Behind the Scenes with Deans

Admissions Tips for A.T. Still University – School of Osteopathic Medicine

Get an insider’s perspective on the admissions process as Deanna Hughes talks about the admissions process at the AT Still University School of Medicine. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

An Introduction to Deanna Hughes, M.Ed.

My name is Deanna Hughes and I am the Director of Admissions for AT Still University. And so in addition to that, we have other programs at the school. So we have dental. PA. PT. DO.

So my background has always been in admissions. I got my very first job brought out of undergrad as an admissions counselor, student admissions counselor, my senior year in undergrad and they hired me straight out and I’ve been in admissions ever since. So you find your career, you find your love and admissions and that’s where you end up staying. And I found that I’ve been with AT Still for about ten years now, or almost eleven. And so this is my first Health Sciences university.

In the past, they’ve all been public or private universities, so this is my first health sciences, but it is my absolute favorite and I’m staying and I love it. And it’s a very rewarding career to be in medical admissions.

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What Makes A Pre-Med Applicant Stand Out? 

So for our admissions committee, we do a holistic review of the applicants and we look at everything from the GPA and the MCAT and the Clinical. We like to see that they have to DO experience and a DO letter recommendation, although it’s not required to have the DO letter recommendation. But most importantly, they look for a match to the mission of AT Still, and that is to serve the underserved. And they look for at least 100 to 200 hours of broad-based community service, and nonmedical volunteerism. So a lot of people do have that medical volunteerism, but if they have that broad-based community service where they’re serving their community, they’re getting out there and they’re serving in underserved communities, that’s really what the committee is looking for AT Still University.

That’s a huge part of what our committee wants, is a good match in addition to all of those other things.

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

So we are still virtual. So this is our third year going into virtual interviews and I’m not sure if we go back to in-person just because it really does open up the doors for a lot more people to interview with us that couldn’t afford to come out and stay the entire day. It was a pretty rigorous process when it was in person there were 60 applicants a day. And so now that we do it all virtually, it seems to be going well. So that’s a big change in the way we do the format of the interview.

But as far as changing that, I’ve seen in the last eleven years internally it’s just things like our CRM and our outreach and our recruitment and retention. We’ve tried to ramp those things up to be a standout school and to get the right candidates. We’ve started a lot more retention efforts in our recruitment. But we also have a Hometown Scholars program where the students can volunteer at a federally qualified community health center and get an endorsement from a physician there at the CHC. And if they get endorsed by that CHC physician.

They get an automatic interview, and then they have a good shot at coming back to their hometown. So it doesn’t mean hometown here, it means where they’re from hometown. They can go back to their hometown and serve there. So if they’re from one of the CHCs that we partner with, we have 16 across the nation. So say they’re from the Mount Orb, Ohio area or Cincinnati area, and they get a hometown endorsement.

They get a saved seat at that CHC, and then they get to go back to that CHD in year two. So really, we’re not a Mesa, Arizona med school. We’re a CHC med school. They only spend one year here in Mesa, Arizona. They spend three years at the community health center.

So we don’t like to refer to ourselves as an Arizona campus. You’re really going to be tied more to your community at the CHC.

What Makes the A.T. Still University – School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona Special?

So a little bit about that is the one plus three curricula, one year here at Mesa, Arizona, where you do your didactic training. A new thing we’ve also started this year is different than the curriculum. It’s a little bit more facilitated and less lecture.

So it’s facilitated by your faculty. In small groups, they will present with a symptom, for example, how a patient can present. There are many different ways a patient can present. It’s more peer learning and facilitated learning in your small groups. That’s your first year in soma years two, three, and four, you’re going to be sent to a medically underserved area which could be South Carolina.

It’s on the coast of South Carolina. It’s one of our most rural places in Mount Orb, Ohio. And then we have Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago and Cincinnati, Phoenix, San Diego, California. Border town. There are a lot of different phases that we partner with.

That is where you’re going to be sent in year two. You get training there by a regional director of medical education. So there’s a small classroom there. So your class size of 160. Your first year gets broken up into groups of ten.

In your second year, you go out with your peers of ten, and you’re there at the community health center for years two, three, and four. In year two, you’re still getting your basic sciences. You’re still being taught by a regional director of medical education in the classroom. But there’s a lot more online learning, a lot more virtual learning, virtual testing with the other sites. And then you also get to start seeing patients in year two.

So that’s very unique to the facility. If you want early clinical exposure, that’s what we offer. In year two, you’re already making rounds with the doctors at your CHC. That’s part of your curriculum in year two. And then years three and four, you’re doing full-on clinical rotations, some at the CHC and some at nearby partner hospitals where you’re going to do outpatient services. And surgery and dermatology and things like that.

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

I would say don’t rush it. We see a lot of students try to either get that associate degree or a bachelor’s degree and graduate by 20 years old so they can get into med school. And the committee really wants to see maturity. They want to see your thoughtfulness and your answers when you interview, even though you’re brilliant and 16 years old and you’re starting your undergrad, they want to see a gap year or two. They want to see you build your experiences in that gap year.

So it’s okay to not jump right into med school after undergrad. You really do need that extra year or two to either mature or study more, get additional clinical shadowing and community service. There are so many things you can do, and you don’t need to rush into med school right away.

Additional Tips and Information for Applicants

SOMA – it is very unique. You have to be a self-driven learner. So we’re getting out of the lecture part of it. We’re getting more into peer learning and facilitated learning. So if that’s not for you and it’s not for everybody, you really have to look at, can I be a self-directed learner?

Especially when you go off to that second year, there’s that feeling of abandonment. I’m leaving all these friends, I just made my first year, and now I’m going off to the Ph.D. What about everybody else? My teachers are still in Mesa and I’m sent off to Chicago or Seattle. So there’s still a connection.

There’s still support. There are a lot of these that are still counseling services and mentorship. There’s the big Sin program where you’re matched up with a student that’s in the year ahead of you and of course your faculty mentors. So there’s a lot of support, but it’s also an expensive school, so I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You have to move to Arizona for one year and then you have to move again.

And all of this is on the student and their student loans. So you have to move and move again. And then once you’re in your clinical rotation, some of them do require a little bit of travel. And so you have to think about those things as well. So it is not for everybody.

It is a very self-driven medical school for somebody who wants to be more not online, but the second year is a lot online. There are a lot of lectures online.

You would have to get used to that. Now, COVID really didn’t send us in a spin at all because we had a lot of this already online, so we didn’t have to make too many changes. In the Cogood class that started in 2020, they were able to come for med skills where they interacted with a standardized patient and practice their medical skills on their patients. And they also did their OMM training in person so I brought them to campus maybe once a week. But everything else was already recorded.

We had the recording capabilities so we didn’t have to make too many adjustments. And those students were well prepared to go off into year two and hit the ground running with their recorded lectures and everything. So board prep is all built into the curriculum. We had a matching placement in the last year’s class. They all matched 100% to the Residencies.

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