Santa Clara University

Pre-Health program



Medical School
Dental School
Nurse Practitioner
Physician Assistant

Other Professions Coming Soon.



Q) How many "kinds" of medical doctors are there?

A) Four kinds for humans: allopathic (MD), osteopathic (DO), podiatric (DPM), and naturopathic (ND)

Q) What is allopathic medicine?

A) Although the term has changed over time, it now generally refers to the category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western Medicine, biomedicine, scientific medicine, or modern medicine. There are about 141 allopathic medical schools in the U.S.

Q) What then is osteopathic medicine?

A) In recent times, osteopathic medicine can be viewed as allopathic medicine but with a greater emphasis on musculoskeletal adjustments and on a healthy lifestyle. There are about 31 osteopathic medical schools in the U.S. It is generally considered to be a little easier to gain admission to a DO school than an MD school, but one must have a letter from a DO as part of the admission package.

Q) What is podiatric medicine?

A) Podiatrists specialize in the lower leg, foot and ankle and are all trained in surgery even if they later choose to not focus on surgical techniques. Admission to the 9 or so DPM programs is less competitive than for MD or DO programs.

Q) And what is naturopathic medicine?

A) Naturopathic medicine is a relatively new area in U.S. medical practice. It focuses on the human body's natural healing capabilities, healthy diet and lifestyle, and treats illness using a combination of modern medical techniques and older traditional techniques. There are about a half dozen ND granting schools in the U.S.

Q) What science/math courses do medical schools expect applicants to have taken while in college?

A) At minimum, 2 years of chemistry, 1 year of biology, 1 year of physics (all with laboratories), 2 quarters of calculus and a statistics course

Q) Do most applicants take more science than this?

A) Yes, it is very important to take biochemistry and helpful to take 2-3 upper division biology courses from a list including microbiology, genetics, human physiology, cell biology, molecular biology, neurobiology, etc.

Q) Should I major in a natural science if I am considering medical school?

A) Only if one of the natural sciences is what interests you the most academically. Medical schools really don't place much emphasis on undergraduate major as long as the applicant has proven his/her ability to excel in the sciences. That being said, it is true that most pre-medical students are science majors, but that was hopefully a decision based on interest, not an attempt to please medical schools.

Q) What are the most common majors selected by pre-medical students at SCU?

A) The most popular are biology, biochemistry, chemistry, public health science and psychology.

Q) What grade point average should I strive for as a pre-medical student?

A) Try to achieve a gpa of 3.5 or higher by the time of application. Medical schools will then break down your gpa into BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics & Math) and AO (All Others). They hope the two are not significantly different.

Q) What is the MCAT?

A) It, along with grade point average and experiential activities, is one of the main requirements for medical school admission. The Medical College Admission Test is offered many times per year and the newly revised MCAT 2015 is comprised of four sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Living Systems, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.  

Q) How is the MCAT scored?

A) All four sections are scored based on section scores ranging from 118 to 132 and centered at 125, so total scores will range from 471 to 528, centered at 500.  

Q) What MCAT score should a pre-medical student aim toward?

A) A score of 500 or better is a reasonable goal, preferably with no large differences in scores from one section to another. The exam is sufficiently new that generalizations beyond this are premature.

Q) When should I take the MCAT?

A) Ideally, about a month or two before your submit your medical school application, the so-called AMCAS application.

Q) For how long are MCAT scores valid?

A) Three years.

Q) Can I take the MCAT again if I do not do well the first time?

A) Yes, although the process is sufficiently rigorous that you want to get it right the first time. Most students take scored practice MCAT exams before the real thing, so they have some idea of their performance level.

Q) How does one prepare for the MCAT?

A) A few months before planning to take the MCAT, applicants may either purchase MCAT preparation courses for self-study or actually enroll in MCAT classes with a real classroom setting. The vendors of the classroom courses typically charge about $2,000.

Q) So if I am an excellent science student and perform well on the MCAT, am I pretty much assured of admission to a medical school?

