What admission officers wish premeds knew before applying

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What exactly do medical schools look for in applications? We asked three admission officers what they want applicants to know before applying to medical school.

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It’s common to wonder what medical schools are looking for in an application and how you can make sure you’re prepared when you apply and interview. To help answer these questions, we asked three admission officers what they want applicants to know before applying so they can be successful. Their answers include being able to tell your story, having clinical experience, and making sure your goals are aligned with the school’s mission statement. Here’s what they shared.

“At the core of any patient encounter, there is a story. As physicians, we are primed to listen to stories, so a good story is key when a physician reads a medical school application or evaluates answers during the interview. Most medical school applicants have enough volunteer, work, shadowing, and research experiences to fill every space in their AMCAS application and prompt in their secondary applications. However, while many are very good at accumulating experiences, they are sometimes not so good at putting these experiences in context or effectively communicating them to interviewers and application reviewers. The applicant should be able to put all his or her experiences in the context of why they want to be a physician and describe their journey. Novelists, English professors, and screen writers call this this the ‘arc of the story.’ For example, the arc could be that a topic in class led to a research opportunity that led to a showing experience that then led to working with a group that is involved in that issue. This is different than the applicant that has a dozen unrelated experiences and is unable to connect them. In short, the applicant should be able to tell a good story that makes sense and engages the interviewer or reviewer rather than give a checklist of research, shadowing, and volunteering. Most applicants will not have a perfect story where everything falls into place, but that is OK. The most interesting stories have lots of twist and turns.”

-David D. Grier, MD, Associate Dean for Student Admissions, Wake Forest School of Medicine

“The professional opportunities for physicians are quite wide, and include options in research, administration, and industry. However, if you are considering applying to medical school, you should know that the curriculum prepares you to be a competent clinician. With that in mind, schools want you to bring some experience in the world of patient care. Your ability to speak first-hand of the impact of clinical volunteer work on your future career plans is a compelling aspect of the selection and admissions process. I feel that it makes sense to postpone applications until you have accumulated at least one year of clinical experiences.”

- Jorge A. Girotti, PhD, MHA, Associate Dean for Admissions and Special Curricular Programs, University of Illinois College of Medicine

“It is very important for medical school applicants to do their research before applying. Exploring a medical school’s mission statement is a great way to determine if your goals are in alignment. If a medical school’s mission is to serve disadvantaged populations, your application should show similar evidence of your interests. Your application should highlight the goals of the school and how your experiences will contribute to the overall mission.

By reviewing your application, an admissions committee should be able to identify your motivation for medicine as well as your motivation for applying to their medical school. One of the best ways an applicant can demonstrate fit is how you respond to secondary application questions. These critical mini-essays typically ask applicants how they identify with a school’s mission and how much an applicant understands the field of medicine. For example, a secondary question may ask what about your experience with caring for others. You can demonstrate caring in multiple ways: caring for a loved one, shadowing, working in hospice, or other experiences that allowed you to observe patient care whether it is formal or informal.

Another way to understand fit is to understand a medical school’s admissions criteria. If a medical school suggests applicants should have research experience, then applicants should show substantial evidence of working in a lab or research publications. Each medical school has their own unique admissions requirements that are tailored to their specific missions. Applicants should be diligent about examining this information before submitting an application.”

-Tanisha Price-Johnson, Executive Director, Admissions, University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson

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