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What Is a PREP, and Who Should Consider One?

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Here at Post-Bacc Program Guide, we tend to focus on two main types of programs: undergraduate certificates and special master’s degrees. However, there is a less well-known type of post-bacc some of our readers may want to consider: the post-baccalaureate research education program (PREP).

While special master’s programs and certificate programs are mostly about improving a student’s academic record through coursework, PREPs have a different focus. They’re aimed at helping students develop the clinical research skills and experience they need to pursue entry to a medical-related PhD or MD/PhD program. This article gives an overview of what a PREP is, who can apply, and how to find one.

What Is a PREP?

As mentioned above, PREPs focus on developing a student’s medical research skills. While the format varies by institution, the National Institute of Health (NIH) explains that they are usually one- or two-year programs.

Students in PREP programs are workers as well as students, so they receive a salary. These salaries are funded by grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the NIH. Because of this funding, PREPs tend to focus on developing researchers in areas where the NIH has determined there is the greatest need, such as:

  • Bioinformatics and computational biology
  • Cell biology, including topics like protein folding and cellular signaling
  • Immune cell mechanisms
  • Pain and anasthesia
  • Bioenergetics

Colleges and universities apply to participate in PREPs and receive NIH grant funding accordingly.

What Do Students Do in PREPs?

In a one-year PREP, students may spend nine months gaining experience in medical labs with support from a mentor, plus three months developing skills in other areas, such as scientific writing and presentation.

PREPs may also offer students the opportunity to complete some graduate-level coursework as part of their experience or help them prepare for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the test students need to take to enter PhD programs. Mentorship and career coaching are also likely to be part of any PREP program.

Who Can Apply to a PREP?

PREPs are for people who have graduated from a biomedical science or other relevant bachelor’s degree program within 36 months of applying (exceptions to the 36-month limit are allowed for military service, significant illness, or family leave). Because PREPs provide a salary, students also have to be eligible to work in the U.S., either because they are citizens or lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders).

Applicants need to intend to pursue admission to a research-focused degree, such as a PhD or PhD/MD program. PREPs are not for students who are interested in careers in clinical patient care.

Requirements vary by school, but generally, the ideal PREP candidate is someone with a life or health sciences degree and a solid GPA. Usually, these are also students who planned to be pre-med until late in their undergrad career, when they discovered their real passion was for research. Students looking to enhance their pre-med record should consider other options.

It’s also worth noting that part of the NIH’s goal with PREP programs is to increase the diversity of medical researchers. If you’re from a historically under-represented background, look to see if there’s a program focused on helping you achieve your goals.

Do You Rank PREP Programs?

We don’t. First, there are relatively few PREP opportunities, and second, most people interested in pursuing a pre-med post-bacc program want to work directly with patients as MDs or DOs. So, we focus on ranking the programs that support students who want to gain access to medical school.

If you know your future is in medical research rather than patient care, and you want to find a PREP program, the NIH has a directory of current programs. We hope this helps clarify your options as you pursue your medical—or medical research—career goals!

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