Finding Meaning in Mentorship & Service: Jarrett Jackson’s Path to Medical School

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"Don't underestimate the importance of building connections and developing a sustainable network. Sometimes all it takes is one advocate in your corner to get you that secondary, interview, or even an acceptance! Always put your best foot forward!"

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Jarrett Jackson

Med School: Howard University College of Medicine (HUCM)
Expected Graduation Year: 2022
College & Major: Howard University, Major in Biology, Minor in Chemistry, magna cum laude, 2017

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  • A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Jarrett’s desire to pursue a career in medicine began during his childhood.
  • A mentor and HUCM alum, Dr. Neal Beckford, whom Jarrett met while shadowing his practice during high school encouraged his pursuit of medical school.
  • As an undergraduate student, Jarrett intentionally sought out volunteer and research opportunities and participating in multiple development and research-focused programs including SHPEP, the Health Careers Opportunity Program, the AMGEN Scholars program, and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, among others.
  • Jarrett embarked on a glide year after graduating magna cum laude from Howard University in 2017. During that time, he worked on NIH-funded research which he has continued during medical school.


Jarrett Jackson’s pursuit of changing the world through medicine began long before he stepped foot onto Howard’s campus. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Jarrett grew up knowing he wanted to be a doctor, saying, “I’ve always had an interest in pursuing medicine. It was the first career choice of mine as a kid, even though I didn’t know the full extent of what it entailed.” Jarrett would begin building knowledge about the field by seeking out opportunities to shadow doctors, a practice that he credits with consistently nurturing his interest in the profession. Shadowing multiple doctors also taught Jarrett the value of identifying mentors continually along on his pathway to medical school.

In 2013, Jarrett Jackson entered Howard University, the internationally renowned, Historically Black university in the Nation’s capital, with goals of preparing for pursuing a career in medicine. He excelled in his coursework as a Biology major and Chemistry minor and gained skills in and outside of the classroom as a researcher, peer mentor, tutor, and student leader. He was able to transition from a premed at Howard to a medical student in fall 2018 after taking a glide/gap year. Now as a third-year medical student, he reflects on his journey and how he prepared for where he is today., “While at Howard, I was involved in many extracurricular activities and research programs,” he shared. “I did my best to compile a comprehensive and well-rounded application that addressed medically relevant activities that were important to me.”

When Jarrett was ready to focus on the medical school application process, he and his advisor had several conversations about his career interests in medicine and his passion for giving back to the community. Jarrett knew that an important first step, to better prepare for later stages of the process would be to self-assess his academic performance. “I had 2 or 3 C’s on my transcript, but I used those grades as an opportunity to talk about setbacks and the ways I overcame obstacles to still finish my undergraduate coursework with a strong, competitive GPA,” he said.

Ultimately, Jarrett’s academic record reflected that he was indeed ready for the rigors of medical school, as noted by Celia Williams-Fowlkes, Director of Admissions at Howard University, “Jarrett applied with a 3.62 BCPM (GPA comprised of Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math coursework), which is above the College of Medicine’s 3.30 BCPM average GPA 5-year-trend for matriculants to our program. The Admissions Committee had no concerns about his ability to handle the curriculum since those courses are the foundation on which our curriculum was built.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Jarrett J., Core Competencies
Jarrett posing on Howard University College of Medicine's campus.


When he was a high school student, Jarrett met with Dr. Neal Beckford, a long-time friend of his grandfather and graduate of Howard University’s College of Medicine. After listening to Jarrett’s goals, Dr. Beckford offered him his first physician-shadowing opportunity. According to Jarrett, “He allowed me to shadow him from when I was a high school student all the way through college. Whenever I was home for break, I would make sure to stop by his office and shadow, even if only for a few days. He is the reason I want to pursue a career in Otolaryngology.” Jarrett credits this experience with teaching him the importance of the patient-physician relationship, noting Dr. Beckford’s inspiring “bedside manner”, saying. “he was able to effectively communicate and reassure them, while simultaneously providing them with important medical information,” he said.  

As an undergraduate, Jarrett had the benefit of a variety of mentors ranging from older students to faculty and staff. He participated in volunteer opportunities that engaged and supported other students and the community outside of campus. His pre-health advisor and mentor, Julie Andrist, Director, Center for Preprofessional Education, Howard University recalled, “Through[out] his undergraduate career at Howard University, Jarrett demonstrated a dedication to give back while challenging himself with a demanding course load. He has been able to hold himself to a standard of excellence and achieve at high levels, not only for himself but for others as well."

Ms. Andrist notes, as a biology and chemistry tutor and peer mentor in the Pre-Professional Office for two years, “Jarrett knew how to build sincere relationships with other faculty mentors and pre-health peers. He was eager to help others…I was always able to count on Jarrett to help his pre-health peers when they needed it. He even helped me to plan a special seminar: ‘Men in Medicine and Science,’ and recruited many of his peers to attend.”

