June 10, 2019

A Guide to University of Utah School of Medicine’s (UUSOM) Secondary Essays

Imagine if a medical school ignored your MCAT and GPA when evaluating you and granting you an interview?

Imagine if a medical school ignored your MCAT and GPA when evaluating you and granting you an interview?

Well, that’s (basically) the protocol for admissions officers at the University of Utah School of Medicine (UUSOM). As long as candidates meet the threshold of a 3.0 GPA and a 500 MCAT (a.k.a. the VAST majority of applicants), the admissions officer “blindly” assess your other credentials without accounting for stats at all.  

For some, that’s an exciting proposition; for others, they might feel short-changed because of their high stats. Either way, it’s an interesting pre-med factoid and a novel way of analyzing applicants.

The University of Utah School of Medicine hosted group of counselors from the WAAHP conference (Western Association of Advisors for the Health Professions), and our team at The Savvy Pre-med was able to gather information on the school directly from the source. The Assistant Dean of Admissions, Benjamin Chan, MD gave an insightful presentation about how UUSOM evaluates candidates.

We’ve paraphrased the presentation (more or less) to share everything we discovered that’s most important to you as a prospective applicant.



This includes five areas:

  1. Community Service
  2. Leadership
  3. Research
  4. Physician Shadowing
  5. Patient Exposure

These are combined later with MCAT and GPA for candidates who pass the “blind” test, making a total of seven categories. The school is looking for candidates to be above average in at least five categories, hopefully covering all seven.


“We can fill an entire class with perfect MCAT and GPA,” the assistant dean said. With this in mind, he claimed that service and community investment are good differentiators between candidates.

He went as far as to say that service was the most important part of your application. Since “help others” is the most common answer given for “why medicine,” it’s crucial to have a track record to back that up.


According to the assistant dean, physicians are leaders of the healthcare team, leaders of hospitals, and leaders of the community. UUSOM wants to see the genesis of these skills in applicants. However, you can take a somewhat broad definition of leadership, such as one-on-one mentorship (the assistant dean used training co-workers at Olive Garden as an example).

Even as admissions consultants, we had never seen leadership encompass so many buzzwords at once as we did during this presentation: communication, influence, mentorship, ethics, decision-making, contribution, responsibility, motivation, support, vision, teamwork, and management.


The assistant dean said that UUSOM wants to see your skills in the scientific; the research must be hypothesis-based, but not necessarily in the sciences. Business, marketing, psychology, agriculture, art history--just a few of the disciplines mentioned in the presentation.

He advised students to think about their favorite professors and encouraged them to engage with them actively, both for projects and letters of recommendation.


According to the assistant dean, there’s an image of what being a doctor is like, but the reality is much different than popular conceptions.

Have you tested your inclination until it has become a true commitment? Felt the disappointment of patients’ noncompliance? Witnessed the loads of paperwork and bureaucracy that doctors face on a regular basis?

Shadowing, among other clinical activities, is a great way to show you know what you’re getting into when entering this profession.


In a similar vein, before you go down this path, you should figure out: what does it feel like when someone throws up in front of you or on you? How does it make you feel when there's someone in the room who's dying?

Your clinical exposure will be most compelling if you faced terminal illness or trauma cases--happy endings are wonderful, but they don’t stretch your limits. If you seek out challenging roles or settings, your volunteering and paid clinical positions will speak volumes.



3850 Applications

125 Positions

90 Utah residents

10 Non-residents who graduated from Utah high school, college, or university

15 Non-residents

10 Idaho residents

NOTE FROM THE DEAN: “We want 125 students who can serve Utah and beyond; we’re interconnected here in the West.”


3 required, no more than 4.

1 academic

NOTE FROM THE DEAN: he’s seen glaring problems in letters of rec, such as having the wrong name/gender, using the words ‘law school’ instead of medical school, or being too brief and superficial. Three sentences long was the record.


NOTE FROM THE DEAN: he’s seen an uptick in gap years and finds experiences such as Teach for America “really impressive.”

How to Answer University of Utah School of Medicine’s (UUSOM) Secondary Essays

5 Reasons to Apply Here (from our past students):

Rural & Underserved Utah Training Experience (RUUTE)

UUSOM Core Educator Program

Office of Education Quality Improvement

School of Medicine Scholarly Activity

Pathways in Healthcare Program


Ever since the 2017-2018 cycle, UUSOM hasn’t had any secondary essays. Instead, it gives you the opportunity to explain any of your activities that fit into the five categories we explained earlier.

You get 300 characters of text to describe each activity entry. That’s going to be about two sentences, three at the max.

Although it may seem redundant, the secondary gives you an opportunity to talk about ALL your activities beyond the limit of the 15 activities of AMCAS. Some candidates have more than 15 but had to narrow it down. This list gives them a timeline of how you spent your time over the last four years and allows you to add specifics, if desired.

Knowing that the committee has access to both your primary and secondary, you should ADD to the existing activities, rather than just re-state them. Use the minimal space to quickly elaborate on the qualities the school details on the application (as well as the insights we shared from the assistant dean).

