Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs Including Information Regarding COVID-19

Duke HPA recognizes that the ever evolving and fluid nature of COVID-19 is creating many questions for prehealth students.  These are new and constantly evolving times and health programs are also adapting to circumstances, just like we are. Together, we will figure out what all this looks like moving forward.   We wanted to provide one central location for students, advisors and faculty to read up to the date information and guidance from our office that is applicable for prehealth students.  As the situation continues to persist we have now created a Spring-Summer 2020 section and multiple Fall 2020 sections that break down questions in to thematic areas. 

Please also continue to use Duke’s Coronavirus Response website and Keep Learning website and email:

We have created a section here on our FAQ page that we will continually update as more information is gained from the healthcare graduate programs.  As COVID-19 continues to unfold

Below the COVID-19 questions are a series of commonly asked questions, segmented by key topic areas. Simply click on the section to expand to see questions and answers.

COVID-19 Fall 2020-General

I'm a new student to Duke.  How can I get started with prehealth?  The Health Professions advising office will be hosting Orientation events in early August.  First year students are encouraged to join us at our Orientation events where you can meet the team, learn about prehealth advising, join our newsletter and ask lots of questions:

  • Orientation Event: Tuesday, August 4th, 2-3 pm EDT
  • Orientation Event:  Wednesday, August 5, 2-3 pm EDT
  • Group advising for student questions: Friday, August 14th, 9 am-12 noon EDT
  • Virtual Drop In Hours First Year Students during the First Week of Classes
    • Tuesday, August 18th  2pmEST-4pmEST with Megan Kelly Tisdale
    • Wednesday, August 19th 9:45amEST-noonEST with Robert Jones
    • Thursday, August 20th 5pmEST-7pmEST with Brittany Morhac
    • Friday, August 21st 10amEST-noonEST with Dr. Lawrence Crawford

Full information and Zoom links can be found here.  If you miss these events please review our Prepare page to get started. 

How and where can I meet with my prehealth advisor this fall ?  Prehealth advisors will continue to meet with students, just using the virtual format as we have been.  This will ensure prehealth advisors can continue to serve all students in a safe and efficient manner.  Please see our Advising webpage if you are unsure who you prehealth advisor is. 

How do I continue to cultivate relationships with faculty this fall?  As each of you and your faculty members will be engaging through different modalities we understand this is a concern for your learning and for obtaining letters of recommendation for your future application.  Keep engaging in ways we would traditionally suggest, such as utilizing office hours and engaging in class.  Consider asking your faculty member to see if they have time to talk individually for virtual coffee or lunch.  Consider utilizing the virtual FLUNCH option, V- Learn

I don’t feel like I’m doing enough to prepare for medicine.  What else can I do? There are a lot of additional types of activities and newer opportunities that you can engage with that will make you a better future clinician.  Spend time reflecting and journaling on this time.  Consider topics such as what did you do during this time and why, how does racism and structural inequity impact healthcare, what have you learned about yourself and your continued interest in becoming a healthcare professional, and what core competencies you have been developing and how by adapting through this time of change.  You can also seek out other resources such as free online learning opportunities, read relevant books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch documentaries.  Developing as a whole person has always been important and you could consider using this time to cultivate areas of your life such as life & “adulting” skills, self-care, and hobbies.  You can find some resources for all of these areas in the NAAHP document.  Lastly, you can consider reaching out to conduct informational interviews with healthcare professionals.  This allows you to have conversations with professionals in a focused manner and ask questions that are tailored to your interests.  We suggest brainstorming questions prior to your virtual meeting.

I’m pursuing Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant, Nursing or another prehealth pathway.  Does my information look different?  We have tried to be intentional in the COVID-19 FAQ section to highlight what is premedical specific and what is generalized for all prehealth students.  If you have questions and you do not see a clear answer for your pathway please contact the prehealth advisor for your pathway to ensure you have the most up to date information.

I applied to medical school or another health professions graduate program during the summer of 2020.  How is the cycle changing?  For medical school applicants information relevant to this cycle only will be added in a few places.  First read all emails sent from our office (and are archived for your convenience and future reference).  We will also update the Applying Summer 2020, Preparing for Your Interview, Updating Your Application & Sending Letters and Managing Acceptance pages as appropriate. 

If you are applying to another health professions program please work directly with your prehealth advisors for how your cycles are being impacted.


COVID-19 Fall 2020 –Academics & Testing

Have the ways fulfill the prehealth prerequisites changed at all?  For the majority of students the answer to this is no.  Please see our Course Requirement page.  The exception would be if you took or are planning on taking Bio 201D and/or Chem 202 and then please see advising below.

