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Tufts Too Tough? Inside the Life of the Pre-Med

News & Features | March 5, 2010

Asher Leviton

We’ve all seen them; they peer bleary-eyed into incomprehensible textbooks, cursing the 3 a.m. on their computer screen clocks. They skip frat parties and free time for Tisch and a latte, heavy on the sugar. Being pre-med sure ain’t easy.

Certainly not here at least. Boasting rigorous classes, renowned professors, and accessible resources, Tufts joins the ranks as one of the most prestigious pre-medical programs in the country. In an atmosphere of stop-at-nothing science students, determined to wow family and friends with a top degree, the competition around the country is fierce, perhaps a little too fierce.  To the point where, according to The New York Times, many qualified pre-med students simply aren’t making the cut into American med schools.

Tufts Medical School is no exception. Located in the heart of Boston, the highly competitive Tufts Medical School is an extremely sought after option for current undergraduates eager to boost up their medical career under the Tufts umbrella. Tufts’ cutthroat admissions welcomed just 200 out of a staggering 7,361 applicants into the 2013 class. And the class of 2013’s mean GPA in those grueling, over-our-heads, pre-med courses? A solid 3.53. Tufts Medical School doesn’t fool around.

Luckily, these statistics aren’t completely impenetrable for Tufts undergrads. Out of this year’s 200 enrolled students, a striking 33 hail from the Medford campus we know and love, making Tufts the highest-represented institution by far. Admissions discrimination? Maybe. But it’s more than that. As Tufts undergraduate admissions becomes more selective, snatching up intelligent students from its competitive peers, the medical school applicant pool here simultaneously strengthens. And, likewise, so do GPA’s and MCAT scores.

As Chair of the Pre-Medical Committee at Tufts, Biology Professor Harry Bernheim has spent years penetrating countless Tufts medical school applications and scouting the quality of Tufts’ applicant pool. Needless to say, he’s recently been impressed. “Tufts has gotten more difficult to get into, so the student applicants are academically quite strong,” said Bernheim. “Everything has risen over the last decade at Tufts, including the intellectual abilities of students and numbers they come and leave with.”

In addition, many over-achieving Tufts students decide to prove their worth earlier through Tufts Medical School’s early assurance option, an opportunity that allows highly qualified pre-med undergraduates to gain admission by the end of their sophomore years.

“[Early assurance] opens up a lot of opportunities,” said Edward Testa, a sophomore who applied via the early option to Tufts Medical School. “You find out at the end of sophomore year, so I can shift focus from building a big resume for med school to other things I want to do. I want to go abroad to Italy, and I’d be able to do that.”

According to Dana Marcinkowski—Desmond (MD), another early assurance contender, this option is desirable because applicants are not required to take the MCATs. “I know it’s where I want to go so it doesn’t make sense for me to spend the money applying to other medical schools and on MCAT programs,” she said.

However, the application process isn’t easy; along with three letters of recommendation, applicants are required to have completed two biology, two chemistry, and one organic chemistry course in a span of just two years, according to MD. And, if you don’t have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in these series of rigorous science courses, don’t bother.

Even if you meet these credentials, early admission to Tufts Medical Program isn’t guaranteed; only around 25-30 percent of students are accepted via early access. “Admissions is much more difficult,” said Bernheim in regards to the early option. “Applicants need to demonstrate in a very obvious way that they really are committed to pursuing a career in medicine.”

Tufts isn’t the only one raising the bar.  Nationwide, competition is boiling and admissions rates are slimming, causing an exacerbation of stress and extra pounding on pre-med advisor Carol Baffi-Dugan’s office door. “I think it’s more competitive because the extra things that you have to do to get in are becoming the norm,” said MD. “Like doing research, or having shadowed a doctor, or getting good grades—everyone has it nowadays.”

But to all those over-stressed pre-med students out there, keep reading. In response to recent trends of aspiring doctors fleeing to offshore medical programs or simply giving up hope entirely after yet another rejection letter, nearly two dozen medical schools are opening across the country, according to The New York Times. Developing programs are sprouting within established universities, including Hofstra University, University of California, Quinnipiac, and Central Michigan University as well as the independent Commonwealth Medical College program. When these various in-the-works programs officially open their doors, they will amount to an 18 percent increase in the 131 medical schools across the country.

According to the Times, the expansion is a “wake up call” to address the other factors threatening the medical world: a growing population, impending retirement of 1/3 of practicing doctors, and, in tune with the political tide, changes in health care, which would bring a stream of newly-insured patients under the blanket of the American health system.

“I’d like to see more physicians become trained because, as our population is growing, the demand for physicians is increasing. If you just keep the pool the same, you are going to have a shortage, “ said Bernheim.

So, when you see your fellow pre-med Jumbos swarming Tisch late hours and crossing out weekend plans, remind them that maybe it’s not all that bad…right after you thank God you’re not going to med school.