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Advisor corner: The questions prehealth advisors wish their students would ask

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There is a lot that goes into the process of preparing for and applying to medical school. It is always valuable to ask for help when needed. But are you asking the right questions?

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From taking coursework to gaining experience, preparing for the MCAT® exam, crafting a personal statement, and interviewing, there is a lot that goes into applying to medical school. Whether you are applying this cycle or just deciding that you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine, it is important to ask questions throughout the process and ask for help. People such as a prehealth advisor, a mentor, or a faculty member can address many of your questions and alleviate concerns you may have to help you feel confident as you submit your application. But are you asking them the right questions?

We asked prehealth advisors what they wished their applicants would ask them about during the process of preparing for and applying to medical school. Read what they had to say!

 “How can I start helping people and having a major impact BEFORE medical school?”

I love working with premeds because they have great hearts, but they can sometimes miss opportunities by attempting to check things off a list with a focus on the future instead of the present. If a student asks about how they can best use their talents and interests, it can lead to a wonderful discussion on the social justice issues they care about the most, their life experiences, and their service interests.

Alicia Kehn, Prehealth Advisor, Eberly College of Science, Penn State University

“What can I do to make the most of my shadowing experience?”

Too many students shadow to just “check the box.” They don’t ask many questions and walk away with very little insight, and then are unable to express much about their experience during an interview. It’s important to not limit your shadowing experience to just what you observe. Ask questions at appropriate times. Treat each patient as a case study and try to understand the history and background of what you see. Why is the action that you are witnessing the best choice? Are there alternative choices? What is the expected outcome and is the patient expected to do anything specific to achieve it? Understanding what you see is far more important than just observing. Make sure you write notes about your experience and what you’ve learned so you don’t forget the details.

- Sarah A. Imam, MD, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences, The Citadel, Military College of the South

“How can I develop skills beyond what I need to get into medical school?”

Since they are focusing on getting in, students may not prepare themselves for being successful once they have matriculated. Some of the most powerful tools for premed students are self-assessment and self-reflection. I encourage students to use the AAMC Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students to think about how they are learning from each experience that can help them prepare to be successful in medical school and beyond. This kind of reflection can help prevent burnout, boost competence and confidence in your abilities, and establish the lifelong learner mentality necessary for becoming stellar physicians.
– Johnica J. Morrow, PhD, Prehealth Pathways Advisor, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

 “How can I find opportunities that allow me use my talents?” or “In what ways can I demonstrate to medical schools that I am really passionate about [xyz]?”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for being a competitive candidate for medical school, and the medical profession wants and needs diversity. All aspiring physicians need to be able to learn and use science, and all need to be able to relate to people in need. But the ways the students do that and the opportunities they pursue should reflect their own values and talents. To be able to enthusiastically pursue their interests and genuinely describe and discuss them for medical school admissions deans is what I hope my students will do.

– Carol Baffi-Dugan, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education and Director for Health Professions Advising, Tufts University

“What should I say in my application about my history with anorexia/depression/chronic illness?”

Advisors can help you devise a strategy in terms of if, when, and how to discuss sensitive personal issues during the application process. The more forthcoming a student is with an advisor, the more we may be able to advise and support.

– Jane Cary, Emerita Advisor, Williams College

"Is it okay if I apply after I graduate college?"
Absolutely YES. In fact, students have the opportunity to mature even more by exploring "the real world" from a new perspective — no longer a student and experiencing life on their own. Take the gift of time to further develop your interests and aspirations, medical and nonmedical. Get a job. Travel. Deepen your purpose to become a doctor. Then apply to medical school when you are your most competitive, insightful self. You will stand out even more. Take your time to be strategic, perceptive, and ready — without the rush.

 -- Pamela Meadows, MEd, Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine Urban Health Program
 

If you have not had the chance to meet with the prehealth advisor on your campus, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with them! If you don’t have a prehealth advisor, visit the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) Find an Advisor resource.

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