Can I take my premed or other health professions prerequisite labs online?  This continues to be a common question that will be personal and based on several factors including what career you are preparing for.  Health professions programs may have different requirements or guidance.  There does not seem to be a clear consensus at this time across all prehealth programs or schools.  Please refer to the following sources for different health professions programs for their policies.

First, check with your state school(s) and schools of interest to see if they have published policies.  Individual webpages are a good place to start.  You can also supplement that with the following resources: 

Secondly, consider where you are in your academic path and what course it is.  For some students to stay in sequence it might make more sense to take the course.  For others, who have more flexibility and it is just a choice to take it now or later, you may consider planning differently.  Based on your timing you may also consider how you learn best. Now that you’ve experienced part of a semester remote, you may have different insight into your preferences and strengths as a learner. 

Some schools have different policies or guidelines for Spring 2020, Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 so we would encourage you to continue to look at policies even if you had already done so previously.

There are a variety of options for the delivery of my courses this fall.  Do health profession programs prefer in person, hybrid, or remote courses?  In reference to lab courses specifically please see the above.  Traditionally, speaking medical schools accept in person courses.  However, medical schools and Duke HPA encourage you to enroll in the courses that make the most sense for you based on your needs and learning styles.  We encourage you to reflect on and journal some of the reasons you are making these choices so when it comes time to apply to medical school you can share these as part of your narrative as appropriate.  For more information on the type of delivery methods being offered this Fall please see the Duke’s Keep Learning Undergraduate Students, Academics-Fall.

Other health profession programs have varying levels of previously accepting online courses and those that have not previously accepted online prerequisites may have COVID-19 specific guidelines.  Please use the resources in the online lab question to look at resources for your pathway and/or contact your prehealth advisor with questions.  

We want to empower you to be able to look at where you are in your Duke career, what your goals are and make individual decisions that feel the best for you. Make decisions that are practical for you personally, within Duke’s flexible options.

In the Spring I was able to utilize S/U for my courses, will I still be able to consider that for Fall 2020 if I’m premed?  Starting with Summer 2020 Term I, Duke returned to normal grading policies.  Traditionally, health professions programs do not accept S/U grades for prerequisites, but many amended that policy during the pandemic. First, please check with your state school(s) to see if they have published policies.  You can check their individual websites or use MSAR (the COVID-19) sections are free.  You can also find the MSAR data compiled here.  Duke’s S/U policy and procedure can be found here.  If you are considering choosing a S/U grading policy for a prerequisite course, especially those pursuing health professions programs other than medical school, you are encouraged to talk with your prehealth advisor.

Some schools have different policies or guidelines for Spring 2020, Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 so we would encourage you to continue to look at policies even if you had already done so previously. And remember, health professions schools are figuring out all of these policies along with the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic—be patient!

I took Bio 201D this summer or am enrolled in Bio 201D in Fall 2020. How does my premed planning need to change?  We advise taking Bio 201 in some fashion to ensure you have the material required for the MCAT.  If you are on the Bio 203L track you would not have taken 201D and you should continue as usual.

If you are on the Bio 201/202 track you will now need to take a total of three biology courses, Bio 201D, 202L and a third biology with lab.  We would suggest Bio 329L (spring only course) or Bio 212L.

If you are pursuing a different prehealth pathway please contact your prehealth advisor if you took Bio 201 without the lab.

Can I take Chem 202 this fall remotely?  The lab is now a separate course from lecture and is worth 0.25 units. The Lecture/Discussion course (Chem 202D) will be worth one full credit and will meet fully online this Fall. The dissociation of lecture and lab means that you can take the lab the same semester as lecture or during a future semester if you need the laboratory component.  Please see Chemistry's website for up to date information. 

Will my admissions test exam be impacted at all?  The MCAT is currently being administered as long as it is safe in person through the end of September 2020, using a shortened format.  AAMC and Pearson VUE are closely monitoring the situation and up to date information can be found on AAMC’s MCAT Coronavirus webpage.  The remainder of the 2020 MCAT calendar will have a shortened exam and will have multiple start times a day. 

  • The GRE currently has a variety of options for completing the test.  For the most up to date information please see the Coronavirus GRE Testing Updates
  • The DAT is currently being administered.  The most up to date information can be found at the ADA’s DAT webpage.
  • The PA-CAT is currently being administered.  The most up to date information can be found at
  • The OAT is currently being administered.  The most up to date information can be found at the OAT webpage.
  • The PCAT is currently being administered.  The most up to date information can be found on the PCAT webpage.

