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Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries and diseases.

The basic training for Allopathic Physicians and Osteopathic Physicians is nearly identical. Both are trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care. The main difference is that Osteopathic Medicine places additional emphasis on the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic (whole-person) patient care. Allopathic Medicine takes an approach based in biology toward diagnosing illnesses and treating injuries.

Physicians may work as general practitioners or choose to specialize in any number of over 120 specialties and sub-specialties.

Physicians typically do the following:

  • Take a patient’s medical history

  • Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments

  • Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform

  • Review test results to identify any abnormal findings

  • Recommend and design a plan of treatment

  • Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being

  • Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene

  • Additional responsibilities vary widely based on specialty

Important Qualities:

  • Communication skills: Physicians and surgeons need to be excellent communicators. They must be able to communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.

  • Compassion: Physicians and surgeons deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. Physicians and surgeons must be able to treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.

  • Detail oriented: Physicians and surgeons must ensure that patients are receiving appropriate treatment and medications. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

  • Dexterity: Physicians and surgeons must be good at working with their hands. They may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.

  • Leadership skills: Physicians who work in their own practice need to be effective leaders. They must be able to manage a staff of other professionals to run their practice.

  • Organizational skills: Some physicians own their own practice. Strong organizational skills, including good record keeping, are critical in both medical and business settings.

  • Patience: Physicians and surgeons may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.

  • Physical stamina: Physicians and surgeons should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as lifting or turning disabled patients. Surgeons may spend a great deal of time bending over patients during surgery.

  • Problem-solving skills: Physicians and surgeons need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.


Required Coursework

Medical School Prerequisite Chart

The chart is a list of common pre-medical requirements and the Emory course equivalents. Requirements vary by school. This list does not include all courses that may be required by medical schools. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites. Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and AP/IB policies of the schools to which they plan to apply.

Helpful resources include the MSAR (allopathic schools), the College Information Book (osteopathic schools), and individual school websites.

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

Students are required to the read the MCAT Essentials before submitting an application to test.

Length: 7 hours and 30 minutes

Sections: Four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Cost: The basic registration fee for the MCAT is $310, which covers the cost of the exam, as well as distribution of your scores. Late registration and changes to registration will result in additional fees. Applicants with financial need may apply for the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program to receive reduced MCAT registration fees.

Scores: Scores range from 472-528

Timeline: PHA recommends that applicants start studying for the MCAT only AFTER all required MCAT coursework has been completed. This means you should complete all MCAT coursework at least three months before you plan to start studying. Students should plan to take the MCAT no later than May* in the year they plan to apply.

*Since application processing begins earlier for AACOMAS and TMDSAS, students applying through those CAS should take the MCAT no later than April.

MCAT Prep Resources: There are a variety of MCAT prep resources, each differing in both cost and teaching style. PHA does not endorse any specific test prep resource, but we encourage you to explore each of the different options to determine which will best fit your needs.  

Topic specific:

Additional Resources:

PHA does not endorse any specific preparation program or company.

School Selection

Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 12-20 medical schools.

Factors to consider:

  • Location I: Students have the best chance of admission at the public medical schools in their state of residency. Outside of your in-state school(s), consider private schools and other state public schools that accept a reasonable number of out-of-state residents.
  • Location II: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc.
  • Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.
  • Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.
  • Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available

Don’t focus on “rankings”. In fact, the governing bodies of the medical schools (AAMC and AACOM) do not rank or endorse any ranking of the accredited schools and programs within their organizations. There are no "safety" medical schools. Each and every accredited medical school in the U.S. has rigorous admission standards.

Additional resources for school selection:

Primary Applications

Applications for both AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS are reviewed on a rolling basis. We recommend applying as early in the cycle as possible.For additional information on Centralized Application Services, see the "Apply" section of the PHA website.

