One regret I had during my medical school application process was that I was not as thoughtful and intentional on my application as I could have been. I was more focused on the timetable for applying than the content I was presenting. Even though I was fortunate enough to receive acceptance, my application could have been that much better with more intentionality. I spent 4 years growing as a person and building a resume that included great extracurricular activities, GPA, and MCAT only to realize that my application did not properly reflect these achievements and disciplines. I did not really know how to apply to medical school.
Medical schools look for students that display six basic core competencies:
1. The diligence and intellectual capacity to succeed in an intense medical school curriculum and board examinations.
2. An understanding of the physician’s role in healthcare and physician-patient relationship.
3. The ability to communicate effectively and compassionately.
4. Good moral character.
5. An understanding of hypothesis-driven research.
6. Ability to lead and innovate.
These competencies are recorded from the US News & World Report Medical School Research rankings. The first four competencies are almost always required for medical school admissions, while numbers five and six are sought after by schools that place a high emphasis on research and leadership.
Your job in your medical school application is to display that you have acquired these competencies in a manner that is meaningful and genuine. Many people believe that the medical school application is an opportunity to list all of their accomplishments. It becomes a checklist of things that they have done. As more and more applicants do this, their list of “accomplishments” become less and less meaningful to the admissions department. Everyone’s application begins to look the same and not being able to stand out from other applicants is usually a bad thing.
In the AMCAS primary application, there are 15 slots designated for “Work and Activities”. This, along with your personal statement, is your opportunity to tell your story. You do not want to shoot yourself in the foot by simply including brief activity descriptions. In each slot, you must maximize the space that you have to clarify what the activity is (do not do if it is painfully obvious what the activity is but keep in mind that the person who reads your application knows almost nothing about you and the things you have done), explain your motivation behind pursuing each activity, what you experienced and learned and, sometimes, how it impacted your desire to go into medicine. Be concise yet impactful. Stay away from listing too much of “what”, and focus more on the “why” and “how”. You said that you were a certain type of person in your personal statement, and your description of your work and activities is your opportunity to prove that to be true.
Here is a practical example:
Applicant 1: Volunteer experience at _______ clinic
–Delivered paperwork to nurses and doctors
–Cleaned clinic rooms
–Passed out food to inpatients
Volunteer at ______ cancer clinic
This volunteer experience was my first consistent exposure to patients. I decided to volunteer in this specific department because I was particularly interested in working with cancer patients especially because my dad is a cancer survivor. My favorite part of volunteering in the cancer clinic was when I had the chance to visit each patient with his or her lunch. Even though the patients were fighting cancer, they were still so appreciative of the little service I could provide them. Through volunteering I realized that I had a passion for people and medicine that I wanted to grow. The mundane times also tested how badly I wanted to become a doctor.
Applicant 1 and 2 could have done the exact same tasks while volunteering. Applicant 1 may have done even more significant work than Applicant 2. However, from the admissions committees’ perspective, Applicant 2 is much more enticing. The reason is almost intuitive. The first has a list, which would be good if you were grocery shopping, while the second has a story.
You don’t have much control over the whole application process. Even your GPA and MCAT score, to a certain extent, is not under your control. Nevertheless, the writing portions in your application are completely in your hands. You get to decide what to include and what to exclude. This is a great advantage that you should fully utilize; you can only utilize it if you really know how to apply to medical school.
You don’t want to look back at your application with regret. You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to present your application in the best way possible. Your works, activities, personal statement, secondary essays, and letters of recommendations should all attest to the fact that you fully satisfy the six competencies. There should be no discrepancy or disconnect. Tell an aligned story that shows medical schools you are exactly what they are looking for.