About Medicine

Physicians may be allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) practitioners after attending an accredited osteopathic or allopathic medical program, completing a residency, and taking board exams. Medical programs are 4 year graduate degree programs where you learn the fundamentals of medical practice whereas residency is a post-graduate training process which may be 3-7 years depending on the field. Most physicians work with patients full-time, however others also teach, engage in research, work in administration, and contribute to healthcare policy.

Preparing for Medical School

Medical schools use a process called holistic review to weigh personal factors, academic preparation, and professional experience when reviewing an applicant’s “readiness” for medicine. Put together, these create a picture of you as a whole person. 

In addition to having a clear motivation for the field, completing required coursework, experience in clinical and community settings, participating in research, hobbies and interests, and completing the MCAT are common admissions factors for medical schools.

Requirements vary from school to school, so it’s always necessary to consult program websites. This table from the AAMC can help you get started. Pre-requisite courses may include:

MD/DO Required Coursework

TopicCredits/SemestersUW-Madison CoursesIs AP Accepted?
Biology8-10 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Zoology 101-102 and an additional bioscience course with lab such as Botany 130, Anat&Phy 335/435, OR Anat&Phy 337 and 338

Biology 151-152

Biocore 381-382 AND 383-384 satisfies Intro to Bio requirements

*Biocore: Students must apply to enroll in Biocore. For more information, visit their website.
If you have AP credit for Biology, plan to enroll in additional advanced Biology (see Advanced Biology section below) once you've finished your intro Biology sequence.
General Chemistry8-10 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Chemistry 103-104
Chemistry 109*
Chem 115-116 (intended for Chem majors)

*Many accept Chem 109 as equivalent to two semesters of inorganic chemistry; some may ask for a letter from the UW-Madison Chemistry Department describing the condensed nature of Chem 109. See Pre-Health Advising for more information if you have taken Chem 109
Most schools will accept AP credit for Chem 103.
Organic Chemistry6-8 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.

Some schools will accept 1-semester of Organic Chemistry with 1 semester of Biochem.
Chem 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry
Chem 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry
Chem 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Lab
Physics8-10 Credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Physics 103-104 (algebra-based)
Physics 201-202 (calculus-based; intended for Engineering majors)
Physics 207-208 (calculus-based; intended for Life Science majors)

* If physics is required for your major, select the sequence recommended by your major. If physics is not required by your major, physics 103-104 is an appropriate choice
Most schools will accept AP credit for at least one physics course.
BiochemistrySome schools require 3 credits or 1 semester.Choose one of the following courses:

Biochemistry 501
Biochemistry 507-508 (intended for Biochem majors)
Social ScienceThis varies widely across programs from courses being recommended up to 24 credits.Required for the MCAT:
Intro Psych 202 or Psych 281 (Honors)

Plus, an intro Sociology course such as:

GWS 103 - Gender, Women, Bodies and Health
GWS 200 - LGBTQ Studies
Soc 120 - Marriage and Family
Soc 125 - American Society
Soc 134 - Race and Ethnicity
Soc 138 - Sociology of Gender
Soc 140 - Community and Environmental Sociology
Soc 170 - Population Problems
Soc 181(H) or 211 - The Sociological Enterprise
Soc 210 - Survey of Sociology
If you have AP credit for Social Science, you should enroll in additional Social Sciences course(s) in college.
HumanitiesPlan on taking 6 credits of English.Learn more: English Requirements for Health ProgramsIf you have AP English, you should take higher level English classes in college.
Advanced BiologyIf you are not majoring in biological science, plan on taking at least one additional advanced biology course with a lab. Some suggestions include:

Physiology 335 or 435
Microbiology 303-304
Cell Biology 570
*Biocore 485-486 Organismal Biology lecture/lab

*Must be enrolled in the Biocore program
Statistics3 credits or 1 semester

Can be taken in Major department
Choose one of the following:
Statistics 301
Statistics 371
An introductory statistics course in your major department.
Schools are more willing to accept AP stats if you have at least one math class at the college level.

Working or volunteering in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings gives you a chance to work with patients and health care teams and is essential experience to have when applying to medical programs. Ideally, you want to have at least one year of volunteering at the time you apply, but keep in mind that competitive applicants often have more experience and often have paid experience. 

Choose opportunities that give you exposure to clinical settings and allow you to work with patient populations or in specialties that interest you!

Explore Jobs Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Medical programs look for applicants who demonstrate a sustained commitment to serving others in healthcare and community settings. When looking for ways to get involved, choose organizations or causes close to your heart. Learn more about opportunities to volunteer in clinical and non-clinical settings by visiting our Volunteering page.

Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Research is an important way to develop skills that help you hone your capacity to learn and begin to contribute to the generation of new knowledge in fields of inquiry. Working in a research lab also gives you the opportunity to cultivate relationships with faculty who can serve as letter writers when you apply to medical school.

Explore Research Opportunities

The most important thing we want you to know about preparing for the MCAT is that CPHA is here to help! CPHA has developed a series of modules in Canvas as resources to help you prepare – whether you choose to buy a course or whether you want to prepare as cheaply as possible!  Enroll in CPHA’s MCAT 101 course to learn more about the MCAT, find study plans, and discover free and low cost resources.

