Behind the Scenes with Deans

Admissions Tips for the University of Colorado School of Medicine

Get an insider’s perspective on the admissions process as Dr. Jeff SooHoo talks about the admissions process at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

An Introduction Of Dr. Jeff SooHoo

My name is Jeff SooHoo. I’m the Assistant Dean of Admissions at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Been in the role for about two years now. I’m an ophthalmologist by training and still practice medicine and then do other stuff on the side, like admissions.

I have had a number of different roles and involvement in medical education. Of course, admissions deals with premedical and undergraduate medical students. I also work in the GME space. I’m the residency Program Director for Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and I also served as a physician advisor for medical students at the School of Medicine. So I’ve sort of been able to get involved in different arenas.

My involvement with admissions actually started when I was a medical student where I went to medical school. I was a student member of the admissions committee, and I really liked the process of talking to candidates and learning about them and why they were passionate about medicine. When I joined the faculty at the University of Colorado, I asked if they needed volunteers to do interviews. And I think I volunteered a lot. And so they said, oh, why don’t you volunteer for this other committee and this other committee?

And it sort of snowballed and eventually led to this role. So it’s been a great journey. I think my advice or sometimes people say, how did you end up in this position? And really the things that I’ve done have been to say yes to things that interest me and things and do things that I like to do and not necessarily with any specific end goal in mind. When I volunteered to do interviews for medical students, this was not my anticipated result.

It’s been a welcome surprise.

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What Makes A Medical School Applicant Stand Out?

It’s a difficult one because I think applicants can stand out in a variety of ways. I’ve often talked about applicants that are really well balanced, where they’ve sort of checked the boxes that you historically hear about, where they have a strong academic record, they’ve done well in standardized tests, and they’ve performed well in community service activities or leadership activities, research, whatever it might be. And they’ve done those things in a way that’s authentic and longitudinal. And then I see candidates as well that are what I call, well, unbalanced, where they’re really strong in one particular subdomain of those things, and that because it puts so much time into one thing, it’s potentially limited how much time they’ve been able to do other things. So we try and contextualize people’s experiences.

I think what stands out for me the most about applicants is when those experiences are varied and when they inform the candidate’s decision in a sort of nuanced and reflective way. So I often talk about an experience can be the same thing on paper, but the way a candidate talks about it can really be different. And so I’m looking for that reflection piece because I might see a candidate who was the captain of the soccer team, let’s say, and that’s a great leadership experience. But then I asked them, well, tell me what you learned from that, or how did that change who you are as a leader? And I can get very different responses, right?

I can get someone who’s like, that was cool. We won the state championship, and it was fun. And I can get someone who says, you know, when I led my first practice, I realized that what different groups of players wanted wasn’t necessarily the same. And so what I did was I sent out an anonymous survey to get feedback, and then we tried a bunch of different things. And it was an iterative process that I learned that leadership isn’t just about having a vision for how things should be, but it’s also about to incorporate other people’s visions into the experience.

And again, on paper, those are the same experience, but one of them has a reflective and growth mindset component and one of them doesn’t.

How Has The Medical School Admissions Process Changed?

Yeah, I think I’ve had sort of different views of it, of course, as just an interviewer and then sort of now being sort of more behind the scenes and seeing the big picture of the whole process. I think the applicants on the whole have more resources, even such as yours, and they have more knowledge, and there’s Student Doctor net and there’s Reddit, and there are things that didn’t exist when I was applying to medical school. And many of those things can be helpful, right, about logistics of when to apply or where to apply or how to get things done. But there can also be a lot of noise on those platforms, so trying to separate the truth from the nontruths can be difficult. The applicants are just much more sophisticated.

They’re thinking three steps ahead of where I was when I was applying to medical school. I just wanted to get into medical school and be a doctor. I had never heard of steps one and step two. My current specialty, ophthalmology, I’d actually never heard of before I went to medical school. I didn’t know it was a medical specialty.

And so I think the applicants nowadays just have a lot more exposure and have thought more carefully about the field of medicine, mostly in positive ways, sometimes in ways that are a little bit detrimental if they get in the weeds for certain details. At the end of the day, I think most medical schools are more alike than they are different. And so I think sometimes candidates get bogged down in some of the details.

What Makes The University Of Colorado School Of Medicine Stand Out?

So of course I’ll give a biased answer. I love our medical school. I wouldn’t work at our medical school, and I wouldn’t hold the role I do at our medical school if I didn’t believe in our people and our mission in the way that we train future physicians. I will say something that definitely makes us stand out is our curriculum. We just underwent a pretty significant curriculum reform that was several years in the making.

And we’re one of the only, if not the only school in the country that has moved to an all LIC or longitudinal integrated courtship model for the clinical training year. So we no longer have any traditional block courtships. It’s all a longitudinal process, and that’s been shown to be better for education in a variety of ways and has been shown to increase empathy for students during school and decrease burnout.

Advice For Pre-Meds From A Dean Of Admissions

I usually tell students a few things. One is to get lots of advice because if you are just talking to the premedical office at your undergraduate institution, or you’re just talking to your friend’s parent who went to medical school 30 years ago, or whatever it might be, or they’re just talking to you or me, they’re going to get one idea about what medicine is or how to navigate the process. So talk to a lot of different people at different stages of the process. Someone that got into medical school last year and someone that finished medical school 30 years ago, and everything in between, as much as you can. And the nice thing is, because of those platforms I mentioned earlier, even if you don’t personally know anyone that’s a physician, and I didn’t when I was growing up, you can still tap into some networks that way.

I mean, I see current medical students commenting on Reddit or Student Doctor Net all the time, and they’re more than happy to say, this was my experience applying. This is what I wish I had done differently, those kinds of things. So taking those things in and listening, but recognizing that not everybody’s experience is going to be the same as yours. The other thing that I think is really hard for students to understand is just the scale of the applicant pool and how good it is. I think it’s very tempting as a student to say, I’ve done all the right things, right?

I’ve done well on the MCAT, I have a good GPA, I was president of this club, and I did this research project. I should get into medical school. And yes, statistically you should. And yet you may not, because the numbers, at least at any individual school, are never in your favor. There’s no medical school where most of the applicants get in.

And so you have to apply appropriately and apply broadly, and then you have to be sort of critical about where might your deficiencies be in your own application. And it’s hard, it’s very personal when it’s your life and your activities that you put down on paper. But the reality is there are more applicants than there are spots for medical school. So it’s a really competitive process. And I think, depending on where you’re coming from, if you’ve been an All-Star and a superstar at your particular little part of the world when it’s scaled out into the larger realm of applications for medical school.

You might just be another applicant out there.

What Additional Tips Do You Have For Applicants?

As I said, I think the curriculum in our medical school is unique. I’m biased because I trained here and I work here, and I know how invested the people are in the success of medical students and training future physician leaders.

I think what I would say, I’m lucky in my role. I get a seat at the table for pretty much all sorts of major committees at the medical school. And I think what I would tell you if you could see behind the curtain, is just how much people care. I think it feels like an impersonal process, both on the admission side and even as a student sometimes, right? Why do we have to do this assignment?

Or why do we have to do X-Y-Z? This is a waste of my time or whatever. Everything that we’re doing and all of our sort of thought processes and then all of our evaluation and changes that happen, it’s all framed around what’s best for the students and their education. And I have never seen a group of people come together with a common purpose like we do within the medical education department at our medical school. And the central focus is always, how do we educate people to be better doctors for the population?

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