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Committing to Service through Research: Nadia's Journey

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"My road to medical school is similar to many others. I participated in research, volunteered, and worked to maintain my grades. So, when I was filling out my application, I asked myself, 'What makes me different? What makes my story unique?' Thinking about why I was a unique applicant helped me distinguish myself from others and increased my confidence."

Anatomy of an Applicant, Nadia S, Core Competencies
Nadia S

Med School: Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Class of 2019
College & Major: University of the Sciences (Biochemistry)
Medical Specialty: Med-Peds at Penn State

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Background

  • Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
  • Attended a field trip to Drexel Medical School’s cadaver laboratory while in high school. After this experience, she knew she wanted to become a physician.
  • Attended University of the Sciences and obtain a B.S. in biochemistry.
  • Volunteered at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the VA Medical Center of Philadelphia and found working with people of all walks of life fulfilling!
  • Interned at Monell Chemical Senses Center, an interdisciplinary research center studying the science of taste and smell. Presented research at a symposium. 
  • Enjoyed assisting junior classmates in academics and with general advice. Worked as a tutor, tour guide, a peer mentor, and on the student conduct board to build stronger sense of community on campus.
  • Held various leadership positions in medical school. Was vice president of American Medical Women’s Association, a group to celebrate women in medicine, President of Sidekick’s, a group pairing medical students with children with pediatric chronic illness, and on the executive board of Primary Urban Partnership, an service that allows medical students to teach fourth graders science and medicine. In medical school, became Lean Six Sigma Certified to understand process improvement and its relation to heath systems.
  • She enjoyed working with both adults and children so much, that she decided to specialize in Internal Medicine/ Pediatrics.

MCAT/GPA/Coursework

Nadia pursued a “typical pre-med” route in that she volunteered at hospitals, was able to maintain a competitive GPA, participated in research, and worked at her university’s campus. “I believe that one of the strengths of my application was my volunteer work at two extremely different hospitals and my involvement in research.” Based on her experiences, Nadia was able to demonstrate her ability to listen to other’s concerns - something she learned when working with veterans and children - and teamwork: an invaluable quality she practiced each day in the laboratory on her application.

Another self-identified strength was Nadia’s commitment to maintaining a competitive GPA. As an undergraduate, Nadia maintained A’s and B’s and graduated as Summa Com Laude at University of the Sciences. Nadia’s pre-health advisor, Lisa Thayer, M.Ed., who is now the Assistant Director of Pre-Health Professions Programs at Temple University, described Nadia as “the ideal pre-med to work with. She initiated the scheduling of regular appointments with me to discuss her plans and her preparation starting early on in her undergraduate career.”

While Nadia was quite confident in her experiences, grades, and overall GPA and Science GPA which fell into the upper quartile for her matriculating class, she had less confidence about her lack of publications and her MCAT score. “I was hoping to have an extremely competitive MCAT score…” but that was not the case. By trying to save on the cost of MCAT prep material, she decided to self-study from used MCAT review books and ultimately took the exam unprepared. In the end, Nadia knew she did not study appropriately for the MCAT. “I knew my MCAT score was below average and it automatically put me at a disadvantage,” however, Nadia decided to apply to medical schools hoping the admissions team would see her application holistically. In retrospect, Nadia would have financially invested in appropriate MCAT prep material since the exam score is a vital component on medical school applications. Dr. Catherine Dayton, formerly Director of Admissions at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, now Director of Admissions at the University of Houston, said that while the MCAT VR subsection was less strong, given her science-heavy undergraduate curriculum, and the strength of every other aspect of her academic portfolio, the committee felt completely comfortable that Nadia was more than adequately prepared to excel as a medical student.

All of her work paid off as Nadia is now able to make connections between what she learned as an undergraduate and what she is studying while in medical school. “The critical thinking I used to pass Physical Chemistry, quantitative reasoning I applied to Analytical Chemistry, and the scientific inquiry used in Senior Seminar were skills I learned after much dedication and long hours in the library. Because of the skills I gained as an undergraduate, I am a better student today.” In the end, Nadia was appreciative for the opportunity to give back to the community as she prepares for a career as a physician.