COVID-19 Fall 2020- Experiential Planning

I’m planning on applying to medical school in May 2021 or beyond.  Will medical schools understand why I’m not doing things or don’t have any experiences?  As the pandemic continues and we all adapt, schools are aware of how this is impacting preparation.  They are expecting preparation to look different during this time, whether that includes coursework modality changes, experiential experiences that are paused or remote, and/or your ability to be physically on campus.  Consider how playing your part in all of these efforts helps to support the public health initiatives that are keeping healthcare providers, patients and each other safer and healthier.

It is also equally important that each of you have explored and confirmed medicine for yourself.  For those reasons, medical schools and Duke HPA support students exploring in new ways that are adaptive and safe given the situation.  This may mean delaying or altering your application timelines to ensure that you can shadow and engage with patients and/or engaging in activities that may not be as traditional (such as remote options).


I’m planning on applying to Physician Assistant programs in May 2021 or beyond.  Are programs reducing their PCE, HCE and/or shadowing requirements and expectations?  Some PA programs have reduced minimum requirements for the 2021M cohort.  However, many programs are not reducing their requirements at all or are only anticipating reducing that for the 2021M cohort.  PA programs strongly value these critical experiences and thus may not reduce required hours, however, many are open to virtual shadowing.  Please talk with your prehealth advisor, Ms. Morhac, if you questions or concerns.

When will I be able to shadow?  Will health professions schools be open to less shadowing?  At this time shadowing is not available, including clearance at Duke University.  Some health profession programs may be open to accepting virtual shadowing.  If you are pursuing a prehealth pathway that has documented shadowing requirements please talk directly with your prehealth advisors for planning. 

Will I be able to volunteer with patients this fall?  As of this summer, in person volunteering has been suspended at Duke Hospital and Durham VA.  However, there are still ways for you to engage with patients in a virtual setting.  This could include things like volunteering with Crisis Text Line, Duke’s Benefits Enrollment Center and other emerging options.  The professional organization of health professions advisors across the country, NAAHP, has compiled a document filled with a host of ideas for pre-health students to consider during the current time dominated and disrupted by the effects of COVID-19.  Duke prehealth students and advisors are sharing other opportunities in our community through our shared document, Opportunities for Service

Will I still be able to volunteer in the community?  This could depend on the outside organization and it will likely look different than normal.  Some organizations may suspend activities, while others may move to remote options.  NAAHP, has compiled a document filled with a host of ideas for pre-health students to consider during the current time dominated and disrupted by the effects of COVID-19.  Duke prehealth students and advisors are sharing other opportunities in our community through our shared document, Opportunities for Service  Our communities will likely have new and emerging needs as well as we continue to navigate the pandemic.  Whether you are in Durham or elsewhere, look at what your communities’ needs are and what local organizations are doing to help meet that need.  Needs may be met remotely or in person.  For updated information on campus and community service organizations please see DukeGroups.  For student organization guidelines, please see Duke’s Keep Learning Undergraduate Students, Extracurriculars –Fall for up to date information.

Will I be able to do research this semester?  This could be dependent on a few factors, such as what class year you are, the type of lab experience you are engaged with and your individual lab’s reopening plans.  Please see Duke’s Keep Learning Undergraduate Students, Research-Fall for the most up to date information on what research can look like for undergraduates this fall.


COVID-19 Spring 2020-Summer 2020

I have questions for my prehealth advisor. Can I still meet with you?

Absolutely!  Our office is still meeting with students and alumni, just virtually.  As the pandemic continues to unfold and knowing the upcoming academic year will look differently for each of you we want to assure you that whatever your choices are for this semester you will continue to have access to prehealth advising.  We ask that you continue to follow Duke’s directions for being on campus, but you will still be able to email HPA advisors and/or schedule virtual meetings.  You can schedule appointments like you normally would.  Please see our Advising page for how to schedule with each of us.  As a reminder we ask that you email and meet with one advisor so we can serve all of you, especially during this time. 

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Duke is allowing us to take our classes as S/U.  Should I do that for my prehealth prerequisites?

Traditionally speaking, most health professions graduate programs want you to earn grades for your prerequisites.  As of now there is not a clear consensus from these programs if they will accept prerequisite courses as S/U.  As we learn more about how the diverse programs will accept and perceive these choices in the coming days and weeks we will update that information here.  For now, we advise you to proceed in classes as if you are receiving a grade, but wait until closer to April 22 to make a final decision. 

