Written by Alyssa Walker

Competition for medical school is tight, especially in the US. That does not mean it is not attainable. It just means you have to work harder than you thought.

It is even tougher if you are on a less traditional path, like community college. 

But wait. There's hope.

Interested in family medicine? Want to start your medical studies at a community college? It may be a good idea. Data from a recent study suggests that medical students who start their degrees at a community college are more likely to go into family medicine -- and be successful. 

Community college students who start with the plan to attend medical school bring a fresh perspective and a diverse set of experiences not just to the medical school community, but to medicine in general.

Ready to get started? Let's take a closer look at why you should start your degree at a community college.

1. It is flexible and less expensive

Community colleges are designed to be an affordable option for students. There is also lots of flexibility when it comes to where and how you attend your classes -- online, at night, or at satellite campuses.

You need to make sure not only that you take all the required courses for medical school, but that they will transfer. Generally, you will need a year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, in addition to all the related lab work. You will also need plenty of electives, extracurriculars, and a working knowledge of current healthcare issues and trends.

You can get those things for less money and take those courses on terms that match your needs -- as long as you check and double-check that you are meeting all of the prerequisites and that your courses will transfer to a pre-medical program.

Also, you need to do well. Really well. You can do it. 

2. Community colleges bring more diversity to medical schools

According to one study published in the American Academy of Family Physicians, admitting community college students to med school can increase and diversify workforce, within the family medicine residency workforce, 51 percent of Latinos, 35 percent of Asians, 33 percent of whites, and 32 percent of African Americans/blacks, in addition to 42 percent of first-generation college students, attended community college.

The study concluded that nurturing an early interest in family medicine in high school and community college, may help to increase "the supply and diversity of the United States' primary care physician workforce."

3. The times, they are a-changin'...

While not the typical pathway, more medical schools are taking a more favorable view toward this pipeline.

Study author Efrain Talamantes, an internal medicine physician at the University of California and a National Research Service Award Scholar, said, "This study shows that students are getting into medical school from the community college pathway and that is hugely important. Many of those who are getting in are minority students and the first in their families to go to college."

The study found that 11 percent of those who matriculated to medical school attended community college during high school, and 12 percent attended community college after graduating from a four-year university.

Talamantes noted that students who graduated from high school and attended community college before transferring to a four-year university were less likely to gain acceptance to medical school. 

Your takeaway? Attend community college in high school or get your bachelor's first, and then go back and gain your prerequisites at a community college.

4. Successful transition from community college to medical school

You need to do everything else a traditional medical school applicant does...but even better.

You need to show the admissions committee that you are emotionally ready for this undertaking -- get some great recommendations, and enhance your community college experience with internships and job shadowing.

Select your pre-med courses carefully -- make sure they are going to transfer successfully. How? Reach out to a medical school admissions office and ask for help. If you cannot find anyone there, ask for help from an advisor at your community college to guide you through the process. Even better, find someone who has done it successfully before and ask for their help.

Make those cover letters and recommendations stand out. You took a less common path. Make it shine.

Finally, keep your grades on their A-game. Don't waver. Study hard. You've got this.

Learn more about attending medical school


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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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