He also frequently contributed to the Health Professions Society/MAPS’s executive board by planning and implementing events for pre-med students such as information sessions with visiting medical school admissions officers and application preparation/tips events.

Jarrett recalls the “inspiration and guidance” of Dr. Clarence Lee, then-Chair of the Biology department, in shaping his road to medical school. “He was vital in establishing various pipeline and research programs at Howard that I participated in frequently,” he said. Jarrett would eventually join Dr. Mark Burke’s lab after participating in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, which was ran by Dr. Lee, and work on a project that examined blood-brain-barrier permeability in HIV-infected primates during his sophomore year.

Prior to beginning his freshman year at Howard, Jarrett became involved with the Howard University Pre-Freshman Health Careers Opportunity Program. This six-week summer program provided Jarrett with a foundation in relevant coursework such as biology, chemistry, and calculus, and exposed him to the field through medical enrichment events. The program was suggested to him based on his high school performance and interest in Biology, and he found it to be a great introduction to life as a college student as it gave him academic momentum going into the school year.

Between his freshman and sophomore years in 2014, Jarrett participated in the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), at Yale University. He learned about SHPEP from an upperclassman alumna of the program. Looking back on his experience, Jarrett highly recommended the program, as he gained connections and close friends that he remains in contact with.

Jarrett participated in multiple different programs and volunteer activities on his path to medical school:

All the research experiences Jarrett participated in at the NIH stemmed from his initial lab. As he gained experience, program directors entrusted him with more responsibly and his involvement with multiple aspects of the lab's research goals expanded.

Jarrett also participated in two international scholarship and volunteer activities during his undergraduate years, hearing about both programs from school newsletters and word of mouth. First, he shadowed physicians during a 5-week internship period with the Atlantis project in Spain. Then,  he explored his roots and ancestry, traveling to Ghana as a participant of the Young AfricanA Leadership Initiative.

After graduating in 2017, Jarrett applied for a year-long Intramural Research Training Award, allowing him to conduct biomedical research at the NIH during his gap/glide year. His research focused on the expression of various genes in both airways and blood vessel walls, and how those genes are regulated and play a role in disease processes like asthma and sickle cell anemia.  “I had been involved with the NIH for summer programs in years prior,” he said. “My Principal Investigator recommended this program to me. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to grow in medicine and as a person. I thoroughly enjoyed my time [in this program]. I thoroughly recommend the Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research website as a great place to start [looking] for NIH internships and summer programs!” 

Personal Comments Essay

In his essay, Jarrett highlighted his early exposure, starting with the initial interest he developed during childhood and how his support system and network of mentors helped guide him towards his goals. “The level of significant mentorship I received was instrumental in my development, and a big reason why I continue to focus on providing mentorship now, as a medical student,” he said. That same support system assisted him through the writing process; primarily receiving feedback from his mother and a mentor who was a medical student.

Ms. Williams-Fowlkes, the Director of Admissions reflected about the resilience described, “in [Jarrett’s] personal statement. [He] discussed attending a private, all-boys high school and how his peers immediately assumed that because he was African American he was recruited to play sports or fulfill a quota, rather than for his academic strength. That assumption upset him, but rather than stewing in his disappointment, it gave him the drive to change their assumptions of his worth. Not only, was Jarrett able to change their minds, but he was elected Class President his senior year and left his high school with lasting relationships with friends from all races and cultures.”

Anatomy of an Applicant, Jarrett J, Core Competencies
Jarrett smiles for the camera in his white coat.

Letters of Evaluation

Jarrett’s selected writers he felt would be best able to speak to his strengths and personal characteristics in a wide range of settings. He stated, “It was important to me to have a diverse cohort of individuals. I chose my biochemistry teacher, my research lab PI at the NIH, and the chair of our Biology department as my three letter writers. They all knew me pretty well, but I made sure to provide them with my resume and CV as a resource.”


By the time of his interview, Jarrett felt confident with his comprehensive application. Despite a few imperfections on his transcript, his reflection and preparation equipped him to speak about anything discussed. 

To prepare, Jarrett researched commonly asked questions in medical school interviews and practiced comprehensive, well-thought out answers. He also reviewed his application knowing “anything on your application is fair game, so you should be prepared to talk about any and everything you’ve included.”

Jarrett identified his main interview strength as being well-prepared, however, he recalled a lesson learned in the interview process. “Different programs have different nuances regarding the interview day that would have been helpful to know beforehand. Also, some programs participate in Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) which are different than traditional interviews. Do your research beforehand,” he cautions. Further, he added, “it's important to practice with a friend or family member. By practicing answering questions, you’ll become more comfortable and it will feel more natural on the actual day. Also, come prepared with specific questions tailored to the school where you’re interviewing. Always have at least one or two questions ready.” (For more tips on how to prepare for medical school interviews, check out this AAMC article.)