We are aware that some programs are starting to publish policies around S/U for this semester.  There does not seem to be a clear consensus at this time.  We now have multiple crowdsourced documents for different health professions programs for their policies.

We want to empower you to be able to look at where you are in your Duke career, what your goals are and make individual decisions that feel the best for you. Consider where you are in your Duke academic career.  Upperclassmen will have a clearer picture how one or two grades will impact their GPA.  For underclassmen you still have plenty of time to demonstrate your academic ability.  You may consider things like what schools you are interested in applying to (Do your state schools have policies?  Is there a medical school you’re really interested in that has a policy?)  One semester rarely defines your academic record and health professions programs know that every student will be impacted by this situation.  Make decisions that are practical for you personally, within Duke’s flexible policy.

We know transitioning your learning to a new format can be challenging. We also understand you have an interest in applying to graduate programs where grades are important.  We encourage you to partner with your learning communities (fellow students, faculty, & instructors) as you transition to this new learning environment.  Your shift in learning and studying activities will be eased when you embrace this opportunity and work collaboratively.  This can help you continue to develop your skills in teamwork, adaptability, communication and self-awareness in new ways.  The ARC has great resources for adapting your learning.

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My shadowing and volunteering got postponed.  Should I look for something else to do?

Medical facilities across the country are adjusting their requirements for individuals that are allowed to come in to keep the public, clinicians and patients safe.  Please follow guidelines from Duke and CDC and suspend these activities for now. 

There are still ways in this environment to learn and grow towards your career goals.  There are great books by physicians you could read, reflect on how this current climate is helping you grow and flex your Core Competencies in daily life, and think actively about how your daily choices are contributing to the overall strategy to addressing COVID-19.  Based on your comfort you can look for ways to serve your communities (i.e. delivering groceries to elderly individuals, helping distribute free lunches to school kids, etc) or joining virtual opportunities like Crisis Textline.  

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I’m supposed to take the MCAT this spring.  Will I be able to?

AAMC and Pearson VUE, who runs the testing sites, are updating their information about test dates and scoring timelines  You can find up to date information on the AAMC page and/or the Pearson VUE page.  To be an ontime applicant you would want to have your MCAT test date by data release date.  Applicants who do not have a score on May 28th should still submit their application on May 28th to AMCAS to ONE school.  This allows you to submit for verification but still be an on time applicant when medical schools gain access to your application.  Once you have your scores in June you can finalize your list and add new schools until July 9th, so that when schools gain access to your application on July 10th you are considered an on time applicant.

As MCAT resumes testing we encourage you to pay close attention to any communication from AAMC and/or Pearson VUE.  As conditions around the country and world vary there may be some places that are unable to hold MCAT tests safely.  For the safety of the community, your family and you we would encourage you not to travel widely for the MCAT.

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I was planning on taking summer coursework.  How should I plan?

With Duke canceling in person summer session 1 we know that summer coursework will likely be shifting for you.  Be flexible in your planning as every college in the country is uncertain what their summer coursework will look like.

Traditionally speaking, most health professions graduate programs want you to take courses in person.  While they are accepting courses that have moved remote for Spring 2020, it isn’t clear if they will continue to accept online coursework this summer should that be an option.  We encourage you to use similar decision making strategies as you did for S/U.  Look at schools of interest and your state schools for their policies and evaluate where you are in your planning and the amount of flexibility you do or do not have in your schedule.  You can begin to see some school policies on the crowdsourced documents aboveMSAR, has also added a COVID19 section to each school page which is now accessible for free.  Some schools are posting their policies on MSAR and/or on their websites. 

Please keep in mind that at Duke this summer, BIO 201 is being offered with a discussion only, not a lab.  If you take Bio 201D this summer please plan to add a third biology course with a lab to your plan of study so that you have both the biological content that you need for the MCAT and meet the usual two semesters with lab requirement medical schools often have.  We would suggest taking Bio 329L (Spring only course) since it is already a recommended course. 

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What should I do this summer?  My study abroad/internship/experience got canceled.

As this situation unfolds we know there is a lot of uncertainty for the coming months.  We encourage you to stay flexible and look for opportunities to still engage in growth and development of core competencies.  A lot of what summer 2020 might look like could be dependent on where you are geographically and how this unfolds.  Look for virtual opportunities that could be continued and look for new local opportunities that are created to meet your local needs as this situation evolves.

