By: Sahej Samra, current student
Overview of the Program: Northwestern’s HPME (Honors Program in Medical Education) is a 7 year combined BS/MD program offered to perspicacious and motivated students who are sure of their passion for healthcare and are resolute in their commitment to the field of medicine. The HPME program is dedicated to adequately preparing their students for the rigors of medical school and beyond. Northwestern excels at both the undergraduate and medical school levels. Students who are accepted complete three years of undergraduate study and then matriculate into Feinberg School of medicine. However, many students who obtain approval often take a gap year (or two) to conduct research, travel internationally, enter the workforce, etc. Students who are pursuing a particular lengthy major, decide to switch their major, or want to stay at the undergraduate level for a fourth year in order to take more courses that interest them may also do so. Students are required to complete at least one major, all their premedical course requirements, their major requirements, and must complete a minimum of 36 credits.
HPME students are granted exemption from certain courses/major requirements, but it is dependent upon which major a student chooses to pursue. For example, a student in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences pursuing an Economics major may waive two course requirements and their freshman seminar. This allows for the accelerated aspect of the program. Throughout the program, a student must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.6 and a minimum ‘science’ GPA (consisting of science courses) of 3.2. The MCAT is not required of HPME students.
Admission: HPME is a highly selective program. Students must first complete a preliminary application in order to be even considered for application to HPME. This preliminary screening looks mainly at GPA, test scores, etc. HPME accepts around 2% of all students who apply. Incoming classes typically number around 19-23 students. The application is a two-step process. After a series of essays, reporting of test scores, recommendations, etc. a student is asked to interview. The interview process involves an applicant flying out to the Feinberg School of Medicine. The student is involved in a full day application process in which they interview with a number of faculty. If selected, an applicant is notified.
Residency Match and Post-Graduation Accomplishments: After graduation, HPME students often go on to participate in some extraordinary activities. Previous students have pursued Fulbright scholarships, Gates Cambridge Scholarships, Masters Degrees in Philosophy and Public Health, MD/PhD degrees (via the Medical Scientist Training Program), MD/MBA degrees, and much more. Many HPME students choose to live abroad during gap years, conduct research abroad, teach, etc. Many others are awarded other fellowships/grants. HPME students are on the whole prepared for medical school, and have entered a number of diverse residencies (ophthalmology, internal medicine, surgery, anesthesiology, etc.) at a number of renowned institutions such as Boston University, Yale-New Haven hospital network, and the UCLA Medical Center.
Academic Structure of Program: The academic structure of the HPME program is quite flexible. Students must take required, core, school-specific courses in order to meet graduation requirements. They must also complete all courses mandated by their major. In addition, students must also take a variety of ‘pre-med’ courses that preps them rigorously for the challenges of medical school ahead: 1 quarter of genetics, 1 quarter of cell biology (and its corresponding lab), 1 quarter of physiology (and its corresponding lab), 1 quarter of biochemistry (and its corresponding lab), 3 quarters of organic chemistry (and corresponding labs), 3 quarters of general chemistry (and corresponding labs), and 3 quarters of advanced physics (and corresponding labs). Students can use AP credit and/or a placement exam to test out of some required courses. In alignment with the shortened nature of the program, HPME students are granted a certain number of ‘waivers’ that they can apply to various requirements.
HPME students are allowed and even encouraged to branch out in areas other than medicine and STEM fields. HPME students have majored in everything from sociology to political science to communication sciences and disorders to economics. Northwestern’s quarter system also allows HPME students to take a gamut of courses that interest them, giving them a broad-based, wholesome education.
HPME Involvement Outside of the Classroom: HPME students are involved in a plethora of extracurricular activities and undergraduate research. HPME students are eligible to receive a special “HPME Undergraduate Summer Research Grant” which offers a stipend for 10 weeks of research during any given summer. Students work closely with a faculty advisor, craft a research proposal, and perform the research. They then are required to create a poster displaying their research and findings to medical students and physicians during a research showcase that occurs at the Feinberg School of Medicine in downtown Chicago. HPME students can also apply to a number of other research grants including the Weinberg research grant, the Summer Grant Internship (SIGP), the Undergraduate Research Grant (URG), and many more. The Undergraduate Research Office at Northwestern is extremely open and friendly, and they are more than happy to facilitate opportunities for HPME and non-HPME students alike.
It is also feasible and possible for HPME students to really explore other, nonmedical interests during the entirety of the undergraduate experience. Many past HPME students have explored summer internships in investment banking, consulting, start-up/entrepreneurial work, engineering, etc. Many current HPME students are also part of other on-campus organizations that are not related to the field of medicine. Current HPME students are on the Fusion and Refresh Dance Teams, are involved in The Garage (Northwestern’s start-up accelerator on campus), are involved in Greek Life, are members of the Institute of Student Business Education (ISBE), are on club sports teams such as tennis, and are part of various choir and a capella groups.
The prime location of Northwestern’s undergraduate campus is another attractive feature of the HPME program. Northwestern students enjoy the small-town vibe and relative isolation of the idyllic Evanston campus, but also take advantage of the nightlife, cultural diversity, and resources of a big city like Chicago.
