Behind the Scenes with Deans

Admissions Tips for the University of California Irvine School of Medicine

Get an insider’s perspective on the admissions process as Megan Boysen Osborn, MD, MHPE talks about the admissions process at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

An Introduction to Dr. Megan Boysen Osborn

Hi. I’m Megan Boysen Osborn. I am the associate dean for students at UC Irvine School of Medicine, which is in, coincidentally, Irvine, California. I am an emergency physician by training, so I went to medical school at UCI, and then I did my residency at UCI in emergency medicine.

I did a medical education fellowship at Stanford just after graduating from residency. And during that time, I also did a master’s in health professions education because I always knew that I wanted to be in medical education, and I wanted to be, at the time, a residency program director in charge of all the residents. So I did that track, and then I joined the faculty at UC Irvine in 2011, I was the associate program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine, and I became the program director in 2015. And then in 2019, I was invited to be the associate dean for students, so I couldn’t pass up that great opportunity, and so here I am.

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What Makes A Pre-Med Applicant Stand Out? 

So I think that there’s no one thing that makes the premed applicant stand out to me, certainly, a well-organized application is very pleasing to the eyes when I am screening for whether or not this application should get this applicant should get an interview or not. So we have our admissions committee screen applicants, and so I’m sure each of them has their own opinion on what makes someone stand out. But I think there’s the bare minimum, obviously, which there need to be academics at a certain spot. Certainly, we do a holistic review, but we also want to make sure that students are going to be able to handle the academic rigors of medical school. So there are some academic benchmarks that we would like to see them have made.

And in addition to that, there’s the clinical and research experience that we expect. So I certainly would expect that an applicant has had a good number of hours of clinical experience so that they know what they’re getting themselves into. And so I think that applicants should have at least 500 600 hours of clinical experience, if not more when they’re applying to medical school. We also expect that there is some research there as well. Doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, amazing research.

Just we want to see that they’re involved in a research project. You understand what goes into research because research is obviously much of the basis for our treatment decisions in medicine. So we want to know if the applicants understand that process as well. So those are kind of the bare minimum. And then on top of that, I love to see fun activities, and they could be anything.

Intercollegiate athletes are always something that I’m an athlete myself, and so I think that it’s pretty cool when someone’s done a four-year sport in college. So that stands out to me. Involvement in school activities, like involvement in the associate student body or being involved in residency, in orientation week, or someone who is a resident assistant or a leader in a club or someone who’s been really, really involved in a volunteer activity. So a lot of your volunteering is going to be medically related. But I think what really rounds out an applicant is someone who also has other experiences that aren’t just in medicine.

And then we definitely consider the road traveled. I know that there are a lot of applicants that have had to work during college or they come from a disadvantaged background and had a tough transition into college. And so we take all of that into account when we’re assessing your application and as to the activities and the clinical experience that you’ve done. We understand that maybe if finances were tough or something like that, you might not have quite as many activities as someone who didn’t have to worry about those things. So that’s something that we strongly consider as well in our whole review process.

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

Yeah. So one thing that was really important to me when I transitioned into this role was to perform a holistic review. And one of the goals being just to increase the diversity of our student population and make sure that our student population is representing our patient population, representing our students who are graduating from college, and that we just have a diverse student body in many aspects so that we can create as rich of a medical school experience for all of our students. So that was one thing that was really important to me as I transitioned in. And so that was something that is really important to us now as an admissions committee, is to perform a holistic review and consider not just GPA and MCAT.

Certainly, again, we want to see those academic benchmarks, but once you’ve kind of missed those academic benchmarks, then we want to see everything else. So we don’t compare. Someone got a 3.6 versus a 3.7. I don’t care. You can probably hack it if you got that in college or an MCAT of 511 versus 512.

Again, you’re going to do fine in medical school if you got a 511 on your MCAT. So we don’t split hairs there. We’re more interested in who that person is. What I mentioned in my last answer of things that we find important. And so as a result of this holistic review process, and as a result of a lot of the mission-based programs that we started, which I can talk about later at UC Irvine, we’ve seen a really tremendous I wouldn’t say change, but just tremendous strength in our student body, especially growing over the last few years.

I think that we’ve always had an amazing student body, but in the last few years, I’ve really been so proud of the students that we’ve admitted here into UCI.

What Makes the UC Irvine School of Medicine Special?

Yeah, our medical school’s best, so that’s what makes it stand out. So it’s just a great place to be. So I trained here. I loved training here. So I think that the one thing that’s really fun about UC Irvine.

So, number one is great. Obviously, it’s awesome to be in a top 50 medical school. Certainly helps you match into residency when you come from a top 50 medical school. So we’re excited about that. But I think the one thing that is really nice about UCI is we’re just this sounds maybe super cliche, but we’re just like a kind place.

When you’re in the hospital, people are nice to each other. There’s none of this. Like, I can’t talk to the attendant because I’m a medical student. I can’t talk to the chief resident because I’m a medical student. There’s none of that.

I think everyone is really collegial. Everyone wants to see our students succeed. We’re not out to like, weed students out. We’re out to make everyone succeed. When we have a student who doesn’t pass medical school, that’s like a huge failure on our part.

We don’t want to see that. That we feel like, what could we have done differently? How could we have supported the student better? And sometimes it’s just that someone changed their mind about medical school, but obviously, this is the exception rather than the rule, and so we want to see everyone succeed. So I’d say the supportive environment is really awesome.

