A few weeks ago we posted a podcast episode, Episode 006 of the Surviving Medicine Podcast, giving all of the advice and tips we use for clients who want to get into medical school! We finally got around to transcribing the entire episode and putting the information down on paper!
The information in this post is pertinent to any of you who want to go into medicine including those who may be navigating the application cycle currently!
In this post, I am going to cover just two of the key topics we covered in the podcast; ways to stand out from the other 50 thousand applicants and what we like to call the “Important Six”.
Before we begin, everyone has their own opinions, but if you truly listen and follow what we have to say, you will be successful in your pursuit to applying. I want to start by talking about what we at School Acceptance call the “important six”.
Our team came up with these over years of helping students with different backgrounds and with different strengths and weaknesses. First I am going to list them, then I will go through them and explain why they are important and how to use them to your advantage.
The Important Six
They are the MCAT and your GPA, your shadowing experiences, your research experiences, your volunteering experience, your leadership experience, and my personal favorite, what sets you apart from everyone else.
1 — MCAT and GPA
Your MCAT and GPA is what I call the guard at the edge of the bridge.
When you apply to medical school the admissions committee will want to ask one question first — are you academically capable of completing their curriculum?
This is the first question they ask. To answer it, they will only look at your GPA and Transcripts and your MCAT. If they honestly do not think that you can handle their curriculum, then often times they will not look at the rest of your application. It is that important and that simple.
I tell every student I work with — Make sure you have the best GPA possible and make sure you do well on the MCAT. I know it is hard to focus and study and I know your friends are having more fun, but I guarantee when you are not studying, someone else out there is. They are taking the time to better understand the test and they are going to be better prepared when it comes to actually taking the test.
This is also where you can use statistics to your advantage — everyone applying needs to go to AAMC’s Statistics page and you need to look up the grid that shows the percentage of applicants that are accepted with a specific GPA and MCAT.
If you take the MCAT and do not do as well as you want, then you need to retake it and you need to find out why you did not do as well as you thought. My advice for how to study for the MCAT is a whole other topic that I will save for the future.
As for your GPA, if you plan on applying but you know your GPA is low, then you need to consider a Post-Bacc or a Master’s. I know you may not want to wait longer to apply, but sometimes waiting until you are ready is valuable in the eyes of an admissions committee. I know everyone wants to know which option is the right choice — this topic is one I repeatedly help students with, but there isn’t any blanket answer. There is no right answer. It really depends where you are at in the application process, what the rest of your application looks like, and what your transcript looks like.
2 — Shadowing
While most students know what shadowing is, I want to redefine it for any younger students out there who may not know. Shadowing is when you, as a college student, shadow a physician on one of their shifts. You will be with them and you will get to see what it is like first hand. Some students find a doctor and end up shadowing them multiple times over an entire year and other students shadow several physicians each just once.
My recommendation is that you shadow a few different physicians in at least 2 + specialities. A common mistake is that students who want to be surgeons will only shadow surgeons, but then in a medical school interview the interviewer may ask, so if you do not make it into a surgical residency, would you be ok with being a primary care physician? I know that sounds extreme, but I had a student once who had that experience. I tell everyone now to make sure you shadow physicians from different specialties so you have a well-rounded picture of what it is like to be a doctor. Next I always tell students to make sure you shadow each physician more than once. Try to shadow them multiple times, if possible, so that they then can potentially write you a letter of recommendation, if you established that type of relationship at the beginning.
3 — Research
While I know this is not necessary, and I know that it is not required, if you have the opportunity, it will help your chances with many of the schools. One caveat I like to note is that if you do do research, make sure you can intellectually talk about your project and explain what you worked on and how you contributed. If you were a coauthor on a paper, make sure you can articulate what the paper was about and what the key results were. I have heard several schools will actually pick your interviewers based on your past activities and experiences. I know some who have had interviews with expert researchers in the field they did a project on.
While not everyone needs publications, if you have the opportunity to do a poster or write a paper, it really does help!
4 — Volunteering
The next thing I think everyone needs to have on their application is volunteer experience! Now this doesn’t all have to come from volunteer hours in the hospital, but it should be volunteer hours in your community.
Medical schools like to see that students want to help out their community and they want to give back. If you have the chance to volunteer at the hospital, this can help show that you are already engaged in the healthcare system and you understand what it is like to work with patients and/or faculty and staff at the hospital.
One thing I want to note about shadowing, research, and volunteering is that schools do not care about these things until after they look at your GPA and MCAT. If your GPA and MCAT suffer because you shadow and volunteer all the time, they will end up not looking at your experiences because they will not think you can handle their curriculum.
5 — Leadership
Next a lot of medical schools are now looking at Leadership experience in an applicant. While this may not seem relevant, the reality is, while we are professional students in medical school, the second we finish school, we will be the boss and managers in the hospital. Being a good doctor in the future, is just as much knowing how to manage and lead a healthcare team as it is knowing what disease process your patient has clinically. Schools have started looking and asking about leadership experience in interviews to make sure applicants are ready to handle the leadership demands of being a physician.
For most high school students — leadership experience may be as simple as being an officer in a club at school. You do not need to be involved in a large number of clubs on campus, but the few that you are involved in, you should be active and engaged and ready to talk about. Holding a high leadership position in these clubs will help.
6 — Know what makes you “YOU”
The most important thing I like to tell every student is to really find out what sets you apart! You may have good grades, you may have been involved in the premed club, but chances are, there are other applicants that are just like you. Schools want a diverse student population. I have seen students who have been the captain of their football team, or students who have been nationally ranked chess masters, or students who spent their summers working at a hospital doing clinical research.
It doesn’t matter what clubs you are involved in, or what sports you play, or what activities you do, what matters is that you do what you love, you learn to balance it with your school work, and you can passionately write about it and talk about it in your personal statement and in an interview. I am not saying you need to be any of those things, but you need to know what sets you apart and know why you will be a great physician.
So to recap — the thing I think every student who is a freshman-junior in college should work on is making sure they have fulfilled all of these important parts of the application. Make sure your GPA and MCAT are competitive. Make sure you have shadowing experience. Make sure you have some type of research experience. Make sure you have some volunteer and leadership experience. And make sure you know what makes you different and what sets you apart.
These truly are the things that help to set applicants apart. And while I didn’t talk directly about the application itself — if you make sure you focus on fulfilling all of these before January of your Junior year, you will be ahead of most of the other applicants.
Alright, how was that so far? I feel like I threw a lot of information at you. But also feel like I still have a thousand tips and tricks I want to give you, but I do not want to overdo it in one post!
If you check out episode 006 on the podcast — you will get more of the inside details that we discuss about the application process.
If you can not already tell I really love talking about the premed process and helping college students! I wish I had someone who had navigated to process this much when I was in your shoes. I know it is a lot of work, but you can do it. I believe you can do it, if you are just willing to focus and dedicate yourself.
Medicine is not easy. Medical school is and was the hardest part of my education to date. I know the premed process is hard, but just remember that you will get through it. You will make it to the other side, and you will succeed if you stay ahead of the process, if you stay committed to yourself, and if you are willing to sacrifice who you are now, for what you want to become.
As always, feel free to find us on social media and reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments.
With that — Thank you and remember — for all of you in the medical field, Medicine is about having a purpose that is bigger than any one individual.