Critical Condition

By Joseph Altman Jr.

Arizona Daily Wildcat

They've gone to college

for four years, and just

when they're about to graduate, they're practically dying to go back for four more years.

What kind of sick people would actually want to do this? They're pre-med students who are waiting to find out if their efforts will pay off next week.

March 15 is the deadline for medical schools to accept or reject their applicants. Thousands of students from around the country will wait by the mailbox for the magical thick packet, telling them all of their hard work has gotten them past a major milestone.

There is a "mystique" about the process of applying for medical school, but it's not overbearing once students understand the time line of the process, says Josephine Gin, pre-med advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"There are so many different myths," Gin says. "Your chances of getting in really aren't as bad as some people make it out to be."

While Gin says a lot of students are overwhelmed by the process, it's not impossible to get accepted.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 59 percent of the 26,915 candidates who applied in 1989 were accepted. In 1993, however, only 38 percent of 42,808 applicants were accepted.

Another striking trend is the influence of a student's grade point average on their chances for admission. In 1993, 71.2 percent of the accepted students had a GPA higher than 3.26, and only 9.6 percent had GPAs lower than 3.0.

"I've heard from so many different people that (admissions boards) are not looking for a 4.0 (GPA) and a perfect MCAT," says Bert Vargas, a molecular and cellular biology senior who will be attending the University of Arizona College of Medicine this fall.

However, it is important to remember that grades aren't the only thing medical school admissions committees look for, Gin says.

"It's a total package," she says.

While the average

GPA of an accepted

student is 3.5, the admission committees are looking at much more than an applicant's GPA. Performance on the Medical College Admissions Test, volunteer experience, performance in science courses, recommendations from faculty and extracurricular activities are also important, Gin says.

The consensus among pre-med students seems to be that extracurricular work is the most important.

Vargas credits his acceptance to the UA medical school to the fact that he "never concentrated 100 percent on academics."

"I always made sure to stay interested in extracurricular interests," Vargas says. "Schools today are looking for well-rounded people."

Vargas has continued playing, coaching and refereeing soccer, has been involved in various clubs on campus and is a resident assistant at Yuma hall.

"Grades are important, having dedication to study for the MCAT is important, but really getting some outside interests is really important," Vargas says.

David Reiley, a civil engineering senior who hopes to enter medical school in 1996, says preparing for medical school is different for every person.

Reiley started his freshman year by focusing on school to "get off to a good start." His second year, he volunteered at University Medical Center and became involved with clubs on campus. Then, he said he started doing research at the Arizona Cancer Center. Now, he continues to volunteer while doing research and studying for the MCAT.

Reiley says he has an unusual major for a pre-med student, but it was the right choice for him.

"I get a lot of questions about it and strange looks, but it's important because it's something I'm also interested in," Reiley says. "Some people choose a major related to medicine, like biochemistry, just because it would look good and give a good base (of medical knowledge), but they don't know what they'll do with that if they don't get accepted."

In order to complete his major requirements and the courses required to prepare for medical school, Reiley will be in school for five years. Medical schools require two semesters each of chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and physics. Some schools also require up to a year of calculus, biochemistry and English.

Developing relation-

ships with faculty

members is important to secure letters of recommendation, but some students find it intimidating.

"It's rather ominous," Gin says. "But you have to develop rapport with faculty."

Dropping in during office hours, sitting in the front of classes, showing interest in a professor's research or asking to help with research are good ways to get to know faculty, Gin says.

It's important for professors to get a feel for who you are as a person, Reiley says.

"It's important to get started early. A lot of people don't realize you need to look far down the road."

Probably the biggest dose of concentrated stress an applicant can get comes with preparation for the MCAT.

The test, offered in April and August each year, can be the key that lets a student get into the school of their choice, or locks the door to medical school altogether.

The MCAT tests the areas of chemistry, biology, math and physics, and shows medical schools what kind of knowledge a candidate possesses.

Vargas used one of the

many preparation

courses that promise to raise MCAT scores.

He says the Princeton Review forced him to study twice a week for six to eight hours a week, which he said was "definitely helpful."

MCAT prep courses, which can range in price from $700 to $1,000, aren't necessary to do well on the exam, according to both Gin and Vargas.

"It's easy to get paranoid enough (to think you need them)," Vargas says. "But there are some people that review courses are not designed for."

Gin says people who need a structured study plan may benefit from one of the courses, but some students do better studying on their own.

"It's up to the student if they feel they need a prep course. Some do well without it; some do well with it."

Acceptance to medical school is only the first step. After four years or more of study, this year's med-student class will spend March 15 awaiting another magic envelope this one telling them where they will spend the next several years as resident-physicians.

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