Sanford School of Medicine Review [Part 2]

Please visit Part 1 of the series here.  


Please visit the Sanford School of Medicine MD Program site for a better breakdown.  This year tuition and fees came out to about $22,000 for South Dakota residents.  We are one of the most inexpensive medical schools in the nation.  Also, we have a dedicated Financial Aid Advisor for medical students, and she works with you to get you on a budget and find the money you need to go to school.  


I have to admit, Vermillion isn’t the most stimulating place on the planet.  It is small, cold, and there is not a lot to do.  But there are some perks that go with living in any small town.  No problems parking, no traffic, cost of living is low, and you always know someone (or know someone that knows someone – only one or two degrees of separation) that is connected to anything in town.  


While the reputation is low among pre-meds, I believe/hear that the Sanford School of Medicine is actually very popular among high-profile residency programs.  The administration and upper class-men have told us time and time again that the clinical training at this school is second-to-none.  Medical students work directly with attendings and we gain a lot of experience!  Residency programs look for our students because they know we have that mid-western work ethic and we have a lot of clinic experience.  It has been said that our fourth years are allowed to do a lot more as a student here then they are allowed to as an intern in many residency programs.  The class of 2008 had 3/50 students match into a dermatology residency.  Dermatology is the most competitive residency in the nation and 6% of last year’s class matched into it.  To give you an idea, if only US seniors (approximately 15,000) matched into dermatology (approximately 400 spots) then on average 2.5% of medical students nation-wide match into it.  So, our class of 2008 over doubled that.  That’s pretty impressive.  

Can I Get Into Medical School?

On December 11th 2008, Dr. Holm came out with a show titled, “Can My Child Get Into Medical School?”  This show does an amazing job explaining what medical school is like at the Sanford School of Medicine.  

But the real question for the interested pre-med is, “Can I get in?”  Dean of Medical Student Affairs, Dr. Paul Bunger speaks on the show and really highlights the competitiveness of the application and admissions process.  He states:
45% applicants get into a medical school nationwide
34% applicants who apply get into USD
These stats really surprise me.  As a pre-medical student you have less than a 50:50 shot of getting into medical school and if you apply to USD you have about a 1:3 chance of getting accepted.  Dean Bunger, also has a couple tips on what the committee at Sanford SOM is looking for in their applicants.  

Ok so how do you get in?  Here’s a couple tips:
  • Ace that MCAT – but seriously though you want to shoot for at least a 30 (Note: Dean Perry in the video says that a 36 is the highest score one can get on the MCAT, but actually its a 45). But I am not saying you can’t get in with a 27 or even a little lower but you chances definitely go down.  
  • Do well in undergrad – may seem obvious, because it is.  Shoot for the 4.0 but a 3.5 or higher should get you in.  
  • Be well rounded – get in and be involved with things that are not medically related.
  • Volunteer/Job Shadow with something healthcare related – admissions people need to know that you actually know what the healthcare field is like.  I mean how do you know you want to be a doctor and not a nurse or PA?  I know too many people who applied to medical school with no medical or healthcare work in their background and I believe that is why they didn’t get in.  Don’t get me wrong it’s possible to get into medical school without it, but I think it’s really important. 
  • Get involved with a research project – medical doctors are still doctors and are expected to contribute to the future of the medical field.  Who knows you might think that research is fun and pursue a Physician Scientist program.  This is not necessarily required.  
  • Lastly, I highly recommend searching around the StudentDoctorNetwork forums to learn more about the process.  

Sanford SOM Curriculum

Here’s a start to a little personal review series on the Sanford SOM, maybe the Pre-Med hopefuls out there can learn more about what it’s like to attend medical school here.


First two years of medical school are the pre-clinical years.  The first year classes include:
  • Biochemistry
  • Gross Anatomy
  • Embryology
  • Histology/Physiology (combined course)
  • Neurosciences
  • Intro to Clinical Medicine
The instruction here is traditional, and all in Vermillion.  They do work in some cased-based learning and bring in a lot of different people (patients and healthcare workers) from the field to talk about clinical correlations as it relates to what we are currently learning in class.  

A normal day starts at 9 am.  We sit in lecture until about 11:30 and are dismissed for lunch.  Class resumes at 1pm and generally goes to 3:30.  Lectures are in a nice lecture hall, with most classes being taught to medical students only.  Some courses are with physician assistants, physical therapy, and occupational therapy students.  

As first years, we are exposed to clinic early and have structured preceptorships with physicians in Sioux Falls, Vermillion, and Yankton as a part of our Intro to Clinical Medicine class.

Second year classes include:
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Behavioral Science
  • Radiology
  • Intro to Clinical Medicine
  • Rural Primary Care Preceptorship
Classes during the second year are once a week in Sioux Falls, and the rest in Vermillion.  Classes are taught by a mix of MDs and PhDs.  At the end of the second year we are sent out to do a month long rural primary care preceptorship.  This is a one-on-one preceptorship with a PCP somewhere in rural South Dakota.  Preceptorships are all throughout the state.  

Third and fourth years are the clinical years.  Third year is highly dependent on the clinical site.  Third years either end up at the Sioux Falls campus, Rapid City campus, or the Yankton campus.  If a student gets placed at either Sioux Falls or Rapid City, then the curriculum follows the traditional format, monthly rotations through different specialties.  If a student gets placed at Yankton campus, students rotate through a different specialty daily.  Students have a lot more freedom to scrub into surgeries or follow patients that they are interested in across different specialties.  Yankton students just have to meet minimum requirements in each specialty, such as “attend/assist with at least 20 vaginal births” for OB/GYN rotation.  

My Opinion:

I think the curriculum here is wonderful.  The professors have a vested interest in you, and the secretaries know you by name.  The medical school on campus is built around the first and second year medical students, because the third and fourth years are not at the Vermillion campus.  

The classes do a great job preparing students for the USMLE Step-1 and setup all the classes to try to prepare us for it.  In fact, the class of 2012’s results for the NBME Biochemistry Shelf Examination class average was in the 80th percentile nation-wide.  

The faculty also listen closely to our input as students.  Student groups are put together to give feedback about every class, and classes are changed regularly based on feedback from previous years.  

Lastly, and something I tend to take for granted, is the fact that the class is very cooperative. Classmates help each other out on everything, and resources are easily shared among us.  The faculty does a great job setting this up by not grading classes on a curve, and never telling anyone what their class standing is, which makes the environment non-competitive.  

If you have the luxury of choosing which medical school you’d like to attend, I’d like to highly recommend the Sanford SOM.

[Read Part 2]