Pre-Med Academics

How to Shine as a Medical School Candidate by Branding and Optimizing Your Personal Experiences

By branding themselves and optimizing their personal experiences, freshmen and sophomores who will soon be applying to medical school can increase their chances of getting accepted. Especially this year given the COVID-19 pandemic, college may look radically different. One thing won’t change: the fundamentals of being a successful pre-med.

Brand Yourself to Stand Out from the Competition

  • Have a Unique Story – News Flash! The days of saying that you want to become a physician because you got a toy stethoscope when you were five years old, you come from a family of physicians, or you want to help people – while all legitimate, are insufficient.
  • Be a Specialist – Make it clear what makes you uniquely qualified as a medical school applicant. Being a jack of all trades alone won’t cut it. Define what differentiates you. Determining and developing your brand early on is critical, and it is something that most applicants never even think about. So if you do, you’ll have a leg up.
  • Make Your Writing Pop – Your brand will impact the essays you write for primary and secondary applications. Plus, your brand will dictate how you present yourself during interviews. If you are familiar with your brand, you’ll have a better idea of what is within your personal brand guidelines, and what is outside.
  • Determine Your Passions – To figure out your brand, you first need to think granularly about why you’re passionate about becoming a physician. If possible, envision yourself practicing as one. Are you passionate about cardiovascular research? Do you want to care for a geriatric population? Will you utilize a public health approach with your future patients? If you know the passions you want to cover in advance, you’ll stay on track.
  • Know the 4 Forms of Branding – Typically, branding comes in four forms.
    1. Area of Interest – The most common form is based on your area of interest, such as neurology or surgery. But you don’t have to know your specialty to have a brand.
    2. Approach to Medicine – The second way to brand yourself is based on an approach to medicine you’re interested in, such as preventive care or public health.
    3. Demographics – The third way is based on a demographic you’re interested in, such as underserved communities.
    4. Specific Medical Issues – The fourth way is based on a medical issue you’re interested in, such as medical innovation.

It’s critical to remember that branding requires strategic planning and time, since it depends on committing yourself to relevant experiences. Many of these experiences begin freshman and sophomore year.

Optimizing Your Personal Experiences to Convey Yourself Impressively

Here are the five experiences that medical schools expect when you apply: shadowing, clinical work, community service, research, and hobbies. Here are some tips to differentiate yourself for each type of experience:

  • Shadowing – Ideally, shadow three different physicians in three different specialties to demonstrate you’ve taken time to explore what’s out there.
  • Clinical Work – We recommend being a scribe, EMT or hospice volunteer. These roles have more in-depth involvement with patients and responsibilities versus traditional hospital volunteering. However, let’s say that the only available opportunities are ones like hospital volunteering. They’re still worth doing. Try to find ways to differentiate yourself by asking for more responsibilities or even spearheading a project if possible.
  • Community Service – Altruism is important to medical schools. Demonstrate long-term involvement, whether it’s through a soup kitchen, tutoring, or something like Habitat for Humanity.
  • Research – Have at least two years of experience. Ideally, you want to have at least a middle author publication and do poster presentations.
  • Hobbies – Don’t forget this! They are a great way to show your non-healthcare interests and differentiate yourself. For instance, I had a client who knitted mittens as gifts and created collages, which she wrote about in her work/activities section.

I’ve provided the main metrics that medical schools require so you know how to optimize all your experiences.

  • Commitment – Have at least 2 to 3 years of experience, whenever possible.
  • Evolution/Growth – Build up your knowledge, skills, approaches to thinking, and responsibilities.
  • Leadership – This is important given that physicians usually lead medical teams. There are many ways you can demonstrate leadership, whether you’re the president of a club or the fundraising chair for a sorority. No matter what, demonstrate leadership by coordinating the efforts of multiple people to achieve a specific goal.
  • Results – Applicants often forget about this. It’s not only about detailing what you’ve done, but also what you’ve achieved. For example, if you were the fundraising chair for a club: How much did you raise? How much more was this than the prior year? If you raised more from one year to the next, what did you do differently to raise this additional money? Did it involve a change in your marketing strategy?

If you follow these tips from the moment you step on campus (either literally or virtually), you’ll already be ahead of the curve!

Ziggy Yoediono MD

Dr. Yoediono was a Duke University pre-major advisor, and an adcom member for Duke University School of Medicine, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Program. Today, he is an Associate Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach.

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