Experiences

Nadia began college as a biochemistry major, and almost switched to nursing at the end of her freshman year to gain more clinical exposure. However, she decided to continue in her studies of molecular sciences, enjoying the new topics and challenges the major posed. With time, she also became involved in organizations, such as the American Chemical Society, The Pre-med Society and the Student Conduct Board. She also worked as a tutor, an assistant researcher, and volunteered at the VA Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. At the VA Medical Center, Nadia worked as an inpatient transporter for the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation department and often assisted in physical therapy sessions. Even as a transporter, she heard many personal stories of veterans and the challenges faced when re-acclimating to society. At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Nadia worked as a child life volunteer in the inpatient rehabilitation unit. Nadia found that small acts of making a child smile with toys, movies, painting, or funny stories, were enough to know she’s making a difference and affirmed her aspiration to work and give back as a physician.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Nadia S, Core Competencies
Nadia with children at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Nadia also participated in multiple research opportunities while a student at the University of the Sciences. Her research varied from analyzing the ionization patterns of particles in a mass spectrometer to understanding body image perception in an eating disorder psychology lab. These experiences collectively contributed to the development of her critical thinking skills, social skills of teamwork and communication, and her knowledge of the scientific processes.

When considering all of her experiences, Nadia said, “I believe the experiences that most distinguished me was my volunteering at the two hospitals. In primary and secondary essays, I was able to talk about how the experiences influenced me by contrasting and comparing the different groups of patients: veterans and children.” These experiences shaped her passion about serving vulnerable populations as a medical student and physician. Nadia also worked as an ambassador for the chemistry department and gave tours during open house, worked as a research assistant at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, an interdisciplinary research center aimed to understand chemical senses and as a tutor for introductory biology and organic chemistry.

When asked about evidence of Nadia’s core competencies, Ms. Thayer noted that her adaptability and resilience was evident as a disadvantaged student who faced adversity and persevered. “Her capacity for improvement knew no bounds – she was always looking for constructive criticism and she would utilize the feedback to improve in measurable ways.” She attributed Nadia’s oral communication to the success in her extracurricular endeavors through teaching, mentoring, or volunteering at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or the VA Medical Center. 

Her admissions team noted that her dedication to service and community stood out. Other experiences she listed showed how important mentoring, research, and leadership are in her life. Her many activities and the time she spent in these highlighted how important they are in creating the person she is. Nadia wrote: “I enjoyed assisting others so much that I tutored 5 courses within three years. In the end, I made a difference in my community by passing the knowledge and skillsets I have to those that desperately needed them to survive as students.” Our school values mentoring and community service."

Personal Statement

Anatomy of an Applicant, Nadia S, Core Competencies
Nadia on her wedding day

Dr. Dayton noted that her personal statement was excellent and allowed her to frame how her past is shaping her future. Nadia shared that “Whether satisfaction arises by walking a child to a toy in the playroom, talking to a toddler about her feelings, or helping a college student in organic chemistry, I find that my passion for people drives me.” Her letters of recommendation confirmed all aspects of her application.

Letters of Evaluation

As a biochemistry major, Nadia attended countless office hours asking questions and talking with her professors. Nadia says, “I wanted to establish a personal connection and show my work ethic to them before asking for the favor of a letter of evaluation.”

Nadia was confident about her letter writers because she chose professors and advisors who she trusted and believed would write with integrity and honesty. When it was time to ask professors if they could write a recommendation for her, Nadia first considered which professors she connected best with, and then scheduled a meeting to ask about writing a letter of recommendation for her. Once her letter writers agreed, Nadia provided a resume, an unofficial transcript copy, and her personal statement to each of them. Finally, at the end of the process, she wrote thank you cards to each of them.

Her admissions team said the letters served to verify our impressions, and they provided specific examples of Nadia’s professionalism and her interactions with peers.

Anatomy of an Applicant, Nadia S, Core Competencies
Rotating as a Medical Student at Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ.

Interview

Nadia recounted that as a calmer and more reticent individual, interviews had never been her strong point. Sometimes, interviews give schools an opportunity to evaluate how students respond under pressure. For this reason, she researched most common medical school interview questions and practiced by making videos. She also scheduled an appointment with the career counselor to practice mock interviews and to assess her strengths and weaknesses. “Before I interviewed at a medical school, I read the school’s mission and researched programs that were unique to that school. Lastly, the night before the interview I prepared questions for the interviewer, ironed my clothing, and styled my hair for the big day!”

Going into her interview, Nadia knew that her GPA was higher compared to the average, yet her MCAT was below. During the interview, Nadia was asked what she would do differently to prepare for the MCAT, and she responded that, “Instead of trying to save on costs, I would have invested in the appropriate MCAT prep material. If I had to prepare for the MCAT again, I’d completely revamp my study technique to incorporate practice questions to assess my strengths and weaknesses and flashcards for repetition of the material.”

When describing the interview, Dr. Dayton said, “She participated in two standardized patient encounters. Her bedside skills and maturity were clear. She is real. Her regular interview allowed her to expand on her service work and further demonstrate her values.” From the admissions perspective, Nadia’s interview made it clear that her application reflected the person we met that day she said:

“We always tell candidates that the CMSRU interview is nothing tricky. We emphasize that candidates already know all the answers to questions about themselves, and all they need to do is let the person in the application shine through. Nadia’s interview is the perfect example – her application was sincere, organized, and gave us reason to expect someone who connected sincerely with others and who was genuine in her reasons for pursuing a career in medicine.”