Academic Requirements, Program Facilitation, and Difficulty: As mentioned earlier, HPME students must maintain a science GPA of 3.2 and an overall GPA of 3.6. This, along with the fact that HPME students are not required to take the MCAT, makes for a relatively stress-free undergraduate experience. HPME faculty advisers work closely with each student to ensure the lowest attrition rate possible. Advisers meet with students about academic struggles, degree progress, course selection, etc. This being said, Northwestern is quite an academically challenging school, and the program is in no way ‘easy.’ However, most students are above both the GPA requirements and have GPAs that range from 3.6 to 3.9. It is difficult to be dismissed from the program due to a failure to meet the GPA requirement, as there is usually a probation period where an HPME student is given multiple opportunities to retake courses, withdraw from courses, or pull up his/her GPA.
However, it is possible to be removed from the program due to cheating, a lapse in academic integrity, a major ethical violation, etc. As future doctors of this country, HPME students are held to the highest standards. If any transgression should occur, a student will quickly meet with the dean of their particular school, the HPME program directors, etc. An investigation is subsequently launched and an outcome is usually reached quickly.
HPME Social Setting and Surrounding Areas: HPME students, when they first enter Northwestern, are all grouped together in one large “Peer Advisor” group during orientation. This group is led and facilitated by older HPME upperclassmen. In this way, HPME students form a very tight bond right at the beginning of their college careers. HPME is indeed almost like a home in this way; HPME students take many similar courses, have the same general interests, and often even end up living with each other! Although not an extremely large school, Northwestern has a diverse population of so many interesting students, and HPME students have a strong core group of friends and colleagues right as they enter college.
Chicago is also a great city to have so close by. The Feinberg School of Medicine, located in the heart of downtown, has an extremely strong medical network throughout the city. The city is filled with hospitals, clinics, research labs, healthcare companies, etc. HPME students who wish to participate in medical activities, shadow physicians, or conduct research can do so to their heart’s content and are equipped with a powerful and extensive network that is available at their disposal.
Life at Feinberg: Student life at Feinberg is a demanding but enriching experience. While the jump from an undergraduate course load to that of medical school is not to be underestimated, Feinberg’s curricular scheme, teaching methods, and commitment to student health make it a great place for students to maximize their potential while also maintaining their wellbeing as they learn the vital skills and knowledge necessary for their future careers in medicine.
Feinberg’s curriculum is tailored to mold students into consummate, well-rounded professionals who are befit to uphold the medical tradition. In addition to learning the basic science of medicine, students are also exposed to both real and standardized patients and clinical scenarios very early on. At the start of their medical school journey, students are assigned to either an Education-Centered Medical Home (ECMH) or Individual Preceptorship (IP), in which they learn the practical side of medicine from physician mentors and older students in a real clinical setting.
Feinberg also emphasizes Health and Society and Professional Development threads in its curriculum because it realizes that these elements are equally necessary for future doctors to incorporate into their thought processes and decision-making. Through the former thread, students begin to see the world of medicine on a more macroscopic level as they learn about public, international, and global health. The Professional Development thread teaches students about medical bioethics as well as the importance of navigating basic, translational, and clinical research in the world of academic medicine. As a way to deepen this focus on research, Feinberg mandates that students take on their own research projects as part of the Area of Scholarly Concentration (AOSC) program.
While school is obviously the most imminent priority of a Feinberg student, it is by no means the only one. Situated in the heart of downtown Chicago, students have the entire city laid out before them to explore and experience. There are ample opportunities to check out bars and restaurants, shopping and retail, concerts and music festivals, sporting events, and much more. Feinberg also has its own student lounge (with pool, foosball, table tennis, etc.) and gym for both relaxation and fitness. While the mornings are mostly taken up by lectures, afternoons on most weekdays are free for students to do as they please. With the proper focus, diligence, and time management, it is definitely realizable for students to excel academically while also maintaining their health, sleep, and social life. While this is excellent news for prospective medical students who are looking to come to a school where they can succeed while cultivating a healthy and well-rounded lifestyle, it should be said that this could not be achieved without the dedicated investment and care that Feinberg puts into its students.
Closing Thoughts and Why HPME: Out of all the HPME students that I have had the fortune of knowing (myself included), not a single one regrets their decision to join HPME and attend Northwestern University. For reasons stated above (and countless others), the decision to enter the HPME program is a great one that will set up students extremely well for medical school and beyond in their future careers. Both Northwestern as an undergraduate institution and the FSM are ranked extremely high and have stellar academic reputations. The program is no joke, but it is very possible to complete without serious difficulties. The tight knit bond formed between HPME students within years and even outside of them is an added bonus that makes the program so appealing. The requirements are nowhere near impossible. The locations of both Evanston and Chicago are extremely attractive as well. The well-rounded aspects of a Northwestern education coupled with the connections and networking that comes with FSM makes the HPME program one of the most competitive and sought after. In addition, the year saved going from a more traditional 8 years to an accelerated 7 years is huge, considering that college costs are on the rise and the path to becoming a physician is already so long. Finally, the guaranteed spot in medical school gives HPME students the ability to enjoy themselves, branch out, and pursue genuine interests during their undergraduate careers while avoiding the stress and hassle that comes with hypercompetitive medical school applications.