For example, for community service or volunteering, you’ll want to highlight the sacrifice, dedication, and above-and-beyond aspects of your efforts for others.

For leadership, make sure to communicate your accountability for others and their success/results as individuals or a team. Try to show your “trackable progress.”

For research experiences, you’ll want to explain the hypothesis-driven qualities of your project, as well as the incorporation of the scientific method.

For shadowing, you’ll want to emphasize the cases, situations, or conversations that tested your commitment and gave you challenging exposure to the field.

For patient exposure, it’s wise to mention the patients you encountered and helped who faced terminal illness, grave injury, and/or chronic incurable ailments. Remember to show you’re comfortable with the unglamorous aspects of care.

If you have an activity that falls into, let’s say, community service and leadership, it’s okay to “double-dip” and enter it into both. The application says that this is permitted, especially to make sure you aren't lacking in any area. Just make sure you don't overdo it.

In case you’re curious, here’s what the entries look like on the secondary application:


Community/Volunteer service is defined as involvement in a service activity without constraint or guarantee of reward or compensation. Work performed in service learning courses and community service performed as part of employment will not be considered.

Instructions: Enter your community/volunteer service for the past 4 years. List each of your services separately and include only the hours you have completed at the time you submit your secondary forms.

We recommend that you complete at least 36 total hours within the last 4 years. To be a competitive applicant, we recommend that you endeavor to complete at least 100 hours within the last 4 years.

One year is based on a calendar year that begins in January and ends in December. Only list activities completed between 2015 and 2018.

Service Activity:

Description (300 characters):

Start Year (2015-18):

End Year (2015-18):



Leadership is defined as a position of responsibility with a purpose to guide or direct others. Leadership capacity can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. Positions in employment, church, community and school organizations including coaching, tutoring and mentoring will satisfy this requirement.

If one activity applies to multiple years, only list the experience once. For example: if you were a teaching assistant from January, 2015 through May, 2018 you would select 2015 as the year and then enter the length of time as 29 months. If you began your experience prior to 2015, select 2015 as the year and only list the length of time completed between 2015 and 2018. Do not include time completed prior to 2015.

List only the length of time you have completed at the time you submit your secondary forms.

We recommend that you have at least 1 leadership experience lasting 3 months within the last 4 years. Competitive applicants will have 3 different leadership experiences each lasting 3 months within the last 4 years.

One year is based on a calendar year that begins in January and ends in December. Only list activities completed between 2015 and 2018.

Description (300 characters):


Duration (Number):

Duration Type (Days, Weeks, Months, Years):


Research is defined as involvement in a scholarly or scientific hypothesis investigation that is supervised by an individual with verifiable research credentials. Research may be in any discipline and performed at any site. However, it must involve the testing of a hypothesis.

We recommend that you participate in hypothesis-based research. This may be part of a class where you answered or tested a hypothesis and received a grade. Examples: A writing project, laboratory work, etc.

Applicants with a stronger research experience will have completed hypothesis-based research outside of the classroom that is supervised by an individual with verifiable research credentials. May include independent research or senior thesis. Clearly state the hypothesis of the research and your role in testing it.

Clearly state the hypothesis of the research and your role in testing it.

Course Based? (Yes/No):

Course Title (or N/A):

Hypothesis (300 characters):



Published? (Yes/No/Poster/Journal)


Physician shadowing is defined as the observation of a physician as they care for and treat patients while handling the other responsibilities of a medical practice.

Physician shadowing must be completed with an allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) physician in the United States. Time spent shadowing medical students, interns, residents, fellows, physician assistants, podiatrists, veterinarians, nurses, EMT's, Ph.D's, etc. will not be considered.

It is our recommendation that applicants shadow several physicians who work in various specialties including primary care. Shadowing family members who are physicians is discouraged.

List only the hours you have completed at the time you submit your secondary forms.

We recommend that you shadow a physician for at least 8 hours. Competitive applicants will have shadowed a variety of physicians for at least 24 hours.

Physician Name:





Patient exposure is defined as direct interaction with patients and hands-on involvement in the care of conscious people in a health care related environment, attending to their health maintenance, progression or end of life needs. It is important that the applicant be comfortable working with and around people who are ill, sick, injured or diseased.

Direct patient exposure can be gained in a variety of ways. e.g. volunteering or working in hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics or nursing care facilities, hospice or physical rehabilitation centers. Patient contact does not include indirect patient care such as housekeeping (cleaning operating or patient rooms), staffing the hospital information desk or working in a pharmacy.

List only the hours you have completed at the time you submit your secondary forms.

We recommend that you complete at least 32 hours of direct patient care. Competitive applicants will have completed at least 48 hours.

Description (300 characters):


Was this guide helpful? Still have questions about Utah’s secondaries? What school-specific secondary guides should we make next?

Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond personally to your message!

Best of luck with the upcoming storm of secondary essays. Keep calm and carry on.

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