Everyone’s spring and summer 2020 will look different than we planned. What resources do you have?  What creative ways are you caring for yourself and others?  It could be through helping care for siblings and cousins or engaging with organizations through virtual options.  What can you be doing to further your research, learn something new, or help your community with our current environment and then do those things.  The Keep Exploring website has some great resources to consider as well.  Now is a great time to creatively continue to cultivate your core competencies. 

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I plan on applying to medical school this summer and doing a RMA this spring.  Is that still happening?

Duke HPA is committed to continuing our RMA process virtually with students and alumni applying to medical school this summer.  All RMAs will be virtual and your RMA advisor and you can determine what virtual medium works best for you.  If you have not yet scheduled your RMA please see our Applying Summer 2020 webpage for directions for scheduling.

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I plan on applying to medical school this summer, but I wasn’t able to complete my patient engagement and/or shadowing hours.  What should I do?

We want you to be as prepared as you can be when you apply to medical school.  At this time we don’t know if medical schools will alter their expectations and if so how much.  We would encourage you to do what we always encourage, which is to evaluate your own candidacy based on what medical schools look for and decide if this is the strongest candidacy you can apply with.  For some of you that might be thinking about waiting another cycle if you feel these areas are not strong enough with where they stand today.  Should medical schools communicate something differently to us we would update that information here.

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General Questions

My mother is a doctor and she says I have to be a Biology major. My roommate says medical schools prefer science majors. My brother says it’s better to do English or History. My academic advisor says I should choose what I am most passionate about. Who's right?

Medical schools in general expect you to major in what you are most interested in, regardless of the field. They state it clearly in the introductory chapters of the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR): “The medical profession needs individuals from diverse educational backgrounds who will bring to the profession a variety of talents and interests.” So you should develop your own unique skills and talents. If you look at the acceptance rate of Duke students in previous years, you will find that choice of major had no effect. What is important is to engage rigorously in all that you do.

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Surely medical schools will be impressed with me if I double-major? If I triple-major?

No. Double majoring often means that you need to enroll in courses you have little interest in, and you lose the opportunity to take other courses that would be more meaningful. Double majors may also require you to take courses in summer school, which limits your opportunities for jobs, research, clinical experience, service, and out-of-the-classroom experience. The important question to ask is, “Have I excelled in an academically rigorous program, including my science courses?”

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Tell me what courses I need to take and what GPA I need to have to get in to medical school, and I’ll do it. Or, to put it another way, what do medical schools really look for?

Health professions schools look at AND beyond coursework. There is no guaranteed path. They will look at your overall application in various ways: demonstrated skills in the sciences (GPA, MCAT scores), intellectual curiosity and ability to focus, evidence of altruism and demonstrated service, awareness of the medical profession as it is today, and confidence that you can deal with the changes as they come, motivation, integrity, flexibility, and responsibility. Students will demonstrate these traits in different ways. You should do whatever is best for you. 

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What if I do all these things and don’t get into medical school?

Talk with a prehealth advisor and the deans/directors of admissions at the schools where you were interviewed or perhaps wait-listed to see if there was something that was viewed as a weakness. If so, correct it. If you’re serious about medicine, reapply. But be sure that your reapplication is different from your original application, i.e., make sure that you have addressed whatever might have been perceived as a weakness in your first application. This might require that you wait a year before reapplying.

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How do I find out what changes have occurred in the health professions and what it might mean for my career goals?

Watch for seminars and discussions throughout the year. Read healthcare blogs on the internet and journals like the New England Journal of Medicine. Talk to MDs, nurses, hospital staff, relatives, anyone working in or with contact in the health professions -- the more views the better.

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I’m interested in physical therapy. Do the same requirements apply as for medical schools?

No. Each physical therapy school requires slightly different preparation and you need to check each school that you are interested in. Use the Physical Therapy Association web site. Note also that you will need extensive experience in physical therapy and that this needs to be documented on your application. Physical therapy is a great career -- you just need to check out requirements early (as in your freshman year or as soon as is practical).

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How do I find out what medical schools are in my state?

Refer to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) available here. Or do an internet search.

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I think I might be interested in a health professions career, but not as a doctor. How do I find out?

Talk to a prehealth advisor, or go to the Career Center. Get information on volunteer opportunities during the semester or summer so you can try out a few activities. See the Explore section of this website.

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I am interested in Harvard/Johns Hopkins/Duke/Stanford, etc. Are there special qualifications?

