02/23/2015 11:55 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2015

What Every Aspiring Doctor Should Know About in High School

Applying to medical school is a time-intensive process and actually getting accepted to medical school is an even bigger challenge. For many pre-medical students, much of the undergraduate experience is spent working towards medical school. If you've worked hard in high school and are certain you want to be a doctor, there's a way to avoid spending the next four years working toward medical school acceptance.

Combined undergraduate/M.D. programs, sometimes called BS/MD programs, provide an alternative for students set on a career in medicine. These programs admit high school seniors simultaneously to undergraduate universities and medical schools. For high achieving students, such programs afford the opportunity to explore other interests, whether academic, extracurricular or social, during their undergraduate years.

"The greatest advantage was that it freed me to study what I wanted to study and do what I wanted to do," said a student in Brown University's Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). "Without the pressure to maintain perfect grades, I wasn't afraid to take interesting courses outside my comfort zone."

Fostering "flexibility and creativity in the undergraduate education while reducing the pressures related to gaining acceptance to medical school" is a mission of the Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME) at Northwestern University and captures the purpose of many of these programs. The thinking is that broad experiences and passions of a physician translate into practice.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has a master list of all medical schools offering combined undergraduate/M.D. programs. Program lengths vary from 6-9 years, depending on the number of undergraduate years. Some schools, such as the University of Nevada and the University of Illinois at Chicago, require residence in the respective states, while others require scores for certain SAT subject tests. Additionally, some programs have an interview stage at the medical school, providing an opportunity to communicate your personality and dedication to the field of medicine in person. Once accepted, specific requirements must be met during the undergraduate portion, such as minimum GPAs or MCAT scores. To find details of each program's qualifications for applying and stipulations for continuing to medical school, visit individual websites.

For a high schooler determined to pursue a career in medicine, a combined medical program can provide the freedom to pursue activities during the undergraduate years without thinking of how they look on a resume. Additionally, it can alleviate the pressure of medical school applications a few years early. With the increased competition in medical school applications, it's certainly worth a shot.