A) No, the medical schools also expect experiential activities as evidence of your passion for medicine and devotion to humanitarian needs. See the experiential activities page on the website.

Q) If I want to attend medical school beginning in the fall after I receive my bachelor's degree, when do I have to submit my application?

A) You would apply in June or July after your junior year of college.

Q) Is this direct path wise, or should I take a year off?

A) It is definitely the best strategic move to take a year off (some people take 2-3) between college graduation and medical school matriculation.

Q) What are the advantages of taking a year off?

A) 1) You have an additional year of coursework completed prior to taking the MCAT, 2) you have an additional year in which to participate in the very important experiential activities, 3) you have a year to rest up from what may have been a grueling undergraduate career, and 4) medical schools like the additional maturity and life experience associated with the year off.

Q) Once in medical school what is the curricular structure one encounters?

A) Very generally the first two years are coursework, recently shifting quite strongly toward problem based learning rather than traditional lectures, while the third and fourth years involve clinical rotations and much more patient interaction. Many medical schools are experimenting with their curricula to make them more interesting and relevant to students.

Q) What is residency?

A) This is the 3 or more year period after medical school in which one trains in one's specialty of choice. The first year is often called the internship year. Residency match is a very stressful time at the end of medical school when students find out what residency program they have been accepted to.

Q) What is the MSTP?

A) The Medical Scientist Training Program is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported MD/PhD program combining traditional medical training with a medical research project. It can take 6-10 years to complete, but for the right candidate, opens up a remarkable career world. Admission is very competitive; often students rejected from MD/PhD programs are accepted by one of more regular MD programs. A huge advantage of MD/PhD programs is that they are effectively free. Tuition is waived, a living expense stipend awarded, and a small salary built into the financial package.


Q) How do dental school requirements differ from those for medical school?

A) They are very similar, but it is most advantageous to definite include at least one quarter biochemistry (Chem 141 and 142) and upper division microbiology (Bio 113).

Q) Do dental school applicants need as extensive a portfolio of experiential activities as medical school applicants?

A) Generally no, although it is absolutely vital to have had a significant amount of experience working with a dentist prior to application. Not only does this help ensure an applicant really likes dentistry and sees the inner workings of a dental practice firsthand, but it removes any doubt from admissions committee members that a candidate is using dental school as a back up to medical school application.

Q) Are there other special qualifications for dentistry?

A) Yes, very good vision and very good fine motor coordination. It is not unusual to see dental students with a minor in studio art.


Q) What is a nurse practitioner?

A) A nurse practitioner can perform a wide variety of patient care activities, but is, in essence, doing much of what family practice physicians do, but generally with some supervision. The oversight mandated for nurse practitioners varies by state.  A nurse practitioner is not simply performing nursing duties at a higher level or responsibility than a registered nurse.  In Cowell Student Health Center here at the University, three full time professionals diagnose and treat student illnesses; an allopathic medical doctor (MD), a nurse practitioner (NP), and a physician assistant (PA-C).

Q) How can one train to become a nurse practitioner?

A) There are two pathways. Registered nurses may apply to a two-year program to become a nurse practitioner. Alternatively, and this is the SCU scenario, a student with a bachelor's degree in something other than nursing, applies to what is referred to as an MEPN (Masters Entry Practitioner of Nursing) program.

Q) What is the history of nurse practitioners?

A) Nurse practitioner, as an entity and career, has its roots in the mid-1960's, somewhat in parallel to the development of the physician assistant career path.  There are well over 125,000 practicing NP's in the U.S., the first group having been trained at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Q) How lengthy is an MEPN program?

A) Typically 3 years, the first 12 months of which is devoted to learning nursing and becoming in essence an RN, who then immediately continues training for 2 more years to become a nurse practitioner.

Q) What is the required coursework for acceptance into an MEPN program?

Q) What grade point average and entrance exam are required?


Q) What is a physician assistant?

A) A physician assistant (PA) performs in much the same way as a nurse practitioner. The profession emerged out of the medical profession in the mid-1960's at Duke University, whereas the NP profession emerged out of the nursing profession.