There are many published rankings of medical schools, based on a variety of criteria -- sometimes very superficial ones. You should avoid choosing a medical school based solely on where that medical school ranks in one (or more) lists of medical schools. Medical schools can be quite different and each applicant should try to determine where s/he will be most comfortable during a very stressful time of his/her life. You should also avoid having your heart set on a particular school. It just might not work out. If you are interested in admission to one of the more competitive schools, your credentials will have to be exceedingly strong. Not only will you have to have a very strong GPA and MCAT scores, but you will be expected to have challenged yourself in your course selection (e.g., course overloads, graduate level courses, research) and your choice of extracurricular activities.

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I can graduate in three years. Won’t medical schools be impressed and be more likely to accept me?

No. They usually feel that these are your four years to explore, learn, grow and mature. Squeezing in the basic courses in three years is not advisable, and you’re not taking advantage of the opportunities that are here for you. Moreover, if you apply after two years of classes, your application will simply not be as rich as a student who has had 3 or more years. Nearly 80% of Duke alumni who started medical school in 2019 took at least one gap year. Health profession schools are looking for older, more mature, more experienced applicants. If you are that far ahead because of AP credits, you might take advantage of research opportunities, take advanced level course work, spend time abroad, get involved in activities. You might decide to graduate in three years if finances are a concern, but plan to take some time off before applying. Talk with your prehealth advisor about options. 

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I’m a BME student and I love science. Do I have to take humanities courses, and where would I fit them in?

Engineers should realize that currently many medical schools place a great deal of emphasis on the breadth of education that a future health care professional has. This may be particularly challenging to students studying more technical fields such as engineering. You will need to find some time in the summer or during the academic year to fit in some humanities and social science courses. Don’t use the few electives you have to take more science courses and leave yourself without humanities and social science courses.

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I don’t know what to do with my life. What if I graduate and work two years and then decide to go to medical school?

That would be just fine. If you are fairly convinced that you will eventually (within 3 or so years) apply to medical school and you want to go ahead and complete your science courses and take the MCAT, that may be a good plan for you. If, however, you are still thinking of medical school as only a possibility you might want to use your course work at Duke to take courses outside of the sciences that you have an interest in or courses that might help you to decide what other career path you might follow. Should you decide at a later date that you would like to become a physician, you can always take the core required courses for medical school as a continuing education student at Duke or at another college or university or in a special structured post-baccalaureate program and then prepare for and take the MCAT. Students who graduate and work for a time before applying often demonstrate desired skills in terms of maturity, achievement, capability, far better than an undergraduate.



Will health professions schools think poorly of me if I have a C in a course like General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Math, Physics, etc.?

A solitary C isn’t the end of the world and if all your other science grades are A’s and B’s, you may be fine. However, consistent C grades in the sciences will result in a GPA of 2.0, which is not competitive for medical schools. If the C grade occurs earlier in your program but later science courses show improvement, this upward trend will be helpful.

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I really want to be a doctor, but I’ve gotten C’s in General Chemistry and now Biology 201L. I study in the library for hours at a time. What am I doing wrong?

Visit the Academic Resource Center, talk with your professors and try to identify where the problem is. Get a tutor, and/or join a study group. It is possible that the study skills that served you well in high school are outdated and inappropriate and not sufficiently rigorous for Duke classes. If you are very serious about a health professions career and feel that you are going to have to really work on improving your study skills, then you might take only a single science course for the next semester or two and concentrate on that one course and your study skills, and then add additional courses as you become more capable and confident. You should also consider the amount of time you are spending on extracurricular activities, as you may be over-committed. 

If you become discouraged with your performance in science courses and/or lose your self confidence due to several poor grades in the sciences, a good idea might be to take a semester with no science courses at all.  If you find yourself enjoying your other courses and not missing the science, you might want to reevaluate your choices. If you find that you miss the sciences and want to take more, then add them back slowly.

You should realize that if you have a long history of C’s in the sciences at Duke, then you will appear to medical school admissions committees to be someone who doesn’t know how to study well, someone who doesn’t choose to study well, or someone with insufficient skills in the sciences. Be honest with yourself. It may be an indication that you are better suited for another career. Talk with a prehealth advisor about this.

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I’m getting B’s and C’s in the sciences. Medical school is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do but I just don’t like the science classes here. Can’t I tell medical schools that I’ll do better in medical school? If I do lots of extracurricular volunteering, will that help?

Medical school courses are primarily science courses. If science classes and labs are not appealing, you might consider this is a sign that you should consider other careers. You may be attracted to medicine because of the challenges, lifestyle, prestige, power, etc. but these are found in other careers as well. Visit the Career Center if you haven’t already done so, arrange to take a “career inventory”, and/or work/volunteer in the medical center where you can see what a doctor’s life really is these days, and whether you enjoy working with sick people. Sometimes experience will help you appreciate the classes. Also, look at your overall grades. If you’re getting C’s in the sciences and A’s in History or English or some non-science area, it may be that your real interests and talents lie elsewhere.

