What Is a Special Master's Program? (Plus Types and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A special master's program (SMP) is a graduate degree specifically focused on preparing students to further their education at the doctoral level. Often, an SMP prepares students for programs in the medical field, providing them with opportunities to specialize in a specific area of medicine. Understanding the potential value of an SMP can help you make the right decision for graduate school and prepare you for your career. In this article, we discuss what an SMP is, the different types of these programs you can pursue and the benefits of completing one.

What is a special master's program?

A special master's degree program usually acts as a precursor to medical school. Schools design programs to help students prove their readiness for medical school and improve their credentials. An SMP might focus on a specific field of medicine or a certain specialty. In other instances, the programs seek to help students generally build a broad set of skills and qualifications.

Some programs let students enroll in medical school courses and take classes with current medical school students. In other instances, the SMP classes remain separate from medical school courses. Often, the SMP courses simulate aspects of medical school to prepare students to continue their academic careers.

Types of special master's program

Here are some different special master's programs you can pursue:

Medical sciences

A medical science SMP focuses on preparing students to become doctors. The programs generally focus on helping students build their qualifications to apply for medical school by providing them with a basic academic background in medicine. Sometimes, the program assesses students concerning their chances of succeeding in medical school. The program might try to help students build areas of skill to help them have success in medical school or identify areas where the student can improve.

Graduating from a medical sciences program prepares students to pursue internships at a medical facility or continue their academic careers by applying to medical school. In general, a medical science program focuses less on research and more on practical medical skills. The programs also seek to prepare students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Program courses often align with topic areas on the MCAT.

Biomedical studies

A biomedical studies program takes a more research-focused approach in preparing students for a career in the medical field. Usually, biomedical studies programs feature a significant amount of lab work. The programs often focus on students becoming biomedical researchers. Graduates also often pursue a career in academia, the pharmaceutical industry or as researchers for private companies.

The primary focus of biomedical studies is to provide students with a strong background in science and research. A biomedical studies program usually focuses on skills-based learning through lab work and research. Often, a program focuses on identifying and solving a problem. Typical subject areas might include chemistry and physics. Some programs also introduce elements of first-year medical school courses into the curriculum.

Physiology programs

A physiology program often focuses on human anatomy and train students for a career as a doctor. Some courses a physiology SPM might offer include cardiopulmonary biology , medical respiratory and renal biology, medical gastrointestinal biology and medical endocrine. Some physiology SPM students take the courses alongside current medical students. A physiology SPM seeks to prepare students for the MCAT and often supports students to help them with applications for medical school.

Pharmacology

A pharmacology SMP focuses on preparing students for advancement in pharmaceuticals, medical school or dental school. Some programs allow you to focus on a specific area of interest, such as dentistry. Programs also often combine medical school courses with the pharmacology SMP, meaning you can take classes with current medical students. The focus of these programs is on the discipline of pharmacology. Courses might include chemicals and health, pharmacology of antibacterial agents and heart physiology.

Related: Guide to Medical School Resumes: Steps, Tips and Template

Benefits of special master's program

Here are some benefits of a special master's program:

Research experience

Many SMPs provide opportunities to expand their research experience and knowledge. One goal of an SMP is to increase the medical school qualifications of the students. Providing students with an opportunity to conduct research is one way to help them demonstrate to medical schools they have the necessary skills for a doctoral program, which often involves some research.

MCAT preparation

An SMP can help a student focus on preparing for the MCAT. These programs often want students who've prepared for medical school, and that includes the MCAT. The programs' curricula often have classes that align with topics on the MCAT. Some programs even include specific training sessions for the exam.

Related: How To Prepare for Medical School Interview Questions (With Examples)

Medical school connection

Often, an SMP has an affiliation with a medical school. A university might offer an SMP with its medical school program. In such a situation, you have some exposure to the medical school faculty and students. The SMP serves as a recruiting tool to bring new students to the medical school.

Volunteer opportunities

An SMP may incorporate an element of community volunteering into the program. Some programs have agreements with local hospitals or health clinics, allowing you opportunities to gain experience. Some medical schools favor students with volunteer experience, particularly at medical facilities.

Build connections

An SMP can allow you to make connections that can help you in your pursuit of a medical degree. Often, an SMP has a connection to a medical school, allowing you to get to know other future medical students. Also, many of the faculty at an SMP might often have some involvement with the medical school.

Increase credentials

An SMP allows you to improve your credentials for medical school, including your grade point average (GPA). If you want to raise your GPA, the SMP might be a good option. When a school calculates your GPA, it counts graduate studies and undergraduate courses. You could retake classes you took in your undergraduate studies to increase your GPA, but by taking an SMP, you can raise your GPA and work toward a master's degree that prepares you for medical school.

Related: How To Write a Medical Resume (With Template and Example)

Tips for choosing an SMP

Here are some tips to help you choose a special master's program:

Evaluate admission requirements

In deciding whether an SPM is right for you, consider evaluating its admission requirements. Some programs require candidates to have passed pre-med courses. In other cases, an SMP might require you to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Understanding requirements can help guide you to make decisions as an undergraduate student that could help you gain admission to the program you desire.

Related: How To Get Into Medical School From High School: Steps and Tips

Check medical school affiliation

One area you can evaluate an SMP is whether it has an affiliation with a medical school. The right SMP can fast-track you to medical school. SMPs with an affiliation often have faculty from medical school teaching courses and directly recruit students from their program. If you want to go to a medical school without an SMP, this factor might not be a priority for you, so consider your wants before researching.

Determine program length

The length of a program can influence your decision. Medical school generally takes four to seven years for a student to complete. An SMP adds to the time it takes to complete your education and begin your career. Many SMPs take about two years, but the program might include internships. Another consideration is whether you've taken courses as an undergraduate that might allow you to shorten the length of your SMP.

Calculate program cost

Evaluating costs can help you understand whether you can afford a program. The easiest cost to understand is tuition. Programs might have other requirements that add costs, such as taking the GRE. In considering cost, also try to evaluate a program's benefits. For example, a program with a medical school affiliation might streamline the application process for medical school, which may save you money later.

Research program curriculum

You can evaluate the program's curriculum to see whether it aligns with your goals. Different programs often emphasize different areas of medicine. Some schools may take a more academic approach, while others try to simulate the medical school experience. In considering a program, try to have a good understanding of your long-term career goals and pick a program that aligns with them.

Look into application support

Whether a program provides support for you in applying to medical school or taking the MCATs is another factor to consider. For example, some programs offer direct assistance in the application process. Other services include MCAT test preparation or medical school interview preparation. If you want these kinds of services, try to check to see what sort of support the program you're considering offers.

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