Jarrett’s admissions officer recalls a lasting impression he left during the interview. She shared, “I learned that Howard University College of Medicine was also being interviewed that day in November. Jarrett exuded confidence and maturity. He was looking for a school that would challenge him, allow him to continue giving back to the community, and teach him to be culturally competent. It was important to him that his school of choice had a consistent history of producing top-notch physicians, a solid residency-matching history, and valued collaboration among their students and colleagues.”

Jarrett on Why He Chose Howard University College of Medicine

Choosing to matriculate to Howard University COM was a “natural choice”, Jarrett shared. “Because I went to Howard for undergrad, I was inherently familiar with its medical school. Since my sophomore year I had been conducting HIV research in the Department of Physiology under Dr. Mark Burke, who had been recommended to me by upperclassmen. As a result, I was both familiar and comfortable with the medical school. Howard gave me my first interview and acceptance, and they showed a genuine interest in me early on that I appreciated. The opportunity to learn and train at an institution with so much historical significance and relevance currently, represented a remarkable opportunity for me to further my medical education and career goals,” he said.

Howard University College of Medicine’s clear commitment to the underserved and disadvantaged communities was key for Jarrett. Howard University Hospital serves some of the most disadvantaged patients in the District of Columbia, and about 70% of HUCM’s student body is comprised of ethnic minorities who are underrepresented in medicine in the U.S. Jarrett also mentioned the important resource of the school’s 4,000+ alumni network of Black physicians practicing in the country today.

Howard University College of Medicine on Why They Chose Jarrett

According to Ms. Williams-Fowlkes, Director of Admissions, Jarrett was an ideal candidate with high academic credentials, great experiences, service to his community and excellent letters of evaluation. He also met the mission of the school’s diversity policy. She stated, “HUCM’s diversity policy is to increase the number of African American males in our program and the medical career. With an applicant pool of over 9000 applicants to fill 120 seats, it could be easy for applicants to get buried in our piles of applications. But Jarrett did what our most competitive applicants do to ensure his application was noticed: he submitted his application early to better his chances of his file being reviewed at the beginning of the cycle and to secure an interview with his schools of choice.”

Ms. Williams-Fowlkes considered Jarrett an ideal candidate but stressed that this does not indicate that the school looks for perfection in its applicants. She added, “I often say we are not always looking for applicants with straight A’s or a 528 on the MCAT. We are looking for intelligent, well-rounded applicants who meet our mission and students who can grow and be molded into a highly competent, caring physicians with leadership skills. We look for hints of these qualities in our applicants, all of which we saw clearly in Jarrett’s application.”

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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.

History of service domestically and abroad

Social Skills Social Skills Social Skills

Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.

Intentionally developed strong relationships with peers, faculty, staff, and mentors in the medical field, while also mentoring and supporting others in their journey. SHPEP.  

Cultural Competence Cultural Competence Cultural Competence

Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

Strong focus on supporting underserved communities, attends an HBCU with a med school and hospital that has a strong history and focus on supporting the quality of life of people of color, and low-income residents of the community. SHPEP.  

Teamwork Teamwork Teamwork

Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.

History of extracurricular involvement, served as a peer tutor, formed positive relationships during summer internships and enrichment opportunities

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.

Lessons learned from shadowing, involvement in service activities

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.

Extracurricular involvement, service, peer mentor and tutor

Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability Resilience and Adaptability

Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.

Personal statement, explaining how he was able to learn lessons from the course experiences that led to minimal blemishes in his courses


Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement Capacity for Improvement

Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.

Re-took MCAT and re-tooled his study approach to ultimately secure his best score on the exam

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking Critical Thinking

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

Coursework, letters of evaluation

Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning

Applies quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world.

Coursework, research experience

Scientific Inquiry Scientific Inquiry Scientific Inquiry

Applies knowledge of the scientific process to integrate and synthesize information, solve problems and formulate research questions and hypotheses; is facile in the language of the sciences and uses it to participate in the discourse of science and explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.

Coursework, SHPEP, research experience

Living Systems Living Systems Living Systems

Applies knowledge and skill in the natural sciences to solve problems related to molecular and macro systems including biomolecules, molecules, cells, and organs.

Coursework, SHPEP, research experience, NIH internships


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Strongest Competencies

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

  • Critical Thinking
  • Social Skills
  • Teamwork
Jarrett's Tips
  • Identify mentors early on by seeking out people who are where you eventually want to be in your career. That should be on every level, including doctors, med students, and older undergraduate students who are also pre-med. They all have important information and advice to offer.
  • Document of all your activities and experiences in a journal from your first year to the present. It may sound simple, but it will save you so much time when it’s time to put in all your activities while applying to medical school.
  • Be yourself! A lot of people try to portray an idea of what they think programs expect but being original and confident is what makes you unique. You will stand out more than anything! Good luck!
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Core Competencies For Entering Medical Students

Successful medical school applicants are able to demonstrate skills, knowledge, and abilities in these 15 areas. 

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