Behind the Scenes with Deans

Admissions Tips for Ponce Health Sciences University

An Introduction of Dr. Sarimar Sanchez

Hi, I am Dr. Sarimar Sanchez. I am an infectious disease physician by training, and I recently joined the field of medical education after having worked for three years in public health and as a clinical attending as well. I love to teach. I very much enjoyed my experience in medical school and valued my mentors, and so much of their influence has impacted how I practice as a physician and as a mentor myself. So, I was very excited to get back into academia and really mentor and inspire our next generation of physicians.

An Introduction of Dr. Darah Fontanez

Hi, my name is Dr. Darah Fontanez. I am a faculty member of the Basic Sciences Department at Ponce Health Sciences University. I started as a graduate student and did a PhD in biomedical sciences, where my focus was in neuroscience. In that later stage, I recognized that I liked teaching. I did a lot of outreach activities and decided to keep teaching. I stayed teaching in local universities and joined PHSU as an anatomical sciences faculty in 2012. So, I’ve been here for 12 years now. Ten years ago, the school initiated a new program called the Masters of Science in Medical Sciences. That was our pipeline program to ensure that we have a diverse group of students. Since then, we’ve been doing this program and helping create a pipeline for our medical education program.

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What Makes a Pre-Med Applicant Stand Out?

I think what makes a premed applicant stand out to me is really their story. We receive so many applications for medical school, and there are so many young next-generation individuals who want to become physicians. But ultimately, I think we look at a very well-rounded set of experiences, attributes, and academic metrics, what we call a holistic review. It’s really a candidate’s life experiences that stand out. We want to understand the face behind the application, what drives an individual to want to become a doctor, and how they can align with our school. When I can appreciate that story, the more uniqueness that one can appreciate, the more they stand out. So, understanding why someone wants to become a physician and how they align with the school’s mission in their essay, experiences, and interview stands out.

For me, a candidate that stands out has a very clear long-term goal. Oftentimes, students interested in medical education only recognize this as their long-term goal after they get more exposure or in-depth with academics.

What Are Some Recent Changes to the Medical School Admissions Process?

I really think that the focus on holistic review of applications is one of the big changes we’ve seen over the past years. Not just evaluating a candidate’s academic scores, MCAT scores, GPA, but really looking at a candidate’s whole picture. Trying to understand how their different life experiences, jobs, studies, and narrative align with the school’s mission. For us, it’s about training bilingual, culturally competent, ethical professionals who provide compassionate and culturally competent healthcare and generate high-impact research to reduce healthcare disparities. The impact of holistic review stands out to me as it looks beyond scores to the person.

One of the big changes we’ve instituted is modifying our interview process to align with the evaluation of core competencies essential to aspiring physicians. We focus on identifying individuals with diverse experiences who are culturally competent and can communicate well with an interdisciplinary healthcare team, patients, and families. The multiple mini-interview has been one of the tools we’ve leveraged to recruit our next generation of physicians who can meet the needs of our diverse communities.

What Makes Ponce Health Sciences University Stand Out?

Our mission is to educate bilingual, ethical professionals who provide compassionate and culturally competent healthcare and generate high-impact research to reduce healthcare disparities in Puerto Rico and the US. Focusing on training bilingual professionals is important in the healthcare reality we are living in. Our students learn in an environment with bilingual medical professionals, which helps them practice in diverse settings, including clinics and hospitals serving patients with dire socioeconomic needs.

Our institution has existed in Ponce for over 45 years. We began as a community-based medical school, so we have a huge interest in training our physicians to be compassionate, culturally competent, and bilingual. We recognize that the language of science is in English, so we need to ensure our students are fully bilingual. Our graduates can practice in Puerto Rico and other communities in the United States. Our focus on cultural competence helps our students and graduates provide effective empathetic care across diverse populations. The clinical phase of the MD program offers experiences from core clerkships to various specialties and elective rotations that expose students to subspecialties. This training occurs in various settings, including multiple campuses around the island and in the US, ensuring our graduates are well-rounded physicians.

What is Your Biggest Piece of Advice for Medical School Applicants?

If I had to say what my biggest piece of advice is, it would be planning. A big part of that is having a vision for your application that includes a timeline. Apply early and plan around applying early to schools. Get your application in on time. Seek your letters of recommendation early. Think about how to make yourself well-known to professors and mentors who can support you with strong letters. Engage in classes you are passionate about, which stands out in letters and interviews. Authentic applications go a long way, and all of that requires early planning.

For me, the best advice I would give to a pre-med student is to confirm your passion. Medicine is a long career, and you need to confirm that this is your passion. Recognize that it’s not only academics. Seek out shadowing experiences with various healthcare professionals, not just physicians, to understand the teamwork required in healthcare. Recognize your limitations and work better in teams, using the strengths of others to provide better patient care. Ensure you have the correct attitude for dealing with potentially sick patients, which improves long-term health outcomes of communities.

Interested in Attending Ponce Health Sciences University?

Students interested in obtaining medical education at Ponce Health Sciences University should know that a lot of students apply, but a small percentage gets accepted because of limited seats. For those who want to enhance their academic credentials, become more competitive, or test the environment of a medical school student, they can apply to our Master of Science in Medical Sciences program. This pathway program allows students to take classes alongside medical students, obtain a curriculum similar to medical education, strengthen their application, repeat the MCAT if needed, and obtain shadowing and research experiences.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been really excited at Ponce Health Sciences University to implement the multiple mini-interview for our MD program. It has allowed us to gauge pre-medical competencies essential in future physicians, such as communication, ethics, cultural competence, and resilience. When you are interviewing for medical school, research the interview modality and prepare. Prepare for interviews by understanding how your life experiences have contributed to your desire to become a doctor. The interview is not just the school getting to know you, but also your opportunity to get to know the school, faculty, staff, and students. Leverage opportunities to gauge your fit into a medical school, and research the school and interview modality. Preparing for interviews is important and will help you succeed.

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