From the Horse’s Mouth: Q&A with Medical School Admissions Officers

What would you ask a dean of admissions if you had the chance?  A group of medical school admissions officers were gathered by the UC Davis Pre-Medical National Conference in 2014 where they were given students’ questions.  We were there to capture their takes on medical school admissions. Though the video itself is long (admissions officers spent an inordinate amount of time talking about why their programs are special), we thought you might enjoy the highlights from what they said and what it means for your application

Go Big or Go Home

When asked what experiences a good applicant should have, the admissions officers were hesitant to give a concrete answer.  They emphasized passion and commitment to whatever activities an applicant chooses to take on.  There is no perfect formula for what a student has to do in order to get into medical school.

Clinical Experience Required, Research Just Recommended

Schools don’t really care whether you have extensive research experience, unless you are going into an M.D./Ph.D. program.  They do care whether you have been around patients or served your community.  When asked whether schools preferred research or clinical experience, most of the represented schools stated that they had no preference or had a preference for clinical experience and community outreach.  Of note, clinical and translational research were valued as much as bench research.  For schools like UCLA and Tufts, they do expect that you will participate in research once you are in medical school.

“Fire in the Belly” for medicine

One phrase that was used over and over again was, “fire in the belly.”  Schools are looking for applicants with a passion for medicine.  This includes applicants who had a bumpy road but were resilient.  They are trying to figure out who has really considered a life in medicine and how they have shown it.  All of the representatives said that everyone has a story, and they want to hear yours.

The Reapplicant: Try Again (but only apply twice)

If you are a reapplicant, schools are looking to see if you substantially improved part of your application.  Do some soul searching and find out what went wrong.  Not sure what to improve?  Reach out to the schools.  Apparently, these deans have no problem with applicants who don’t get in the first time calling and asking what they can do to improve for the following cycle.  “You should be reaching out to us.  Many students don’t realize that,” said Dr. Adam Aponte, Assistant Dean of Hofstra.  He wants you to think of them as an extension of your pre-health office. UCLA’s representative did note that they usually do not consider third-time applicants.

Will a Master’s Degree Help My Chances?  Not much.

Many students asked if getting a Masters helped their chances of getting in.  The admissions officers responded that if you did not do well in your undergrad and get an MPH or general Masters, it will not really help your chances of getting accepted.  However, getting a special masters or pre-medical post-bacc might help because students can demonstrate academic ability in very specific areas if there were a few issues in the undergraduate years.  The schools’ views were that getting a high GPA in a general master's program is pretty common. According to UCLA and Tufts’ representatives, don’t get a masters just to rack up another degree and to look better on paper.  However, if you have experience with and a passion for public health and policy, and an MPH is an extension of that passion, go for it.  

Your Personal Statement is not a Resume

The officers stated that applicants who over-explain activities in the personal statement are doing it wrong.  The description of the activity should go in the Work and Activities section, and the personal statement should be a reflection of what was important.  They can’t stand reading personal statements that show how knowledgeable students are about healthcare but don’t include any personal experiences.  It is not a research paper.  They also do not want a laundry list of everything you have ever attempted.  Representatives said that they only want to see the things you are passionate about, even the non-medical things you’ve done.

Don’t Lie in your Personal Statement

A good personal statement shows who you are, what you are about, why you want to go into medicine, and where you are going.  If you had an “a ha” moment, include it in your personal statement.  All of your stories should truly resonate with you.  Representatives did caution students not to over embellish because it comes out in the interview process.

Nice Guys Finish First

Medical schools are looking for people who are “nice,” according to Tufts.  The nice people they refer to have passion, care, are helpful, and will take action in and out of the school.  They want someone who is going to listen to patients and peers, so they are looking for applicants with great interpersonal skills who understand other people.  Patients don’t care what their doctor got on their board score, but they do care if their provider is personable, passionate, and bright.  Ultimately, medical schools are looking for students who others like spending time with, who enjoy the things that they do, and who have a balanced life.  Your job as an applicant is to show yourself interacting with others in multiple roles.

Says Who?

The following schools participated:

  • Adam Aponte, M.D., M.S.c., F.A.A.P., Assistant Dean, Diversity and Inclusion, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ - School of Medicine;

  • Cynthia Boyd, M.D., M.B.A., Assistant Dean, Admissions and Recruitment, Rush Medical College, Rush University;

  • Mekbib Gemeda, M.A., Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Eastern Virginia Medical School;

  • Theodore Hall, M.D., Interim Associate Dean for Admissions, David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles;

  • David Neumeyer, M.D., Dean of Admissions, Tufts University - School of Medicine;

  • Aaron Saguil, M.D., M.P.H., LTC, Assistant Dean, Recruitment and Admissions, F. Edward Hérbert School of Medicine - Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Watch For Yourself

Saturday October 11, 2014

12th Annual UC Davis Pre-Health & Pre-Medical National Conference

Copyrighted UC Davis Pre-Health Student Alliance 2014