Applying to Medical SchoolDual Degrees

How to Distinguish Yourself as an MD/PhD Applicant

Applying to medical school has largely become a structured process composed of elements ranging from demographic information to details regarding research experience as well as extracurricular activities. Despite the organization and infrastructure implemented behind the application process, students motivated to pursue a career in the clinical sciences face incredible stress and hardship when presenting themselves to the admissions committees at various medical schools. The extensive application process naturally culminates during recruitment at which time pre‐medical students visit potential training sites for interviews, campus tours, and exposure to the student body.

In general, medical schools typically reach out to candidates whom they deem acceptable for their institution, but also demonstrate qualities necessary for a successful career in medicine. The recruitment experience allows applicants to display the personal strengths and attributes that were discussed throughout their respective application. Most importantly however, an applicant’s interviews with the faculty and current students provide a glimpse into both their personality and professional characteristics that may not be evident within the pages of an application. For this reason, pre‐medical students must present themselves as an individual and not simply an applicant with a plethora of accomplishments and recommendations. Rather than simply discussing a volunteering or shadowing experience, students can emphasize the interactions they had with patients as well as members of the treatment team. Applicants must learn how to craft their specific experiences to highlight the unique aspects of their work that allows them to stand apart from their peers. Furthermore, the majority of pre‐medical students participate in research projects. However, an admissions committee is not simply interested in learning about the design of the study and its outcomes. Medical schools are interested in seeing the intellectual curiosity and drive behind a student’s involvement in research, and want to see how such characteristics can translate into a career as a physician.

As an MD/PhD applicant to medical school, I faced certain struggles and roadblocks during the recruitment process. While completing my undergraduate studies at UC Irvine, my time was largely devoted to working on research projects rather than gaining clinical experience by either volunteering in a hospital setting or shadowing experienced physicians. This lack of exposure into medical training initially concerned admissions committees and this issue was discussed during various interview sessions. Rather than focusing on elements from my application that were deemed sub‐par, I was able to successfully redirect our discussion toward the unique strengths that were pervasive throughout my application. I emphasized my collaborative and disciplined work ethic that allowed me to complete multiple research projects as an undergraduate student.

More importantly, I focused on highlighting certain talking points during each interview encounter that displayed my sense of professionalism and ensured that I had the potential to function both as a clinician and researcher. Applying for the combined MD/PhD program poses an intrinsic challenge to potential students, as it essentially requires them to envision a “bench‐to‐bedside” career in which results derived from laboratory work can be translated to clinical practice. Formulating such a career path is an insurmountable task for any applicant who lacks such experience, but with hindsight I have gathered the necessary tools that can be passed onto future applicants. Despite the long recruitment process and final interview sessions, applying for a career in medicine is a notable endeavor worth mentoring for future generations.

Written by Karun Gogna

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