Allopathic Medicine Primary Application:

  • Centralized Application Service: American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)
  • Number of Participating Schools: 149 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • Cost: $169 which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school is $39.
  • Fee Assistance? Yes, through the AMCAS Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all AMCAS fees for up to 16 medical schools, along with other benefits. Applications for FAP open in January. Apply early. 
  • Personal Statement Prompt:"Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school." 5,300 character limit.
    • Applicants will write 3 additional essays on their most meaningful activities (1,325 characters).
    • MD/PhD applicants will 2 additional essays explaining their motivation for pursuing an MD/PhD and a detailed explanation of their research.
  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. AMCAS application opens in early May for edits; Applicants can submit in early June.
  • Resources:

Osteopathic Medicine Primary Application

  • Centralized Application Service: American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS)
  • Number of Participating Schools: 33 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • Cost: $195 which includes one medical school designation. Each additional school is $45.
  • Fee Assistance? Yes, through the AACOMAS Fee Assistance Program
  • Personal Statement Prompt:"In the space provided, write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a DO." 4,500 character limit.
  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. AACOMAS application opens in early May for submission.
  • Resources:

Texas Medical Schools (Allopathic and Osteopathic Primary Application)

  • Centralized Application Service: Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS)
  • Number of Participating Schools: All public Texas medical schools (9 allopathic, 1 osteopathic)
  • Cost: $150 flat fee, which includes all TMDSAS participating medical schools.
  • Fee Assistance? No fee waivers available
  • Personal Statement: Two required, One optional. Additional essay required for MD/PhD or DO/PhD applicants.
    • Required: "Explain your motivate to pursue a career in medicine. Include the value of your experiences that prepare you to be a physician." 5,000 character limit
    • Required:"Learning from others is enhanced in educational settings that include individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Please describe your personal characteristics (background, traits, skills, etc.) or experiences that would add to the educational experience of others." 2,500 character limit
    • Optional: "Briefly discuss any unique circumstances or life experiences that are relevant to your application which have not previously been presented." 2,500 character limit
  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. TMDSAS opens in early May for submission. Students applying after Junior year should wait until their Spring grades are posted before applying.
  • Resources:

Secondary Applications

Almost all medical schools requires a secondary, or supplemental, application. Some schools send secondaries as soon as the primary has been submitted; others will wait until the primary is processed and only send secondary applications to selected applicants. Secondary applications for medical school often involve one or many essay questions, and often involve a fee, averaging around $75. PHA recommends you submit your secondary applications within 2 weeks of receiving them. Secondary applications for Texas public schools are included in the primary application and should be completed at the same time as the TMDSAS application.


Recommendation Letters

Medical schools typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. PHA recommends at least one of your letters be from a science faculty member and one be from a PI or research supervisor (if you participated in research). The other letters should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career in medicine. Students should check each school's requirements to ensure you have the required letters.

DO programs usually require a recommendation letter from a DO.

If you are applying to medical school and you are a current Emory student or an alumni who graduated from Emory within the last two years, you may be eligible to apply for a Composite Letter. Composite Letters are strongly recommended, although not required, for medical schools.


After submitting the primary application and secondary applications for individual schools, students may receive interview offers any time between August-April in the year preceding matriculation. The interview is one of the most important elements in the healthcare professions application process. When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you for their school based on your application. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.

Medical schools require personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in medicine and the experiences that have motivated you.

What to Expect at a Medical School Interview

Medical school interviews are typically conducted on campus, which means you should be prepared to travel during interview season. Part of your preparation for the application process should be saving money for flights and hotel stays. Interviews may involve a tour of the school, information sessions, lunch with a current student, and the interview itself.

How to Prepare

Your interview prep should be different based on the type of interview the school employs. In general, you should always:

  • Review your application materials (including activities log, personal statement, and essays) and be prepared to discuss them in detail.
  • Brush up on current events in healthcare and in your profession specifically.
  • Research the school. Do an in-depth review of the school's website and any additional materials you have. Remember, the interview is your chance to show them why you are a good fit for that particular program.
  • Utilize PHA Interview Services.


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