Grad school vs Med school – Should you get a degree before medical school?

Deciding to pursue higher education comes with its own set of challenges and can open a huge range of opportunities.

When it comes to choosing between medical school or graduate school, the decision can be particularly daunting for those who have a keen interest in science and medicine in their undergrad years. 

Grad school typically leads to a master’s or doctoral degree in a specific field, such as science, engineering, or humanities, and prepares students for research, teaching, or professional roles in that field. Med school, on the other hand, leads to a medical degree (MD or DO) and trains med students to become licensed physicians who diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses in patients.

I know of many people who have completed a Masters or PhD and then gone into medical professions – in particular, becoming doctors and a physiotherapists.

It seems that medical school is able to offer an applied and rewarding way to exercise your knowledge. Whereas, grad school is very much missing applied human aspect in many fields. I feel like many people do a medical degree because they want to make people’s lives better whilst also exercising their ability to memorise and apply information.

Being both a graduate student and a medical student offer a pathway to advanced learning and potential career prospects, but their focus and requirements can vary a lot.

While graduate programs primarily aim to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of a specific area of study and prepare them for further research and academia, medical school focuses on training students to become licensed doctors and healthcare professionals.

In this article, we explore the key differences between these two graduate-level programs.

What is Grad school / graduate school? 

Graduate school, commonly known as grad school, is a school where students pursue advanced degrees like master’s degree, doctorate degree, or advanced professional degree.

It is a place where students specialize in a particular field of study and conduct in-depth research to gain expertise in their chosen field. They conduct research, literature reviews, and answer novel questions about the world.

Graduate students are expected to have a high level of academic and research skills and are given the opportunity to work on independent projects or assist professors with their research.

I did my PhD because I wanted to open up more doors and opportunities for my future careers. It also gave me the opportunity to go and live in a different country combining my love of learning and travelling.

The duration of graduate school varies depending on the degree being pursued and the program requirements but is typically about two years for a Masters degree and between three and seven years for a PhD.

Graduate students are also required to produce a thesis, dissertation, or other type of research project to complete their degree program.

Grad school is often seen as a steppingstone for individuals seeking to advance their careers, gain a competitive edge in a particular field or pursue a career in academia.

What is medical school?

A medical school is a graduate-level institution where students learn to become medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, surgeons or other healthcare workers.

Medical schools provide rigorous academic programs that are designed to teach an individual the knowledge and skills required to practice medicine.

These programs typically last four years, although some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete their degrees in less time.

The curriculum includes courses in:

  • anatomy,
  • biology,
  • pharmacology,
  •  pathology, and
  • medical history.

Students attend lectures, participate in clinical training, and practice in real-world settings such as hospitals and clinics.

Medical schools often emphasize hands-on training, with students observing and performing tasks under the supervision of licensed healthcare professionals. There is also a residency component of med school before you become a fully fledged doctor.

Graduates of medical school are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge they need to serve as healthcare providers and to provide essential medical care to those in their communities.

Is med school or grad school harder?

Med school and grad school both differ in terms of their curriculum and duration.

Whether or not it is harder for an individual is dependent on the motivation and passions of the student.

The people that I know who have gone on to medical school quite often are very clever and very capable in graduate school but decide that they need a more human outcome to their efforts. They enjoy helping people.

In general, Med school is typically more intense and rigorous, encompassing a multitude of physical and biological sciences, lab work, clinical experience, and practical training.

Students in med school are required to have a heightened aptitude for memorization and critical thinking, which is necessary to understand complex medical concepts and procedures.

On the other hand, graduate school typically deals with a specific field of study, such as a master’s in engineering, arts or business.

While it may not be as physically demanding as med school, grad school has its share of intellectual challenges, such as research design, data analysis, and writing a thesis or dissertation.

Grad school is also harder in terms of its open-ended nature.

Jumping through all of the hoops in medical school means that you will become a doctor. There is no specific curriculum set out for many master’s and PhD studies which means that the student has to be much more rigorous with their own timetabling and persistence.

It can be really tough when there looks like there is no progress or end in sight.

Both curricula demand commitment, intelligence, and dedication, but one can’t simply be labeled as “harder” than the other – it all depends on the motivations of the individual student.

Is medical school harder to get into than grad school?

Getting into medical school is generally considered to be harder than getting into grad school or a graduate program in other fields.

This is particularly true of prestigious medical schools.

This is because medical school is highly specialized, with a rigorous curriculum and demanding admissions criteria.

Medical schools typically require:

  • strong undergraduate GPAs,
  • high scores on the MCAT exam,
  • and relevant extracurricular experiences like volunteering or clinical work.

There is much more emphasis put on extracurricular activities when applying to medical school. That is because most people are able to meet the minimum academic requirements – therefore they need to differentiate their application with experiences and other skills and interests in their medical school application.

Additionally, there are typically fewer spots available in medical school classes, making the competition even more intense.

Grad school, on the other hand, may have a broader range of admissions requirements and a greater number of available spots in graduate programs across multiple fields.

However, this can vary depending on the specific grad school or program being considered, as well as the qualifications and experiences of the individual applicant.

Should I get a graduate degree before medical school?

Deciding whether to attend graduate school before medical school can be a difficult decision.

On one hand, graduate school can provide valuable research experience and a deeper understanding of a specific field, which can be beneficial for medical school and future career prospects. However, there may not be specific skills that are directly applicable to medical school.

Medical school requires a lot of memorisation and traditional academic study. Graduate school relies on you being able to manage a research project and work diligently over many years to answer original research question.

Attending graduate school can add extra years to the already long medical school journey and may not significantly impact admission to medical school.

The decision to attend graduate school before medical school should be based on individual circumstances and career aspirations.

I know of many people who have initially completed a Masters or PhD before attending medical school. That is because threat that PhD they realise that they enjoy the academic environment but are not motivated to become an academic or professor stop therefore clever people often find themselves being attracted towards medical degrees as it combines their passion for education and knowledge with a human focused and highly valued career.

Does a Graduate Program Help Your Medical School Acceptance Chances?

While having a graduate degree can certainly be advantageous, it is not necessarily a requirement for acceptance into medical school.

 Medical schools primarily look at:

  • an applicant’s undergraduate performance,
  • MCAT scores,
  • research experiences (something that a short masters degree can help with),
  • letters of recommendation, and
  • shadowing experiences

when making admissions decisions.

Pursuing a graduate degree can demonstrate an applicant’s dedication to continued education and provide additional research opportunities, but it is important to note that the admissions committee will primarily focus on an applicant’s undergraduate academic performance and medical school prerequisites.

Whether or not a graduate degree will help an applicant’s chances of acceptance into medical school depends on the individual and their specific circumstances when applying to graduate school.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.