year M.D. program. The school has 6 programs in medicine with the option to concentrate on 19 specialties. At the Kansas School of Medicine, medical students in their first year have closer interaction with patients through their once-a-week clinical experience.
The North Dakota Medical School is the only medical school in North Dakota and is known for its cutting-edge research in areas such as infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. To enable students to gain experience in various clinical settings, the North Dakota Medical School has established partnerships with different institutions.
The Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine in Charleston is the oldest and largest academic medical center in South Carolina. The M.D. program fully blends the basic and clinical sciences while allowing students to pursue a concentration in research, global health, and other areas.
The Brody School of Medicine is known for having a strong primary care orientation. The school’s three-fold mission includes training primary care physicians to serve the state, improving the health status of citizens in eastern North Carolina, and enhancing the access of minority and disadvantaged students to medical education.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine has campuses in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. The college provides an exceptional and nurturing environment for the education of physicians, and by contributing to advances in medical science. Medical students are trained to provide high-quality health and medical services.
One of the nation’s largest medical schools by class size, the Medical College of Georgia currently has about 350 sites where students can experience the full spectrum of medicine—from complex care hospitals to small-town solo practices. The Medical College of Georgia, together with its teaching hospitals, also offer postgraduate education to more than 500 residents and fellows in 50 different programs as approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia School of Medicine focuses on thorough patient care, research, and public and civic participation. The school places special emphasis on students making an impact on the community in a positive way. The University of Virginia School of Medicine serves as a national model for excellence through innovation and collaboration.
The Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia prepares the next generation of outstanding physicians and world-class clinicians through education, research, and community engagement. The school is dedicated to training medical professionals to provide primary care for disadvantaged groups in Georgia while tackling the challenges of rural health. The Mercer University School of Medicine takes pride in its tradition of research and scholarship with its modern research facilities.
The Indiana University School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the country with a total of nine campuses in the state of Indiana. The school aims to train physicians who embody excellence, respect, integrity, diversity, and cooperation. Students are provided with rich student organizational life through robust support services to ensure holistic development.
As a public medical school in Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center aims to provide community-focused medical experience to students. The Center’s iEXCEL program is a training model that emphasizes interprofessional collaboration, experiential learning, and simulation technologies—including augmented and virtual reality. The University of Nebraska Medical Center has 70 residency and fellowship programs.
McGovern Medical School is the 8th largest and one of the most diverse medical schools in the U.S. Students are provided access to the latest technologies and are trained with an emphasis on humanities, ethics, patient quality, and safety. McGovern Medical School has partnerships with several inpatient hospitals and outpatient facilities, providing students with a broad range of clinical services.
The Sanford School of Medicine medical programs focus on primary care and family medicine. From the sophomore year, students can enter the hospital and gain clinical experience in outpatient clinics. The school’s Frontier And Rural Medicine (FARM) program allows students to experience rural medicine while living and learning in rural communities throughout South Dakota. The Sanford School of Medicine campuses are located in Sioux Falls, Yankton, Vermillion, and Rapid City.
The Reno School of Medicine in Nevada provides primary care medical education. The school’s medical curriculum is highly integrated with rigorous science-oriented education and intensive clinical practice. Students take anatomy classes in a state-of-the-art dissection laboratory, complemented by Nevada’s largest and longest-serving anatomical donation program.
It is widely accepted that a medical degree entails a huge financial investment. Compared to medical schools in the U.S., some schools in Europe charge lower fees, but it is also important to note that in the U.S. medical school takes four years plus the undergraduate four-year degree. In Europe, medical school takes at least six years, with most schools not requiring an undergraduate degree. Although medical school is expensive, there are financing programs offered to students.
The AAMC reports that the median cost of four years of medical school in the U.S. in 2019-2020 was $250,222 at public institutions and $330,180 at private colleges. State schools often cost less than private medical schools, with medical tuition that is significantly lower for in-state residents. According to the AAMC, medical school costs can add up quickly once books, fees, and other living expenses are added.
To finance your medical degree, look for schools that offer scholarships. Aside from federal medical school scholarships and other national scholarship programs, there are also conditional funding programs. These programs extend financial assistance to medical students on the condition that the student will comply with the specific requirements, which may be in the form of service commitment programs. Service commitment programs identify specific fields, such as specialization in family medicine, internal medicine, medicine-pediatrics, or psychiatry.
The AAMC also provides financial assistance, from medical school to fellowship training. There are also tuition-free medical schools for commissioned officers that belong to the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Public Health Service. While enrolled in medical school, the commissioned officers also receive their salaries. After completing their medical residency, the recipients of this tuition-free program commit to at least seven years of active duty service.
Medical school fees in Europe vary per country. In the University College London Medical School, the average cost of a six-year degree in medicine is $75,920. At Heidelberg University in Germany, the cost is roughly $197,400 for six years. International students pay a higher rate than residents.
The National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. provides financial support to medical students. Funding for medical courses differs between England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The Royal Benevolent Medical Fund also offers financial support to medical students in England. Aside from school fees, living costs and other expenses are also covered by the assistance.
The British Medical Association, the trade union and professional body of doctors in the U.K., provides funding for U.K.-based medical students as well as for international students that meet the EU residency criteria. As the representative body for U.K. medical schools, the Medical School Council also assists students in securing medical school fee assistance.
The typical number of years in training before a doctor becomes a specialist varies by specialization. For example, it takes more training years to become a specialist in neurological surgery and plastic surgery than internal medicine and emergency medicine.
In the U.S., after completing medical school, students transition into residency. Residency is a postgraduate training required for fresh graduates. Medical students choose a particular specialization that they want to pursue and start their residency in that field.
Depending on the chosen field of specialty, the residency program may take three years for specializations such as internal medicine, four years for emergency medicine, four years for dermatology, seven years for neurological surgery, and six to nine years for plastic surgery. After the residency training, doctors take an exam to become board-certified specialists in their respective fields.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) awards board certifications for 40 specialties and 87 subspecialties in medicine. According to the ABMS registry, there are more than 920,000 board-certified physicians in the U.S. as of 2021.
In Europe, medical school typically takes four to seven years. If the student is coming directly from secondary school, the medical degree will take five years. For students who have not studied sufficient science subjects, or are coming from a disadvantaged background, an additional foundation year is required.
After completing medical school, the student will transition into a two-year foundation program. During the foundation years, the student will have a combined work experience, plus training, which is very similar to an apprenticeship. The student will be assigned to different medical specialties. Around eight months prior to completion of the foundation program, the student will be asked to choose a specialty training on which to embark in later years.
The next stage is the general practitioner (GP) specialty training which would last for three years. Similar to the U.S., the length of training for medical specialty vary between three to nine years. In Europe, training in pediatrics takes 10 more years after medical school.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Admission to medical school in Europe and in the U.S. differ in many ways. While most medical schools in the U.S. require a four-year undergraduate degree, most medical schools in Europe accept secondary school graduates. Prior to residency, medical school in the U.S. typically takes four years, while in Europe it takes six years. Compared to medical school graduates in Europe, residency training takes longer for U.S. medical school graduates.
After looking into the admission and training process as well as the cost for medical schools in the U.S. and in Europe, it is clear that there is nothing easy in training to become a doctor, even if you manage to easily get into medical school. This career path requires a lot of grit and dedication. More than prestige and respect, being a physician is a noble career for people with noble intentions. Indeed, as we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, only those with genuine commitment remained true to their oath. If you think you have what it takes, then apply to become one today.