Dr. Sarah Carlson
Dr. Sarah Carlson
“I interviewed one applicant who only got a C in biochemistry, but he wrote lots of letters to the admissions committee highlighting his other strengths. We accepted him, and he turned out to be a star.”

10 Tips on Getting Into Med School

by Marcia Goodrich

It’s not all about straight As. It just might help to play in the Pep Band.

So you (or your kids, or your grandkids) want to be a doctor? Dr. Sarah Carlson ’03 came back to Michigan Tech last spring and offered students some advice on how to be admitted to medical school.

Carlson should know. She sat on the admissions committee for the University of Michigan Medical School while she was a student there herself. She is now a surgical resident at Harvard University’s BethIsrael Deaconess Medical Center, where she is training to be a pediatric surgeon.

Obviously, grades are important, Carlson says. But there’s more to being a doctor than a flashy GPA. She shares some tips based on her own experiences:

1. Get some medical experience on your resume.
Job shadowing with a physician is one way, but there are others. "I filed X-rays at Portage Hospital," she said.

2. Get involved in research projects.
It demonstrates hands-on knowledge of science. Michigan Tech has plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to be involved in faculty research.

3. Perform community service.
"I did volunteer work for Big Brothers, Big Sisters," Carlson said.

4. Be ready to explain why you want to be a doctor.
Carlson’s dream started when she was five years old and her sister was born with cystic fibrosis.

5. Apply to lots of schools.
It improves your odds of acceptance; don’t hang all your hopes on a single elite institution.

6. Be polite.
Be polite to everyone once you make it to the interview stage. "If you have an attitude with the secretary, your application will go into the trash."

7. Study like crazy for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.
Most applicants take a prep course, but you can also buy books and study on your own, which is what Carlson did.

8. Learn another language.
"I speak Spanish almost every day at work," says Carlson. "It’s what I use the most from my premed education."

9. Choose a major you will excel in.
Grades aren’t everything, but they count for a lot, so major in a field that comes relatively easy to you. While many choose to study biology, Carlson got her BS in Chemistry, and plenty of her MD friends majored in fields as diverse as engineering, English, music, and classics.

10. Show you have a life.
After all, most of your patients won’t spend all day studying or doing lab work. Carlson enjoys playing Rock Band on her Playstation 3 and plays in an orchestra. "It makes you stand out," she explains. "I interviewed one applicant who only got a C in biochemistry, but he wrote lots of letters to the admissions committee highlighting his other strengths. We accepted him, and he turned out to be a star."