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I got a D in Chem 201DL. Should I retake it or go on to Chem 202L?

You will have to repeat the course. Most medical schools require grades of  C or better in all prerequisite courses. In addition, experience shows that most students who make a D in the first semester of Organic Chemistry are not prepared for the second semester.

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I have a C- in Chem 201DL. Can I repeat the course at Duke?

No. You can only repeat a course at Duke if your grade was a D or an F.  Plan to repeat the first semester of Organic Chemistry at a college or university at home.  

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I spent my freshman year having fun, only now I realize I really want to go to medical school. What can I do about those C’s and D’s?

You need to show proficiency and skills in the sciences. Continue on in your science courses. Repeat any with D grades. Put in the effort to get your grades up, and wait to apply until you can show competency and achievement. Usually this means at least 4 semesters of A and B grades before you can apply. You will need to continue taking upper level science courses because you can’t stop until you demonstrate proficiency.

Remember, all medical schools stress that applicants should submit the strongest application they can the first time they apply. It is a sign of poor judgment to submit a seriously weak application with the intent of submitting an improved application in the event the first is not successful.

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I got A’s in General Chemistry, but C’s in Organic Chemistry. Should I retake these at another institution during the summer?

If your overall knowledge of organic is satisfactory, a better idea would be to go on and take Biochemistry 301 at Duke and work at it, earning a grade of A or B. You could also add Biochemistry 302 and 401. That will show that you are capable of doing upper level Chemistry. Your MCAT scores will also be important. If you had a really terrible time in Organic Chemistry and don’t feel that you understand the subject, then that is a problem. Talk with your prehealth advisor.

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Study Abroad

I want to spend my entire junior year abroad, but then I won’t be able to fit in the required courses before the end of my junior year.

That's OK. The majority of Duke students complete the required courses over four years. Go abroad, finish your courses in your senior year, and then apply.   

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Will medical schools think badly of me if I study abroad in Spain and take literature and history courses there? (This question goes along with: my roommate told me I can’t be premed and spend a semester abroad; or, my father told me spending a semester abroad is a waste of time if I want to go to medical school.)

Medical schools consider these four years to be YOUR four years, time to read and study and explore whatever you find fascinating. It is most likely the last time you will have to explore non-science areas. It is also a time to develop confidence, maturity, an ability to relate to people of different cultures, and a knowledge of the world we live in. These will help you succeed as a physician. Sometimes your outside interests will be of use in your career later (like speaking a foreign language or being computer-proficient or using good writing skills). Study abroad fits in well with these skills and it is encouraged if you want to do it.  Visit the Global Education Office website for study away opportunities.



Taking Required Courses at Another Institution

I took physics at another institution during the summer and got two C’s. Do I have to submit a transcript and report the grades when I apply to medical schools?

Yes. You have to submit transcripts of all college work you have attempted or completed, even if it was at multiple colleges.

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Can I take Physics at my state school this summer instead of taking it here at Duke?

Probably. Compare it with Duke’s physics courses. If you have questions, check with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Physics. If you want to transfer the credit to Duke, the forms and approval have to be completed in advance. Remember that you will be tested on Physics for the MCAT. Therefore, you should make sure the course is a rigorous one.

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Will medical schools think poorly of me if I take a required class at another institution?

The answer to this will depend to some extent upon your record at Duke and your reasons for doing so. If you have chosen to take the bare minimum of science courses required to make application to medical school and then have taken some of those at a less demanding institution, the medical schools might question either your self-confidence, your abilities, or both. However, if you take most of your required courses as  part of a challenging curriculum at Duke, but choose to take a required course at another solid institution for financial or scheduling reasons, they are not likely to be too concerned. If the course is one that is tested on the MCAT, they may look to your MCAT score to be sure you were well prepared.

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How do I find out information on where and when the MCAT is given?


Go to their link at

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Do I have to have completed the second semester of physics before taking the MCAT? (A similar question is whether one needs to complete a course in physiology, or Chem 210DL before the MCAT.)

We recommend that all prehealth students complete the required science courses before taking a standardized exam. There is no reason to rush. Should you take the MCAT not well prepared and score low, health professions schools will see it as an error of judgment and will wonder why you didn't consider the exam seriously enough to prepare for it.

