Behind the Scenes with Deans

Admissions Tips for the University of Minnesota School of Medicine

Get an insider’s perspective on the admissions process as Ms. Dimple Patel talks about the admissions process at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Below is a synopsis of the conversation.

An Introduction to Dimple Patel

Dimple Patel, the associate dean for admissions at the University of Minnesota Medical School – Twin Cities Campus, has a career in higher education that spans over 20 years. Thirteen years ago, Patel was approached by the University of Colorado School of Medicine for a position in their office of admissions, which was a place that Patel had always wanted to live. The opportunity to work in a new aspect of higher education, one that Patel had not previously been a part of, was intriguing, and so Patel took the opportunity and moved west. Since then, Patel has found working in medical education to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling, despite not initially intending to pursue a career in admissions at a medical school.

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What Makes A Pre-Med Applicant Stand Out? 

There are a multitude of factors that can make a pre-medical applicant stand out to those reviewing their application. The selection process is not solely based on one individual’s decision, but rather a collective effort.

However, over the years, some traits have been consistently noticed by  Ms. Patel. They have found that applicants who demonstrate a deep understanding of the importance of serving others and have put in a significant amount of time and effort to familiarize themselves with the medical profession tend to stand out. This shows a genuine desire to be in service to others, which is a critical aspect of being a medical professional.

Another key factor that Ms. Patel has noticed is the level of reflection demonstrated by applicants on their strengths, challenges, and personal struggles. They appreciate when applicants can express the outcomes they have learned from these experiences and demonstrate how they have grown as a result. This showcases a unique quality that sets apart from those who simply describe their experiences and tasks.

Ms. Patel also highlights the importance of evidence of sociocultural humility and cultural awareness. When applicants are able to articulate how they have changed their behavior over time and reflect on their experiences in a way that demonstrates their cultural awareness, it makes a strong impression. This type of growth is an important factor that the admissions team takes into consideration when evaluating an applicant.

What Are Some Recent Changes to the Medical School Admissions Process?

Ms. Dimple Patel has been working in the medical school admissions process for over a decade now and has noticed some significant changes in the applicants and the admissions process itself. According to Ms. Patel, the applicant pool has become increasingly extraordinary, with applicants coming in with more and more experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.

Ms. Patel has also observed that the admissions process has shifted its focus from the amount of time an applicant has spent on a particular experience to what they have learned from that experience. She believes that this change is critical to creating access and opportunity for all applicants, including those who have been marginalized and don’t have as much access as others. The University of Minnesota, where Ms. Patel works, is trying to focus on the evidence of an applicant’s competencies and how their experiences have shaped their behavior.

The applicants are becoming more passionate about serving others, and Ms. Patel has noticed a growing population of individuals who want to address health disparities and work with communities that have less access. Applicants are writing about their desire to work with individuals and give to communities that are less privileged, and they want to do this in a culturally aware and sensitive manner. This passion for serving others is not limited to a particular field of medicine; applicants are expressing this desire to serve in any field they choose to specialize in.

Ms. Patel emphasizes that the admissions process should look beyond the time spent on a particular experience and focus more on what the applicant has learned from that experience. She believes that every applicant should have the ability to work with people who are different from them, regardless of their political beliefs, values, or backgrounds. The admissions process should give applicants the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue around differences, as this is what medical school education will be about as well.

In conclusion, the medical school admissions process has undergone significant changes, with applicants becoming more extraordinary and passionate about serving others. The admissions process has also shifted its focus from the amount of time spent on a particular experience to what the applicant has learned from that experience. The University of Minnesota is trying to create access and opportunity for all applicants and focus on their competencies and behavior change. The admissions process should prepare applicants to work with people who are different from them and engage in meaningful dialogue around differences.

What Makes the University of Minnesota School of Medicine Special?

The University of Minnesota School of Medicine has many unique features that set it apart from other medical schools. As a state institution, it is the only one of its kind in Minnesota and has two distinct campuses – one in the Twin Cities and one in Duluth. The Duluth campus has a long-standing mission of educating individuals from rural communities and individuals who are dedicated to serving those communities, primarily in primary care. Additionally, this campus has a mission of serving native and indigenous communities and educating individuals from these communities with the goal of having them serve those communities in the future.