Nadia said, “I believe my past experiences and confidence in my decision to pursue medicine allowed me to effectively communicate my competencies and showcase my personality to the interviewers.” Ms. Thayer pointed out that Nadia’s empathy and compassion for others are evident to anyone who meets her. She exudes a sense of calmness, even when she herself is under stress. She said, “These are characteristics that I value in a physician and they seemed to come naturally to Nadia.” After the interview, Nadia sent thank you notes to the interviewers.

Nadia on Why She Chose CMRSU

The key aspects that influenced my decision to come to CMRSU included: the mission, early exposure to clinical medicine, and the integrative curriculum. 

CMSRU has a strong emphasis on serving the underrepresented community which resonated with me more than any other medical schools I visited. I strongly believe that medicine should not be limited based on factors such as gender, beliefs, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. For this reason, I was drawn to the idea of serving underrepresented communities. In my application, this thought was highlighted in my personal statement and in my volunteer work. The social mission of CMSRU strongly emphasizes the importance of medical students “giving back” to the urban community of Camden in both service and in medicine and is one of the main reasons why I chose to attend CMSRU.

CMRSU on Why They Chose Nadia 

Nadia’s story is impressive. From an objective viewpoint, Nadia’s history shows that she achieved academic success despite financial difficulties and limited resources. She is mature and honest, and her scientific and other academic competencies were easily determined through the academic record and MCAT subsection performance.

Nadia’s descriptions and narratives throughout the AMCAS application provided very valuable insight into her character and personality, especially about her capacity to connect her actions to the greater good. Nadia’s maturity and sense of personal accountability were immediately apparent; Nadia’s written responses indicated ownership of her experiences and reactions, confidence in her capacity to meet challenges, and subtle but important indications that she would respond to setbacks or challenges with the perspective needed to learn from trying situations. In her Secondary Application, Nadia said, “Cities and urban environments are often populated with underprivileged and low income families. In short, this was the type of community I was raised in and akin to as a Philadelphian. Living as a member of an underrepresented population, I observed many health issues in my community.”

The Mission Statement is: “Cooper Medical School of Rowan University is committed to providing humanistic education in the art and science of medicine within a scientific and scholarly community in which inclusivity, excellence in patient care, innovative teaching, research, and service to our community are valued, and our core values include a commitment to: diversity, personal mentorship, equity, professionalism, collaboration and mutual respect, civic responsibility, patient advocacy, and life-long learning.” Nadia did a wonderful job in her entire application showing a consistent story and one that resonated perfectly with our medical school. Her mission of service to others and the way she has organized her life’s priorities made her an ideal fit with the mission and values of our medical school. Her mission was our mission. We knew from her application that she would thrive at CMSRU."

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Competencies Demonstrated

Note: This section helps to illustrate how multiple competencies can be demonstrated across many experiences, activities, and parts of your application.

Service Orientation Service Orientation Service Orientation

Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.

Nadia’s social skills and oral communication skills were excellent even as a young undergraduate. She was very mature, extremely articulate, and a highly effective listener. These skills translated to success in the extracurricular endeavors she chose to engage in, activities which demonstrate her strong desire to be of service to others, whether it be through teaching, mentoring, or volunteering at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia or the VA Medical Center.

Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others

Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.

Evidence of Nadia’s adaptability and resilience can be seen in her status as a disadvantaged who faced adversity and persevered.

Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability Reliability and Dependability

Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.

Her capacity for improvement knew no bounds – she was always looking for constructive criticism and she would utilize the feedback to improve in measurable ways.

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

Nadia participated in multiple research opportunities while a student at the University of the Sciences, all of which contributed to the development of her critical thinking skills and her knowledge of the scientific process.

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Strongest Competencies

The student self-identified the following competencies as the strongest:

  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
  • Reliability and Dependability
  • Service Orientation
Nadia's Tips
  • “Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Looking back, I wish I’d shared more about the importance of the research I was involved in. Although research can be highly scientific, I believe relating the purpose and how society benefits from the research is important in having a balanced application.”
  • “Tell your story! Show your personality through your writing. Share your experiences and what they have taught you because our stories make us unique.”
  • “Manage your time wisely! Being somewhat of a procrastinator, I submitted my application later than I planned. I wanted to submit my primary application as soon as I received my MCAT score. However, I found myself struggling with finishing and submitting my application during the ‘golden hour.’”
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