Graduate Degrees Before Medical School

written by a second year medical student at the University of Toronto 

Should I do a graduate degree before going to medical school? 

This is a common question for many pre-medical students. However, the answer will differ for each applicant. This blog post will go through advice and factors for pre-medical applicants to consider regarding graduate degrees. Note: the advice given in this blog post is solely based on the writer’s opinion and personal experiences.

What type of Graduate Degree do I do?

There are different graduate programs available at each University, such as professional degree programs (ex. Master’s of Physiotherapy), or thesis based programs (ex. Master of Science). Moreover, graduate degrees can vary in the number of years required – for instance, some may be 1-year programs, others may be 2-year or 3-year programs.  The first factor that should be considered when thinking of graduate school is whether you have a genuine interest in the courses or the research you would be conducting over the time you are enrolled. When choosing a graduate degree, you should reflect on whether you would enjoy working in that respective field if you were not accepted to medical school. Personally, when I chose to enroll in a thesis-based masters program, I had already developed interest and excitement towards the research I would be conducting in those 2 years.  It is important that you have motivation and commitment to the degree for several reasons. Firstly, you will be spending a significant amount of time working on courses or a research project. Genuine interest in the field/topic will ensure you continue to enjoy your time during difficult times of the degree. Secondly, pursuing a degree of interest helps with your productivity, which is helpful for a medical school application. Lastly, the attitude you take towards your work in the degree will be apparent to your supervisor. As many medical schools now require letters of recommendation from your graduate supervisor, doing a degree that you are passionate about will help build and maintain a good relationship with your supervisor. 

Does a graduate degree help me get into medical school?

Many medical schools do offer ‘bonus’ scores to applicants with a graduate degree, which can be helpful for increasing your odds of acceptance. Be sure to do your research on how schools assess a graduate degree! However, there are also other factors that need to be considered. It is important to be aware that graduate degree course marks are usually NOT used to calculate your GPA for applying to medical school, as only undergraduate marks are used.  Accordingly, if you feel you do not have a strong GPA, it may be more beneficial for you to consider taking additional undergraduate degree courses to help increase your GPA. Although certain medical schools do lower the GPA requirements for graduate applicants, many will still require competitive GPAs for acceptance.  It is also important to note that some medical schools require completion of your graduate degree before being eligible to start medical school.

Completing a graduate degree is beneficial, however, for other reasons. In my own personal experience of completing a thesis-based graduate degree, I found that my research project allowed me to build new connections and mentors who could support my ambitions for medical school. Graduate degrees often allow for more time and flexibility than undergrad. In my case, this offered me greater opportunities to be further involved in leadership activities, and to continue my involvement in prior teams and volunteering. Most importantly, in addition to building connections and extra-curricular activities, I built transferable skills that would assist me in my future career (whether this was as a physician or not) such as communication skills, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. Furthermore, I developed life experiences and mature perspectives that helped me form my medical school application, and provided very useful discussion points for interviews. 

The Take-away

A graduate degree can be a helpful stepping-stone to medical school.  It offers time to build skills and personal experiences that prove to be useful both inside and outside of medical school.  However, you should only consider a graduate degree if you want to do a graduate degree. Graduate degrees require time, tuition fees, exams, assignments, and effort. Moreover, some medical schools require additional application components if you have done a graduate degree. Be sure to look into some of your top choices of medical schools and research how they assess a graduate degree.

In conclusion, everyone’s circumstances will be different. If you are interested in doing a graduate degree, choose a degree that will help you build skills and passions, and can lead you to alternative career paths if you choose not to pursue medical school.

Looking for additional resources or have more questions on alternative and different pathways to medicine? Check out our blogs:
Thoughts on Having an MBA in Medical School
The Benefit of Completing a Master’s Degree Before Applying to Medical School
Book a 1-on-1 consultation with a medical student who has been admitted to medical school after taking the non-traditional route to get there!