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized content exam designed to assess your content knowledge in areas of biology, chemistry, physics, and social science as well as your ability to reason through scientific research, evaluate data, and analyze writing from a broad range of topics. Here is an overview of the test day and how the content areas are distributed on the exam:

MCAT Exam Overview

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Allotted
Test Day Certification4 minutes
Optional Tutorial10 minutes
Section 1: Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems5995 minutes
Optional Break10 minutes
Section 2: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills5390 minutes
Optional Mid-exam Break30 minutes
Section 3: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems5995 minutes
Optional Break10 minutes
Section 4: Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundation of Behavior5995 minutes
Void Questions3 minutes
Optional Survey5 minutes
Total Content Time6 hours, 15 minutes
Total Test Time7 hours, 30 minutes

Before the MCAT: Recommended Coursework

The MCAT is a content based exam, meaning you need certain courses before taking it. The courses you should complete before taking the MCAT include:

Pre-MCAT Coursework

SubjectCourse Options at UW-Madison
Introductory BiologyZoo 101 & additional intro bio such as Botany 130
Bio 151 & Bio 152
Biocore 381 & 383
General ChemistryChem 103-104
Chem 109
Chem 115-116
Organic ChemistryChem 343 & 345
*Chem 344 lab is not required, but helpful for the MCAT
PhysicsPhysics 103-104 (algebra-based)
Physics 207-208 (calculus-based)
Physics 201-202 (calculus-based; for engineering majors)
BiochemistryBiochem 501
Biochem 507-508
Social ScienceIntro Psych 202 & an intro Sociology course such as:

GWS 103 - Gender, Women, Bodies and Health
GWS 200 - LGBTQ Studies
Soc 120 - Marriage and Family
Soc 125 - American Society
Soc 134 - Race and Ethnicity
Soc 138 - Sociology of Gender
Soc 140 - Community and Environmental Sociology
Soc 170 - Population Problems
Soc 181(H) or 211 - The Sociological Enterprise
Soc 210 - Survey of Sociology
Helpful courses - NOT REQUIRED

You might take one of these to strengthen your knowledge in an area
Physiology 335
Biochem 510
Neurobio 523
Cell Biology 570
Immunology 341
Genetics 466
Microbiology 303

MCAT Timelines

After you take the MCAT, it takes a month to process your score. Students who are applying to a health professions program in their junior year should take the exam in spring of their junior year – ideally in April – to ensure they receive their score before they submit their application. 

If you apply as a senior or later and take one or more gap years, you have choices! Many students taking a gap year will prepare for the MCAT over summer of their junior year and take it in August. You may also take it in January, March, or April of your senior year. 

Studying for the MCAT

There isn’t one “right” way to do well on the MCAT, but people who are successful do these things:

  • Assess yourself! Be honest with yourself about:
    • Your attention span and the breaks you need
    • Your test stress – you will need longer to prepare if you have high test stress
    • The types of resources that work for you. It’s o.k. to try new study techniques and tools, but you cannot use all of them. If you convince yourself that you must complete everything in one section before you can move on, you will not make progress. 
  • Carve out regular time to study. You MUST build this into your schedule. If you study during the regular semester, treat the MCAT like a difficult 3 credit class and block time for it like class! 
      • If you have high test stress, carve out 16 hours/week over 20-24 weeks
      • If you have low test stress (exams are your superpower!), carve out 16 hrs/week over 8-10 weeks
      • If you have normal test stress, carve out 16 hrs/week over 16 weeks
  • You might take a course if you know you need the structure of a course and want some tutoring that often comes with it. However, you do not need a course to do well on the MCAT if you can structure your time.
  • Practice reading online so you get faster at reading passages
  • Take practice exams! Take a practice exam before you start studying to see where your strengths and weaknesses are and to get a sense of what it feels like to keep up your academic stamina for 7 hours! The way you spread out your other practice exams depends on various factors, but practice exams are a powerful teaching and training tool for the MCAT!

Application Process

Medical schools use a central application(s) called AACOMAS (DO) and AMCAS (MD), similar to the Common App, to collect biographical information, academic information, experience, and letters of recommendation in one place for schools to review. Applications open in May and it is important to submit early since many schools fill their seats on a rolling basis.

Most schools also give you a chance to submit additional essays that are specific to their school called secondary essays. These essays are a chance to “speak” directly to a school about your interest in their program. 

Interviews for medical programs can begin as early as August and go through the following March! In April and May, schools (and applicants) finalize their decisions, and you begin medical school in July or August. The entire application process takes a full year!

Learn more about Applying

Career Resources

Educational Associations

The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) represents allopathic medical programs in the U.S. and is the central hub for applying to medical school, registering for the MCAT, and has lots of resources for students exploring medicine and applying.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) represents osteopathic medical programs in the U.S. It is the hub for applying to DO programs and has resources for students exploring osteopathic medicine and applying.

Professional Associations

American Medical Association (AMA)

The AMA represents the legal interests and development of the profession. It coordinates initiatives in transforming medical education, improving patient outcomes, and supporting MDs.

American Osteopathic Association (AOA)

The AOA is the certifying body for DOs and accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools. It is the primary advocate and legal authority for DOs and the profession.