One of the hallmarks of the Duluth campus is its commitment to its mission-specific work and the success it has had in training individuals from both rural and native communities. On the other hand, the Twin Cities Campus is the main campus and offers a wider range of opportunities for learners, ranging from working in urban underserved communities to serving rural communities across Minnesota.

Starting in the fall of 2023, the University of Minnesota School of Medicine will be introducing a new curriculum that will feature a unique program called pathways. This program will allow approximately 15% to 20% of the first 18 months of the four-year training program to be dedicated to learning content in one of five pathways. These pathways include: indigenous communities, urban underserved communities, LGBTQIA+ communities, rural communities, and immigrant refugee communities. Applicants to the school will have the opportunity to select the pathway they would like to be considered for and will follow their chosen pathway for the first 18 months of their training.

The new curriculum will also provide opportunities for students to learn about content from the other pathways and continue to learn about these communities in years three and four. Additionally, the curriculum will feature earlier clinical exposure, which will provide students with a more immersive experience.

The University of Minnesota School of Medicine also offers longitudinal integrated clerkships (LICs) that students can participate in during their third year. These LICs are designed to provide students with a continuity of care and mentorship experience by immersing them in one specific area, patient population, or hospital/clinic setting for a period of nine months. There are currently around six LICs available, including an urban underserved LIC and a rural LIC. These LICs are a continuation of the pathway program introduced in the first two years and provide students with an even deeper understanding of the communities they will serve.

As a state institution, the University of Minnesota School of Medicine has a strong commitment to the state of Minnesota, as evidenced by the fact that 70% of the workforce in the state has been trained at the school. This means that the school has a responsibility to the state and its citizens, which is fulfilled by the trainees who graduate from the program.

What is Your Biggest Piece of advice for Medical School Applicants?

The first piece of advice is for applicants to take time to think about what they want to put into their application and to be intentional about how they want to prepare. Ms. Patel suggests applicants look at the core competencies for entering medical students developed by the AAMC and to figure out if they have evidence of these competencies in their application.

Ms. Patel encourages applicants to go through each competency and see if they have evidence of that, and to write it up in their application in a manner that shows their readiness to apply. The average age of incoming medical students is 25, and Ms. Patel advises applicants to take a moment to think about if they want to go straight through or if they need some time to further develop themselves.

Ms. Patel also stresses the importance of seeking feedback throughout the application process, whether that be from a pre-health advisor, a faculty member, or a peer, and taking that feedback and incorporating it into their application preparation. The applicant does not have to incorporate every aspect of the feedback but should compare and contrast what different people are telling them.

Ms. Patel suggests applicants take advantage of opportunities offered at their institution, such as mock interviews and meetings with the pre-health advising committee. The applicant should think about the competencies in the context of the feedback they receive and ask different people to help them identify evidence of certain competencies in their life. With the combination of their own reflection and feedback from others, the applicant will start to develop a more holistic application. When reviewing applications, the focus is on deep reflection, changed behavior, and expression of learning outcomes, rather than just a tally of hours spent in service or research, MCAT scores, and GPA.

What additional Tips or Info Would You like to Share?

The admissions committee frequently discusses the concept of maturity during their evaluations of applicants. They consider whether the applicant displays a mature attitude and thoughts in regards to their experiences. It’s important for the committee and the applicant to reflect on where the individual began and how far they have come at the point of applying.

To demonstrate maturity, it’s crucial for applicants to show that they are open to learning, changing behavior and potentially re-evaluating long-held belief systems. This requires the ability to accept feedback and critically reflect on it, which requires practice. Being in an environment surrounded by individuals with differing viewpoints helps to foster growth as a critical thinker and strengthens one’s maturity.

The admissions committee desires applicants to have a growth mindset as they enter medical school. After all, there is no point in furthering one’s education if they believe they already know everything. It is important for applicants to approach medical school with an open mind, eager to receive help and support, and to grow from each educational experience.

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