What Medical Schools are Looking for: Understanding the 15 Core Competencies

New section

Many medical schools use holistic review and to help define holistic review further, they use 15 Core Competencies as a tool to evaluate your application.

New section

New section

 When you think about how medical schools will evaluate your application, it can seem like a mystery. What will an admissions committee look at first? How are experiences that are not related to health care viewed or evaluated? How do you explain a personal circumstance that may have led to poor grades during an academic semester and how will medical schools interpret that information?

While each medical school has their own process for reviewing candidates, many evaluate applicants using holistic review: a flexible, individualized way for admission committees to consider an applicant, with balanced consideration given to experiences, attributes, and academic metrics. To better articulate what they’re looking for, several medical schools have worked together to create the 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students. This doesn’t mean that you have to do 15 new things to get accepted to medical school. Rather, the competencies provide a framework to consider and communicate how your work, activities, and life experiences can help you demonstrate your readiness for medical school. 

To better explain the competencies and show real examples, the AAMC created a new resource, Anatomy of an Applicant, which shares the pathways of real medical students, along with commentary from their pre-health advisors and the admissions officers who accepted them.

What are the competencies?

Successful medical school applicants are able to demonstrate skills, knowledge, and capabilities in these 15 defined competency areas:

Pre-Professional Competencies Thinking and Reasoning Competencies Science Competencies
  • Service Orientation
  • Social Skills
  • Cultural Competence
  • Teamwork
  • Oral Communication
  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others
  • Reliability and Dependability
  • Resilience and Adaptability
  • Capacity for Improvement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Scientific Inquiry
  • Written Communication
  • Living Systems
  • Human Behavior

How can I demonstrate the competencies?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with yet another thing to consider, don’t worry. The work and activities you are already involved with, and your life experiences, likely demonstrate these competencies. For example, you can demonstrate the scientific inquiry competency by excelling in scientific research, or illustrate a service orientation competency by leading a service trip. And as you’ll see in the Anatomy of An Applicant student profiles, one experience can illustrate proficiency across multiple competencies. For example:

  • Daryl Fields demonstrated Reliability and Dependability by working as a firefighter and EMT in college. His experiences as a firefighter also demonstrate Ethical Responsibility and Resilience and Adaptability.
  • With her cystic fibrosis research, Laura Florez, MD, demonstrated the Scientific Inquiry competency, but the skills she developed from working in a lab with her research also demonstrated Critical Thinking and Teamwork.
  • Patrick Molina had multiple Cs and Ds on his transcript, but in his personal statement, which demonstrated the Written Communication competency, he explained the impact of being raised by a single mother and dealing with his brother’s health problems. Despite his grades, the admissions committee was impressed with his service and research experience and realized that he had developed a great deal of empathy from these experiences. He fulfilled the Capacity for Improvement competency by showing academic improvement.

Check out the Anatomy of an Applicant resource to see more real-life examples of how competencies can be demonstrated on an application. The resource includes the competency definitions, parts of an application and what they tell schools about you, and self-assessment worksheets. It also includes personal stories and photos from real medical students about their pathway to medical school and their self-identified strongest competencies, along with feedback from their pre-health advisors and medical school admission officers.

New section