Your Ultimate Guide to Medical Degrees in the USA (2023)
Studying medicine in the US, as in all countries, takes dedication and determination. The admission process and criteria are rigorous, and study is very intensive.
But, the reward for those who successfully complete a medical degree is a secure, well-paid and vitally important job that enables them to make a tangible difference to people’s lives.
The US in particular is renowned for the quality of its medical programs, and currently, 6 of the top 15 universities in the ‘Clinical and Health’ category of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 are in America.
In this article, we look at the types of medical degrees offered, their various entry requirements, and some of the best schools for the subject in the USA.
Table of Contents
Types of Medical Degrees
A career in Medicine involves several levels of study within higher education, and to qualify fully as a doctor takes many years of rigorous input and training.
Undergraduate pre-med degrees
- In the USA, students can begin their Medicine programme only after first completing a four-year undergraduate (pre-med) degree.
- This degree will prepare them for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which is also required to get into med school.
- While there is no specific bachelor’s degree recommended for all medical school applicants, potential majors include pre-medicine, biology and exercise science.
- Some schools may also require students to have taken humanities, English, math, and other science classes, so it's wise for prospective medical students to research schools while they are still an undergraduate so they can choose the most appropriate classes.
Graduate degrees in medicine
- After completing their undergraduate degree, it takes an additional four years for students to complete their graduate medical education. This leads to a Doctor of Medicine Degree (MD) from allopathic medical schools or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree from osteopathic medical schools.
- The 4-year medical school course is divided into two roughly equal components: pre-clinical (didactic courses in the basic sciences) and clinical (rotations through different wards of a teaching hospital).
- Once medical students have completed their medical degree, they then can apply for residency programmes. These can last between three to seven years depending on the specialty or subspecialty.
- Completion of 1-3 years of GME (graduate medical education) is required to obtain a license to practice medicine in any state or jurisdiction in the US.
- American students must also pass Part 3 of the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) in order to obtain their license,. It assesses the medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science, with emphasis on patient management in ambulatory settings. USMLE Part 3 is generally taken after the first year of GME.
Postgraduate degrees in medicine
The research doctorate in any field, health or otherwise, is considered to be the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
PhDs are trained primarily to be researchers in a particular field and they are commonly employed as "specialized field experts" in universities and colleges. PhDs in science are also employed in medical schools and professional health preparation programs.
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The medical field is expansive and multifaceted and medical graduates are able to forge their medical career in a whole range of different specializations.
Below is a list of some of the most common medical degree specializations.
- Obstetrics and gynaecology
Medical degrees are designed to give students an all-round insight into the various fields within medicine, but it is also possible to start researching possible areas of interest before starting medical school.
Kings Student Success advisors are perfectly placed to help educate prospective medical students on the types of specializations available. If they already have a specific field of medicine in mind, it may be that there are particular undergraduate programs which would be an especially suitable first step.
Medical School Entry Requirements
Most US medical schools participate in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), a centralized, third-party organization that administers and processes medical school applications. The majority of medical schools admit students on a rolling basis, which means that spaces in the program are offered to qualified students until all the places are taken.
Requirements differ between different medical schools, so it’s always best to double-check these with the school themselves, however there are plenty of commonalities.
Here, we look in more detail at some of the general medical school entry requirements.
One of the most important requirements for acceptance to medical school is strong academic performance, and a low GPA will most likely adversely affect a student's chances of success.
For matriculants in 2022-2023, the average GPA was 3.75. Medical schools typically expect at least a 3.5 college GPA, and they carefully analyze grades in science courses.
Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®)
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multi-choice exam created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Almost all US medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT exam scores during their university application.
The MCAT exam consists of 4 main components:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
The MCAT tests students’ ability to think critically as well as their scientific knowledge, so it’s crucial to do plenty of revision and complete practice tests in advance. Candidates are advised to take this test the year before they intend to start studying Medicine.
While there is no formal minimum score required, the average overall MCAT score for admitted applicants is 512.
