Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions that are frequently asked by students interested in a graduate-level health degree. Do you have another one that isn’t addressed here? Email the Pre-Health Advisor, Kathleen Maher at firstname.lastname@example.org!
The past decade and a half has seen an increasing number of universities choose to not offer “Pre-med” or “Pre-dental” majors. One reason given for this is the growing concern that specialized health science majors such as these don’t offer the same breadth of experience and quality of preparation that other majors do. Possibly due to these reasons, students in such programs typically score lower on standardized tests (such as the MCATs) and have a lower acceptance rate (AAMC 2009 Survey).
The overwhelming opinion of graduate-level health programs (as well as organizations like the Association of American Medical Colleges) is that students should pursue whatever major(s) they enjoy and are passionate about. Most programs explicitly state that they do not give preference to students from any particular field of study. However, a student’s reason(s) for choosing their academic focus, as well as what they actually do in their program, are both stressed as very important to an application.
Our students can complete pre-requisites for admission to graduate programs in the health professions while pursuing any major offered here at URI.
For more information, refer to our Required and Suggested Courses.
Although there is some debate as to distinctions/naming, the eleven degrees commonly recognized and licensed in the United States are:
- Allopathic Medicine (MD)
- Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
- Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
- Chiropractic Medicine (DC)
- Dental Medicine (DDS/DMD)
- Podiatric Medicine (DPM)
- Optometry (OD)
- Physical Therapy (DPT)
- Nursing Practice (DNP)
- Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
- Pharmacist (Pharm.D.)
Note: Physician Assistant is another popular graduate-level profession which results in a Masters degree, as opposed to the possibility of a doctoral-level degree which can be earned by a Nurse Practitioner. Distinctions between the actual practicing rights and privileges of these two professions varies by state.
For more information and links to various resources, see “Types of Graduate Health Degrees“.
Both degrees produce qualified, licensed physicians. While this question has been debated for over a century, actual differences between M.D. and D.O medical programs today are minimal. Graduates of both apply for many of the same residencies, obtain the same fellowships and work in the same positions with identical salaries.
The terms allopathic and osteopathic didn’t come into common use until the late 1800s, when a Missouri doctor decided to create a different system of medical education from the traditional (“allopathic”) ones of his time. His goal was to teach a more holistic, patient-centered approach to health care. Today there are over 55,000 fully licenced osteopathic physicians working in every field and speciality of medicine and coming from over 25 USA recognized osteopathic medical schools. However, in the past two decades allopathic medical schools (there are 134 in the US) have also modified their programs to focus more heavily on holistic and patient-centered medicine.
Ultimately, students are encouraged to look into a variety of medical schools, of both degree types, and make a decision based on which school(s) they and their advisors think are the best individual fit.
For more information, check out the official websites of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Association of American Medical Colleges.
While a higher GPA will always help your chances of acceptance (when combined with strong letters of recommendation, personal experience, essays. etc.), most graduate health programs don’t have a minimal GPA requirement (although some special programs do, such as many “early identification programs”).
That being said, allopathic medical schools report that applicants with undergraduate grade point averages ranging from 3.50 to 3.75, with science GPAs of 3
Most professional programs consider volunteering (or work-related exposure to the field of interest) to be an important part of the student’s application. Volunteering opportunities and/or internships can help an applicant demonstrate their interest and committment to their field. More importantly, they allow students gain first hand experience with an area they’re interested in.
Students should be aware that some professional schools (such as most Physician’s Assistant programs) actually require a certain number of hours of first-hand patient exposure. Others (such as MD/PhD programs) strongly suggest or require first-hand experience in a laboratory.
URI students have a large variety of volunteer and internships opportunities available to them – both on-campus and off. Some of these include working in a research lab, serving as an EMT at the school’s volunteer rescue (chosen as Best Collegiate Ambulence in the country last year!), a sports medicine internship with one of our sports teams, volunteering as an aide at South County Hospital (only 10 minutes away from campus) or shadowing a local physician or dentist. To learn more about opportunities in your area of interest, talk to the Pre-Health advisor or your major advisor.
There are many important parts to any competitive application. Each of them will be weighted and considered differently by any given admissions committee, depending on the professional field (Veterinary Medicine vs. Physicians Assistant, for example) and the particular school (large vs. small, allopathic vs. osteopathic, etc.) However, there are several factors that most programs agree are important. Some of these are:
- Difficulty and/or variety of courseload
- Admissions essay(s)
- Volunteer opportunities and/or internships
- Difficult circumstances overcome by the student
- Reasons for wanting to go into the field
- Reference letters
- Experience in the field (whether from an internship or shadowing, etc.)
Note: each program considers different factors and gives different weights to each of them. This is just a general list. For specific requirements and suggestions for each academic program, consult with the Pre-Health advisor.
The application process usually begins 16 months prior to when you’d like to begin graduate school. So, for regular applicants (planning to begin the fall after they graduate from URI) this would be in the Winter of your Junior year. (Some programs, such as the Early Identification Program with Brown Medical School, have different timelines.)
All students are encouraged to apply for recommendation from the HPAC (see below), as many graduate programs strongly suggest (or require) that applicants gain official endorsement from their university. To begin this process you should attend an HPAC Info Session in the fall prior to the spring you plan to apply. Eligible students planning to apply through HPAC will meet with a Pre-Health Advisor in late fall and then submit a completed HPAC Application for Endorsement by February 1.
After submitting the application and all required materials (transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) you’ll be scheduled for several (group and individual interviews). These are designed to help the Committee get to know you better, and also offer invaluable practice in interviewing — something you’ll (hopefully) be doing again soon at the graduate schools you apply to.
If you don’t receive an official endorsement from the HPAC, the Committee will offer guidance and suggestions on how to improve your application. Otherwise, with your official endorsement in-hand you’ll begin the actual process of applying to professional programs, usually through standardized applications (such as the American Medical Colleges Application Service, or “AMCAS”).
The Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC) at URI is made up of the Pre-Health Advisor and numerous other faculty who donate their time to serve in this capacity. Their goal is to evaluate prospective candidates (who are requesting a Committee letter of endorsement) and help them best prepare for successfull acceptance into the graduate health field of their choosing.
For more information, and to see who the current HPAC members are, see this page.
Despite lots of hard work and a competitive application, many students don’t get into their first choice program the first time they apply. Often they’ll elect to do more academics (either individual classes or a Masters Degree, etc.) or related work (such as in a veterinary hospital, or as an EMT) to help strengthen their application before applying again. Statistically these candidates tend to have far more success their second time applying. Others decide to enter a different program that, although perhaps not their first choice, offers great preparation for their future career.
Getting a rejectance letter can certainly be discouraging. But there are many options available to you. Talk to your advisors, mentors and the Pre-Health advisor for more information and remember that countless other people have dealt with rejection before. Thomas Edison, for example, is famous for inventing the modern lightbulb. But he made thousands of failed attempts first. After finally succeeding he told a reporter “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Yes. URI students successfully get into many different graduate health programs (and do well!) around the country each year. With our strong academics, incredible internship/volunteering opportunities and strong HPAC advising our students have gone on to Ivy League medical schools, world-class optometry schools, PA programs near and far, and more.
For a evolving list of some of the schools they end up at, check out “Where Do Our Students Go?“.
There are many different resources available to URI students who are preparing for a graduate level health program. Some of them are on-campus (such as advising, student-run groups for medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, etc. and more) while others are all over the state and country (conventions, speakers, shadowing and internship opportunities, etc.).
For more information, check our the Resources page.