Many students dream of becoming a doctor so they can help patients. Along with being an important position in society, physicians and surgeons are among the highest-paid and most educated professionals in the United States. This role requires several years of study at the university level, followed by obtaining a professional degree at a medical school.
Medical schools prepare students to pass licensure exams, succeed in residency programs, and legally practice medicine. They gain a foundational understanding of various subjects, including biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, and anatomy. Although the primary curriculum is similar among different medical schools, the criteria, structure, and methodology vary considerably.
Many medical schools will have various opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience from medical research to teaching hospitals. The best programs involve a clinical education where future doctors obtain practical skills in treating patients and diagnosing illness.
In addition, students can explore their interests in fields such as internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and more.
With the popularity of the field and rigor of the program, admission to medical schools is considered highly competitive. Candidates will need impressive transcripts, MCAT scores, and letters of recommendation to be granted admission. Alabama was ranked in the top 12 states nationally to practice medicine based on opportunity, competition, and medical environment. As a result, over 10,000 active physicians in Alabama earn an average salary of nearly $200,000.
Alabama is a great location to study and practice medicine, but it can be challenging to decide which school is the right fit. Here are the top medical schools in Alabama based on their appearance in the US News Medical Schools list. In the event of a tie or inclusion of an unranked school, the editorial team at College Gazette judges the placement.
3. University of South Alabama College of Medicine (Birmingham, AL)
The University of South Alabama College of Medicine (USA COM) provides a variety of resources and opportunities for med students. In the Graduation Questionnaire, 98% of students indicated that they were satisfied with the quality of their medical education, above the national average. This positive opinion is a result of relevant classes, clerkship experiences, and preparation for entering residency. The learning environment with small student-to-faculty ratios and safety also were highly ranked by students.
Outside of the classroom, med students have the opportunity to contribute to their community as part of their required medical education. Each student in the USA COM completes 4 hours of service learning per semester. Through clinics, centers, shelters, and schools, students voluntarily provide healthcare and advice to the underserved and marginalized. As future physicians, they must learn to adapt to the pressures and social responsibilities of the field. In addition, they experience the distribution of health and illness in a population firsthand.
Students also have the opportunity to contribute to medical research to further their education. Research topics include mechanisms and treatments for cancer, lung diseases, and insect-borne diseases. Students who want a better understanding of how research contributes to the practice of medicine can participate in the Medical Student Summer Research Program. Over the course of 10 weeks, students are exposed to hands-on clinical research, seminars, and formal presentations at Research Day. Undergraduates can also perform full-time summer research in laboratories with the College of Medicine faculty to pursue any of their interests.
As a result of their extensive hands-on experience, USA COM graduates are matched to some of the most sought-after residency programs. Although most graduates practice in Internal Medicine, students in the Class of 2020 went on to Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Neurosurgery, Radiation Oncology, and more. 65% of students matched into out-of-state residency programs across the continental US.
2. Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (Dothan, AL)
The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) is the first osteopathic medical school in the state and the first nationwide established by a regional, not-for-profit hospital. The college aims to contribute to the lack of physicians in medically underserved areas across Alabama. After a comprehensive curriculum and plenty of opportunities for hands-on experience, graduates receive a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.
The systems-based integrated curriculum at ACOM focuses on osteopathic principles and practice. Through a blend of teaching styles such as clinical sessions, group work, and immersive simulation experiences, students learn the necessary material for their future. In addition, med students gain early clinical exposure and patient interaction through the school’s primary care clinic. Along with technical and hands-on knowledge, the curriculum focuses on career development and residency match preparation that leads to 99% residency placement.
Med students can also prepare for success through the 30+ student organizations on campus. These extracurricular activities provide opportunities for growth on and off-campus, supporting a variety of interests and backgrounds. As an integral part of ACOM campus life, med students build relationships with peers, develop their professional networks, and learn more about the practice of medicine. A popular organization is the Gold Humanism in Medicine Interest Group.
The group aims to foster students to serve as role models and leaders in humanistic medicine.
The American Medical Student Association Virtual Patient Challenge provides a competitive environment for students to use their critical thinking skills. Over 20 teams from medical schools nationwide are challenged to implement diagnosis and treatments through virtual patient encounters. In 2021, both ACOM teams advanced to the championship round, after which the school took home its second consecutive national title. The group has an illustrious history of success, winning the international competition in 2017.