While medical school policies vary regarding prerequisites, the following are frequently mandatory:
- Biology (one year-long sequence with labs)
- Chemistry (two full academic years of study, including four lab-based classes, three of which are general chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry)
- English or another writing-intensive academic discipline (one full year)
- Genetics (at least one course)
- Math (one full year, ideally including courses in calculus and statistics)
- Physics (one year-long sequence with labs)
- Psychology (at least one course)
- Sociology (at least one course)
Overall, prerequisites for medical school tend toward being general, such as introductory biology and chemistry. They provide a solid basis for more specialized study in medical school.
While science majors are more common, medical schools are keen to enrol well-rounded students who have broad undergraduate backgrounds. It’s important to remember that communication skills, often honed through humanities based majors, are arguably just as important as scientific knowledge for a career in medicine.
Letters of recommendation
Recommendation letters are a powerful marketing tool for applicants, and a crucial piece of the medical school application. They can build a picture of how a student performs compared to their peers, and how they interact with faculty and students.
Students generally need to include a total of four to five letters with their medical school application.
Three of these are most commonly academic letters written by undergraduate professors—two science letters and one non-science letter. The two remaining letters can be gained from people who know the student through 'extracurriculars'; typically research and clinical experience.
While it may be tempting to secure a respected name to write letters, it’s much more important for students to choose someone who thinks very highly of them and can give an in-depth insight into their strengths. This will have a much greater impact when being reviewed by the admissions committee.
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Direct patient-care clinical work is generally considered essential by medical school admissions committees.
Gaining clinical experience will help not only give students an insight into the reality of working as a physician, but will also further validate their interest in medicine to admissions committees. Their experiences will also help them articulate why they want to pursue a career in medicine in their personal statement and interviews.
Medical school candidates with a highly competitive amount of clinical experience tend to have several hundred hours, which may include volunteering in medical settings or shadowing medical professionals.
Additional medical school entry requirements for international students
Some US medical schools accept and matriculate a small number of international applicants into their programs, but generally it is an exceptionally competitive process for those students applying from abroad.
Medical schools in the United States have varying policies on accepting international applicants, so it’s important to confirm each school’s policy before applying.
It’s important to note that international students who have completed their undergraduate degree in America stand a better chance at winning a place at a US medical school than those who haven't.
Kings Guaranteed Outcome programs are therefore a great first step on the path to medical school in the US. Through these, students are able to graduate with a bachelor's from a Top 50 or Top 100 ranked university in the US.
Students admitted to medical school in the US will be required to obtain an F-1 visa. However, they may change to different types of visas during their medical education. Different visas may allow more work opportunities, different durations of stay, or decrease restrictions for family members.
Proof of English proficiency
All non-native English speakers will be required to provide proof of English proficiency as part of their application.
Options for demonstrating English proficiency include:
Top 5 Schools to Study Medicine in the USA
There are a host of outstanding US universities offering medical programs. Below we look at five which are commonly featured in rankings which focus on the best medical schools in the US and globally.
1. Harvard University
Harvard University Medical School is currently ranked #1 in Best Medical Schools: Research by US News and World Report. Students at HMC study at the medical school campus in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, and can complete clinicals at affiliated institutions throughout the city.
Image source: Harvard University Medical School
- The MD Program at Harvard Medical School comprises two curricular tracks; Pathways and Health Sciences & Technology (HST).
- Pathways incorporates pedagogical approaches that foster active learning and critical thinking, earlier clinical experience, advanced clinical and basic/population science experiences, and a scholarly project that will allow every student to plan an individual pathway to the MD degree.
- HST is offered jointly by HMS and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is oriented toward students with a declared interest in a career in biomedical research or a strong interest and background in physical or molecular science.
- Medical students can also opt for joint degrees, like an M.D./Ph.D. and M.D./MBA, and can cross-register in courses at other schools within the university, including the highly ranked Law School and Business School.
- The faculty-student ratio at Harvard University is 14.6:1, and the Medical School has 10,175 full-time faculty on staff. (US News and World Report)
- Harvard MD Program tuition is $69,300.
2. Stanford University
Stanford School of Medicine nurtures a strong sense of community with an intimate cohort size of 90-100 students. It is currently ranked #5 (tie) in Best Medical Schools: Research by US News and World Report.
Image source: Stanford Medicine
- Stanford’s MD program has been redesigned with the end goal of increasing the flexibility and modularity of the curriculum. Central to that goal is the creation of an option for medical students to complete the pre-clerkship curriculum in three years rather than two, resulting in substantial open time for longitudinal scholarship.