At UC Irvine, we’re always willing to grow and change. We listen to student feedback. We meet with our student leaders regularly so that we can hear what’s going on in their classes, know what their pain points are, and know what needs to be improved. Are the study spaces too hot? Like, do we need to get fans?

And things like that. So those little things that make your student experience better. We have some really great clinical experiences. I think starting in the first year, our students start rotating in the hospital. Beginning the second half of their first year.

We have this wonderful clinical foundation curriculum that’s taught by one of our amazing professors, Dr. Ray, and she has just revamped that entire curriculum so that students are really integrating what they’re learning in the classroom, what they’re learning in anatomy and biochemistry, into patient care. So that’s a fun class we have. And then I think a couple of other highlights of our curriculum and of our school are our mission-based programs. So we have two mission-based programs.

One is called Prime LC and one is called Lead ABC. Prime LC is a program in medical education for the Latino community, and Lead ABC is leadership to advance diversity for the African, Black, and Caribbean communities. We have about twelve students in those programs each year, and those programs have a specialized curriculum that we can take the best care possible of our patients in Latino and African, Black, and Caribbean communities, respectively.

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

I have so many pieces of advice. I feel like just limiting me to one is tough, so I’m probably going to do like two or three so, number one, do a good job on your secondary application. When I was a medical student, when I was a pre-med and I was applying, I got these secondary applications, and I’m just like, oh, these questions are all kind of the same. Like, maybe I’ll just recycle answers, and this is so cumbersome. I already filled out MCAT.

Why do I have to fill out these secondary applications? But the secondary application is school specific, what they want to know about you. So I would say that it probably has a pretty big part in whether or not you’re going to get an interview at that place. So I would take your time on the secondary application, make it neat, make it tidy, and fill it out. Don’t say, like, see above, or anything like that.

If we wanted you to say see above, we would not have asked the question. So answer those questions thoroughly. Our application has this spot where you can kind of give us an outline of the activities that you’ve done. I would say pay pretty close attention to that part of the secondary application. That’s a good idea.

So that’s number one. But then that’s my good tips for applying to medical school. But then I have other advice, and that’s like, this is the rest of your life. And so I think that as a medical student or as a premed, it’s so stressful, right? Like, you’re like, I got to impress this person.

I got to watch a podcast with Dr. Osborne and figure out what all the inside scoops are. I need to get an A plus in every single class I take, and if I get an A minus, oh, my gosh, my life’s over. And I need to get a certain score on the MCAT, and I have to give these letters of recommendation. I have to do this research experience. I have to do this clinical experience. It’s all very stressful. I will admit it’s stressful. But once you get into medical school, I want you to just take a deep breath and relax, because this is the rest of your life, and the rest of your life is going to be busy. As a physician, I thought I kind of had this mentality of, okay, when I get to residency, I can relax.

Okay, then residency. When I get to be an attending, I can relax. When I became attending, I’m like, wait, when do I get to relax? So it’s a busy life, and it’s a fun life. We’re very blessed to be in this specialty of medicine.

We’re very blessed to have this amazing relationship with patients. But it’s busy. It’s not an easy job. It’s stressful. You worry deeply about patients and whether or not they got the best care.

When you take care of them, you worry about them afterward. And did I do the right thing if a mistake happens? You’re like, you beat yourself up and you’re like, oh, gosh, why did this happen? So it’s a tough job. It’s a tough experience.

Your whole life is going to revolve around this career. And so make sure that you love it. Go into it for the right reason. Go into it because you love science, you love medicine, you love taking care of people, you love talking to people, and you love making a difference in their life. You love being kind to them even when you’re stressed out.

So go into it for that reason, not because your parents want you to be a doctor or because you think it would be cool to be a doctor because we make lots of money. But spoiler alert, we do not make lots of money when you consider the investment that you put into going into medical school. So just make sure that you love it. Make sure you want to do it. And try to avoid this mentality of I’ll be happy when because your win is right now.

A lot of you are in your young 20s. Enjoy this time. This is the rest of your life. And so every part of your life has a really awesome part. Obviously, it has stressful parts as well, but try to enjoy it if you can, and not put off happiness until you achieve this goal of being a physician.


Additional Tips and Information for Applicants

I think one thing that’s really another positive point about our medical school is our focus on technology. So we have this ultrasound curriculum that starts from the Ms, one year students. Ultrasound helps because it kind of helps you get that 3D space of the human body using the ultrasound machine. Obviously, you’re going to see that in anatomy, but it certainly helps to be able to see it through imaging as well. And so we have this great ultrasound curriculum.

Our students in the past have gotten butterfly ultrasound devices on their first day of medical school. We strongly encourage students to use an iPad, and we have all of the resources available to you so that they’re fully accessible via an iPad. We record our lectures so that students can play them back and watch them over again. And so we’re really technologically enhanced medical school. We’re an Apple Distinguished Medical School. And so I think that that’s something fun, especially for people who are tech-savvy. If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t worry. You can still come to UC Irvine.

We’ll take great care of you. We’ll teach you everything you need to know. You might even graduate a little more tech-savvy than you are right now. But I think it’s an important aspect of your education because our patients are using technology as much as we are. And so we have to be adept in addressing those concerns of our patients and utilizing technology to provide patients here.

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