1. University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Medicine (Birmingham, AL)
The University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) has trained over 9,000 physicians to date. Within the School of Medicine, five departments are ranked in the top 10 for NIH funding in their fields, with a total bankroll of $256 million for 2019. This includes the most funded dermatology department nationwide. The university is dedicated to advancing medical knowledge and clinical practice through education, quality care, and research.
The Birmingham campus houses University Hospital, one of the largest and best-equipped academic hospitals in the country. As home to some of the top medical programs in the state, the facility is a major center for clinical research. UAB physicians are acknowledged as leaders in their fields and have produced numerous discoveries that continue to advance the medical field.
UAB is also home to one of 45 Medical Scientist Training Programs nationwide. Funded by grants from NIH, this highly selective program waives tuition for admitted students and awards them an annual stipend of $25,000. The 6-10 med students admitted each year can earn both MD and Ph.D. degrees over six years.
Thanks to the opportunities provided by UAB, alumni, and faculty from the School of Medicine are top researchers, inventors, and doctors in the medical field. John W Kirklin, a heart surgeon at UAB, is known for his work revolutionizing cardiovascular surgery through the development of the heart-lung machine. His work is the model for modern ICUs, improving care and reducing complications for patients worldwide. Thanks to his numerous contributions, Kirklin established UAB as one of the leading clinical and academic medical centers. Many other innovations are associated with UAB, including the first fiber-optic endoscope, the first effective treatment for a viral disease, and the first simultaneous heart-kidney transplant.
How to Get Into Medical Schools in Alabama
Getting into medical schools in Alabama is no easy feat. USA COM has an acceptance rate of 14%, whereas UAB and ACOM both fall around 5% acceptance. This puts the three schools on par with top-tier medical schools such as Harvard Med and Johns Hopkins. To get accepted, it is essential to be a well-rounded and successful student.
To meet the requirements of Alabama medical schools, students should aim to take science courses and laboratories, including biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Successful candidates will excel in these pre-med requirements to prove that they have a strong understanding of the basics. Although your transcript and scores are necessary, it is also essential to show the leadership and interpersonal skills necessary as a doctor.
Getting involved with volunteer opportunities, research, and extracurriculars are good ways to reveal another side of you as a medical student. Forming relationships with professors and mentors will result in positive letters of recommendation that highlight the applicant’s personality and passion for healthcare.
PreMed Experience in Alabama
By highlighting your science and healthcare experience, med schools see that you will succeed as a doctor. In addition, it is an excellent way to show that you can apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to medical practice. Due to the long-term and challenging nature of medical school, the admissions teams want to see that you can commit to something over a long period of time. This could be any form of experience, including research, volunteering, internships, or clinical work.
Most successful applicants have some form of clinical experience in a healthcare facility. This includes various paid or volunteer experiences such as EMTs, medical scribes, certified nursing assistants, or hospice volunteers. By holding a similar position for at least 6 months, it proves that you know what it is like to practice medicine. Another way to show motivation is to shadow a doctor as they go through their daily activities.
Any published research is a significant way to show that you have contributed to the medical field and have practical hands-on experience. Laboratory research demonstrates the applicant’s scientific knowledge and desire to help others. Outside of technical expertise, leadership in community organizations shows that you will advocate for patients throughout your career.
MCAT and GPA Scores
Along with pre-med experience, test scores and GPA are important aspects of an application. These scores help students stand out from the crowd and prove that they have what it takes to succeed in the challenges of medical school. Although it is important for other areas of the application to be impressive as well, the majority of competitive applicants will have high scores.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized exam used to assess critical thinking, problem-solving, and the knowledge of principles behind the study of medicine. This includes natural, behavioral, and social science concepts. Due to the difficulty of the exam, med students need to prepare for the exam and obtain a good score.
For the entering classes at Alabama medical schools, students scored an average of 504 for ACOM and 508 for UAB and USA COM.
Applicants need to succeed in the prerequisite courses if they hope to excel in medical school. Med schools assess a student’s prior success using their GPA. Although the minimum GPA requirements vary from program to program, most competitive applicants have at least a 3.5. This means that they earn mostly A’s in their prior scientific courses. Students hoping to gain admission to an Alabama medical school should aim to have a GPA above 3.5.