Having said that, there are occasionally students who have strong backgrounds and who will self-study or have experience and will take take the MCAT without having had a physiology or other course. But it is a risk.  

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I have a low score on a section of the MCAT?  Do I need to retake the MCAT?  

The question of retaking the MCAT should always be discussed with your prehealth advisor.  It may depend on what your score was, your academic record at Duke (the types of courses you've taken and grades), and if you can identify the reason for the low score.  


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I’m sure I want to be a doctor, but I won’t have time to volunteer with patients or shadow until after I apply to med schools. Is that ok?  

No.  In our experience, this will not make you competitive for medical school admissions. Medical schools want to be assured that you know what is involved in the practice of medicine and this knowledge comes from experience watching physicians and interacting with patients.  If you cannot fit in these experiences while you're at Duke, you should plan to delay your application until you can.

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I don’t have time for clinical volunteering while I’m here at Duke, but I did a lot in high school. My experiences were moving and profound and left me totally committed to medicine. Is this OK?

Everyone matures a great deal between the ages of 14 and 20. Your response to an experience at age 20 might be completely different from that which you had at 14. And your appreciation of and reflections on your experiences will change as a result of the coursework you do at Duke. Your recent experiences may also contribute significantly to how you write your personal statement, and answer questions during interviews. Thus, while you might have had good experiences at an earlier age, you should continue and expand them during college. Use your summers if you need to. 

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I don’t have time to volunteer in the medical center, but my sister has been chronically ill for years and I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals with her, enough so that I know what goes on and what it will take to be a good physician. I’m sure of myself. Is that OK?

No.  This will not help you be competitive.  Caring for those we love can be an excellent learning experience, but you should extend your work to other individuals who are ill.  This gives you more breadth in understanding the variety and challenges of health care, and will demonstrate to admissions committees that you are knowledgeable and experienced.   If you only have one health care experience, admissions committees may be unsure if you know what it means to be a physician from the professional perspective.

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I am very grateful to the orthopedic surgeon who set my leg when I broke it playing soccer. I want to be like him/her and do the same for other athletes. Is this enough to tell medical schools why I want to be a physician?

No. An emotional response is not sufficient. You must go beyond that to actually experience health care in different settings. Only after multiple exposures and experiences will you be confident enough to determine if medicine is for you.

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I’ve worked in a pediatric research lab for three years and volunteer in the summers in a camp for seriously ill children, but I’ve never worked in a hospital. Is this OK?

Possibly. The work in the lab can show you one side of medicine and the camp may demonstrate your commitment to working with sick children and your understanding of health care issues.  If either experience provides exposure to clinical care in a healthcare setting than they provide a good foundation.  If they don't, you will want to add more experiences.

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Do I have to do research at Duke? I don’t think I will like it.

Research is viewed as a sign of intellectual curiosity, an ability to solve problems, and to assess and evaluate results competently.   Research activities can help you demonstrate many of the core competencies that admissions committees look for.   If you are interested in M.D./Ph.D. programs or in a medical school that stresses research, or if you are interested in going into academic medicine (being on the faculty of a medical school), then research experience at Duke (or at other schools in the summers) will be very important.

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I love research. Will that look good on my application?

Research can demonstrate independence, motivation, stamina and skills in the lab, as well as clear and logical thought and deductive reasoning. It is an excellent way to find out how research discoveries make their way from the bench to the bedside. But you should engage in research only if you find it appealing. Doing things that “look good” may backfire.  If you’re not really interested in research, you may not be very engaged in your lab, and it will take time away from things that you really enjoy doing. And if you are asked about your research during a medical school interview and  you are only able to give a half-hearted, blah response (because you were only doing it to be able to list "research" on your application), then it will be to your disadvantage.

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Transcript Submissions

Does the HPA office send my transcripts to AMCAS (or other application service)?

No. For AMCAS you need to “Print Transcript Request Form” from the Main Menu page of the 2015 AMCAS. Other application services have similar processes.

Sign the “Transcript Request Form” and email or fax (or deliver in person) the form to the Office of the Registrar, Duke University. Repeat this process if you have transcripts from other colleges or universities attended.

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How do I identify the type of letter I wish to enter in AMCAS? AMCAS gives me three choices: 1) Committee Letter; 2) Letter Packet; 3) Individual Letter.

You should check “Committee Letter” for the Committee Letter from HPA; it and choose to have it sent to all your schools. You should check “Individual Letter” for your letter writers to submit their letters directly to the AMCAS Letter Writer Application; you can choose which specific schools will receive which specific letters.

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