The ProspectiveDoctor Podcast

Podcast Episode 5: Applying to Top-Tier Medical Schools

Join Drs. Marinelli and Rao as they discuss applying to top-tiered medical schools and how to be successful as an applicant!

Podcast Excerpts:

Dr. Marinelli: Hi everyone, my name is Dr. Renee Marinelli, and today I have on the line Dr. Avani Rao. Dr. Rao is currently a senior resident in radiation oncology at Johns Hopkins, and she also went to medical school at Johns Hopkins University and received her undergraduate degree at Yale University. Dr. Rao has worked a lot with applicants that are pursuing degrees at top 20 or top-tier university medical schools.

I wanted to just get your take on the applicants that are pursuing some of the top-tier medical schools, and what makes them an ideal applicant for those types of schools.

What type of applicant should apply to some top-tiered schools?

Dr. Rao: Unfortunately, the MCAT and your grades and your GPA play a really big benchmark, on whether or not some of these top-tier medical schools will move your application on to the next cycle of screening. So, although it doesn’t represent your personality or your potential as a doctor, it’s one of those checkboxes that are really the key to getting through the gate for evaluation by the interview committee.

Standard benchmarks that I try to tell my potential clients who are interested in applying to these schools are;

– aiming for an MCAT in the 515 range

– keeping the GPA at least above a 3.7 (ideally has 3.8 unweighted GPA)

– avoiding having anything on that transcript that is any lower than a B-minus ( in particular in the challenging classes like Orgo)

Once those kinds of things are met, the applicants that I feel really rise to the top are those that have consistent interests in some sort of activity throughout their entire undergraduate experience. Specifically, if you are doing research in something in neurosciences and you have had experience for several semesters and have shown continued interest in exploring that by working with patients in the hospital, in the neurology floor, through the elderly in nursing homes with the specific interest in dementia, or something like that. Show that there’s a cohesive story to your interest that makes you believable and demonstrates your true genuine passion for this particular facet of medicine or the human experience.

So, applicants that have the grades, as well as that kind of theme to their approach towards undergrad, are the ones that I really strongly apply to the top-tiered schools.

For me, that number, when I applied to medical school and when I work with people who are applying to medical school, was 30. I try to get people to apply to that many schools if they have the time and the resources.

If  they’re interested in some of the other top-tier schools, have a connection, have a home state, have a family member, a friend that was there, then they can add it on. But I would still keep that baseline number of the middle-range or at-range schools at 30, and just add the other ones on top of that.

Dr. Marinelli: I definitely agree with that, if they have the grades and the MCAT score to shoot for some of those top-tier schools, they definitely want to still distribute their application to some of the middle-tier, and even maybe some of the lower-tier medical schools as well.

You mentioned a lot of things that applicants should have on their application to be competitive at top medical schools. Anything else that the admissions committees are looking for in particular for these students?

Dr. Rao:

  1. I think that a strong sense of personal awareness as to why you want to go into medical school, coming through in the personal statement, can really catapult an application.

I really encourage people, when they’re about to apply to medical school, maybe the year before, to go into their patient volunteer experiences with an active and open eye, to really see what is it that they’re enjoying about that experience.

What do they see in the physicians or the nurse practitioners, or the PAS or the researchers that they’re working with, that makes them want to embark on this path?

In doing so, you end up having a clear voice in your personal statement. That really does make people rise to the top. That is the number one thing.

  1. Then, the strong letters of recommendation. From the admissions committee side, when I’ve sat there, strong letters of recommendation really appeal in particular to the attendings and the deans of admissions who spend time reviewing those applications.

One way that people can try to put their best foot forward in those letters of recommendation, is offering to spend 30 minutes, perhaps an hour, going to lunch with one of your letter writers.

I tried to make an appointment with each one, to really talk to them, remind them of why they’re going into Medical School. Have them refresh their memory on exactly the context of how they know you. If it’s been maybe a couple of semesters since you have taken a particular class with one of these professors, do what you can to have this really strong and personal letter of recommendation.

Dr. Marinelli: I see a lot of people that get to this point in the application process now, where they’re actually applying, and they just don’t feel like they form those relationships with some of their professors, and so they hesitate on who they could ask.

Just to echo that, forming that relationship and getting a good letter writer, you should definitely start as early as possible in your undergraduate career. Start visiting these professors early on, going and talking to them and trying to maintain a relationship. So that when it does come time to write a letter you’ll have these strong people that know you really well, and they can really write an exceptional letter of recommendation for you.

Dr. Marinelli: In order to receive an admission at a top-tier university, is it necessary for the applicant to have a research publication?

Dr. Rao: I would say that it’s not a requirement, it’s definitely a bonus point.

What the publication is really sending the message of is a prolonged commitment to a particular research group. Specifically, commitment to a research question for which that person has been part of a team and has demonstrated a strong capacity to work in a group, to lead and troubleshoot, and then to draft and write and publish a manuscript on their own.

Try to embody those characteristics, that initiative, that attention to detail when approaching research, and those actions will not go unrecognized by research mentors.

Typically, we think the publication as being a manuscript in a journal. But I think these days it might be a really attainable goal for someone to try to present at a conference, or particularly a national conference for a medical or scientific community. They may just submit a one-page abstract and present a poster. I think that’s a really nice line to have on the activity section, and a really great experience as well.

Dr. Marinelli: Does going to a top-tier medical school help your residency application when it comes time to apply?

Dr. Rao:  At the end of the day, when I look at the residency programs that I’m a part of, that my spouse and my friends here at Johns Hopkins are a part of, our residency classes are not made up of students who came from all of the name-brand, top medical schools. They’re really groups of people who have, whatever environment that they studied medicine in, really scored well on their step ones, demonstrated a strong commitment to patient care, and did well on their particular shelves and on their rotations.

Going to a top-tier medical school is always helpful in getting interviews. Yet, if the person excels in their medical school and has strong letters of recommendation for the next step, then with the right list of schools for residency programs, the good residency position and the match will come.

So, like I said, maybe it’s helpful. But, if for some reason, either the application acceptance doesn’t happen or the finances are too strict, then you can still land a very good residency position coming from a lower-tier or middle-tier medical school. As long as the time spent there is well spent.

Dr. Marinelli: Thank you so much, Dr. Rao, for joining us, I really appreciate all the information.

And for all the listeners out there, please keep us in mind if you are interested in applying to medical school. Either to talk to your medical school or not, we have a ton of advisors that have just gone to excellent medical schools and have that experience working on admissions committees, to really help you through the application.

In our most recent cycle, we’ve had quite a few awesome acceptances to medical school. We had some acceptances to Johns Hopkins, Yale, Baylor, Cornell, tons of top-tier medical schools and medical schools across the country as well. So, we are definitely here to help you if you are interested in applying, and please feel free to contact us at any time.

Sahil Mehta

Sahil Mehta M.D. is an attending physician in the Department of Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Founder of MedSchoolCoach. Dr Mehta is one of the world’s experts on medical school admissions having founded MedSchoolCoach in 2007. MedSchoolCoach provides admissions consulting to premedical students in the form of interview preparation, essay editing and general advising. In the past 10 years, he has had a hand in over a thousand acceptances to medical school.

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