- There are a wide range of dual degree opportunities at the medical school and schools across Stanford University
- The School of Medicine shares a co-location with other schools at Stanford University and a beautiful campus embedded in Silicon Valley, one of America's key innovation hubs.
- The faculty-student ratio at Stanford University is 2.3:1, and the School of Medicine has 1,118 full-time faculty on staff (US News and World Report).
- Its full-time tuition is $63,747.
3. Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins Medicine includes the highly ranked Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is especially well-known for housing the only pediatric and eye trauma centers in Maryland. It is currently ranked #2 in Best Medical Schools: Research by US News and World Report.
Image source: John Hopkins School of Medicine
- Students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine learn through the Genes to Society Curriculum, which pairs academics with concurrent clinical experience.
- Every few months, classes break for intersessions, which are weeklong special courses focused on simulation and advanced skills.
- Students can earn a traditional M.D., a Ph.D. or both in about eight years. There are dual degree programs for an M.D./Master of Public Health and an M.D./MBA through other university departments.
- The school receives a large amount of research funding from the National Institutes of Health, among other organizations, and runs leading research centers including the Brain Science Institute and the Institute of Genetic Medicine.
- The faculty-student ratio at Johns Hopkins University is 5.2:1, and the School of Medicine has 2,427 full-time faculty on staff (US News and World Report).
- Its full-time tuition is $59,700.
4. University of California, San Francisco
Founded in 1864 as Toland Medical College, the UCSF School of Medicine joined the University of California in 1873. It is consistently recognized as one of the nation's top medical schools, and is currently ranked #5 (tie) in Best Medical Schools: Research by US News and World Report, and also #5 in Best Medical Schools: Primary Care.
Image source: UCSF School of Medicine
- The UCSF School of Medicine benefits from outstanding faculty – among them are seven Nobel laureates, 118 National Academy of Medicine members, 64 American Academy of Arts and Sciences members, 51 National Academy of Sciences members, and 17 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators.
- UCSF receives more research funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other public school in the U.S. The university has research partnerships with companies such as Pfizer and GE Healthcare, as well as with medical institutions around the world like the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Aga Khan Health Services–Tanzania.
- The university, which follows a quarter-based academic calendar, has four professional schools – dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy – as well as a graduate division, which offers master's and doctoral programs, two certificate programs and a physical therapy program.
- The faculty-student ratio at University of California--San Francisco is 3.9:1 and the School of Medicine has 2,640 full-time faculty on staff (US News and World Report).
- UCSF MD Program tuition is $45,124 (in-state), and $57,369 (out of state).
San Francisco, California
5. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania was home to the first medical school and first school hospital in the country. Today, the Perelman School of Medicine is affiliated with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, and Pennsylvania Hospital. It is currently ranked #3 in Best Medical Schools: Research by US News and World Report.
Image source: Perelman School of Medicine
- Students can earn M.D., Ph.D., M.D.-Ph.D., master’s, M.D.-master’s, or post-doctoral degrees. Students can double up on degrees at any other school at Penn, such as the highly ranked Wharton School. There are also certificate programs in areas like Global Health, Women’s Health, and Aging.
- Medical students learn through a course of six different modules, often in small groups that stress effective leadership and teamwork for physicians.
- Students can get hands-on experience in simulation facilities like the Flyers/76ers Surgery Theatre or can get involved in more than 50 centers and institutes. Penn Medicine faculty and students are often active throughout the Philadelphia community, too.
- The faculty-student ratio at University of Pennsylvania (Perelman) is 4.6:1 and the Perelman School of Medicine has 2,883 full-time faculty on staff (US News and World Report).
- Its full-time tuition is $65,940.
We hope that this article has helped you understand the process of becoming qualified as a doctor in the US.
Through Kings Guaranteed Outcome programs, students are able to gain an undergraduate degree from a Top 50 or Top 100 university in the US. Many Kings students have gone on to study Health and Physical science based majors from the top US universities, often with a view to pursuing a place medical school.
Alternatively, students have the option of taking our GO: Medicine program, which enables them to graduate from St George’s University.
If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programs, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org..