Pre-med students explain the path to med school


Photo credit: Alexandra Parris

Graphic by Alex Parris

As the spring semester starts, many pre-med seniors complete the final steps of applying to medical school. Some feel that Trinity has given them tools, such as critical thinking and good relationships with professors, that help them with the process of applying to medical school. However, some also point out the inherent challenges of Trinity’s pre-med track.

Every year, between 30 and 40 Trinity students apply to medical school and about 60 percent of these students are accepted. James Shinkle, biology professor and health professions advisor, explained that how well students do in their classes is the most important factor determining their acceptance to a medical school.

“Students who have been responsible about learning and doing well in their classes, which is to say having a GPA in their science class of 3.4, 3.5 or higher, 90 percent of those students who apply to medical school get in,” Shinkle said. “It has a lot to do with meeting your responsibilities. That’s the principal determinant of success.”

Shinkle spoke about what he views as some of the greatest benefits of going through the pre-med program at Trinity.

“One benefit, although some students will not be entirely sure of that, the courses here are probably a little more challenging than they absolutely have to be,” Shinkle said. “But that means that every student who writes back to me from medical school says, ‘I’m prepared for this. Some of my peers are not.’ ”

Trinity seniors who have applied to medical school also explained how they feel they have benefitted from Trinity’s pre-med program.

“I think I learned a lot more about why I wanted to be a doctor through exploring my passions at Trinity, specifically with global health,” said Emmanuella Oduguwa. “I went through a period where I wasn’t sure if having a career as a physician would suit me personally anymore. So I decided to delve into my own interest in global health, and I started a club called Global Health Initiative to explore different health disparities in different communities and marginalized populations.”

Senior Danyal Tahseen feels that professors have helped him a lot during his time in the pre-med program.

“One big thing is getting to have close interaction with professors,” Tahseen said. “Even if professors might not know very much about medicine in particular because they have gone through PhD programs and graduate schools. Knowing them on a personal level really helped me to polish my skills and think as a scientist and being analytical, especially by doing research with a professor. Those are skills that really help you in medicine.”

Pre-med students at Trinity also face specific challenges, such as an immense workload with difficult science classes.

“There’s a diversity of the level of science preparation coming out of the high schools,” Shinkle said. “There are students who are quite capable but don’t adapt to the expectations as quickly as they would like, and as quickly as we would like. There is a challenge there. I think the other challenge can be, it’s the same one all students have but it’s a little more so because of the academic requirements, and that is keeping a balanced life.”

Another concern that some pre-med students have is that anatomy and physiology courses are not offered at Trinity. Though these classes are not required for most medical schools, some students deem the material taught in these classes as necessary.

“When I was on my interviews, so many of these kids knew the anatomy structures, and I didn’t know anything,” Oduguwa said. “If you had anatomy in high school I think it’s okay, but they didn’t offer anatomy at my high school, and I didn’t have anatomy at college. It just puts me at a huge disadvantage, and now I have to learn it before I matriculate into med school. There’s vertebrate physiology; That’s a class, but we need anatomy, bottom line.”

Shinkle explained that Trinity offers vertebrate biology and animal physiology classes, which can introduce students to some of the same principles that they would learn from human anatomy and physiology classes. However, students who need to take human anatomy and physiology classes are able to do so at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW).

“For the people who honestly need it, it’s there, it’s done in a way that they don’t get charged extra, and it’s part of their academic load at Trinity,” Shinkle said.

Tahseen believes that most students don’t opt to take these classes at UIW because it can be inconvenient and a burden on students’ schedules.

“They’re in a lot of classes, they’re in multiple labs, they’re working and that leaves very little time to go out of your way and take a class,” Tahseen said. “Especially students who are applying to medical school but come from a low socio-economic background, they might not have a car to drive there. I think there’s a little bit of a stigma, too. Students from Trinity are used to a very high-quality education so there might be a little bit of a mental stigma against going to UIW and they might feel like they’re getting a lower quality education.”

Students in the pre-med program raised other concerns that contribute to the difficulty of the pre-med program at Trinity.

“I think it would have been really helpful if we would have had MCAT classes for free,” Oduguwa said. “It’s really difficult and expensive to get MCAT tutoring. The test itself is $350, I think, and getting a tutor is about $2,000 — and that’s on the low end.”

Shinkle explained that there are various ways to study for the MCAT, some of which might be less expensive than others.

“The reason we don’t have an on-campus course is there are all sorts of different methods,” Shinkle said. “If we offered one course it would be one-size-fits-all, and that would probably meet the best fit for at most a third of our students. Also we’re just not staffed for it. But at the same time because of the way our chemistry, physics and biology classes are taught, they’re taught to the kind of problem-solving that’s on the MCAT.”

Despite challenges with the pre-med program at Trinity, Tahseen and Oduguwa expressed gratitude for what they have learned from Trinity and the preparation that they have received for applying to medical school.

Students interested in the pre-med track can talk to their academic advisors about their options to account for the classes in their academic plan.