Applying to Medical School

Why Students Must Connect with Faculty Beyond the Classroom

Building relationships with teachers is critical for students seeking letters of recommendations, as well as for career networking. Discover why these faculty connections are key, and how to build them.

One of the most common concerns I hear from my undergraduate student clients (usually juniors) is that they can’t get a strong letter of recommendation. Often, they feel their science class was too large with too many students to interact with their professor.

Not only must you find ways to connect with faculty, but you also must be proactive about making this connection to optimize your college experience. If you’re waiting for teachers to reach out to you, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Unlike high school where teachers initiated most of the contact, in college, it’s all up to you.

Connecting with faculty during your pre-med years is critical for two reasons: Getting letters of recommendation, and for networking.

Get Strong Letters of Recommendation for Strong Credibility

Many medical schools require a letter of recommendation from at least one science professor, usually two. While this usually isn’t an issue for undergraduates majoring in a science, it can be challenging for students who are not. The main reason is that often, these students weren’t proactive about cultivating a relationship with their professors from the start – most likely because they never thought to. There are three ways to cultivate a relationship with your science professors:

  • Regularly take advantage of office hours – Drop by to ask a question that was not already covered in class and has real relevance. Also, utilize this time to network on a one-to-one basis so that you are remembered for being smart and inquisitive.
  • Attend all review sessions – Even if you’re acing the class, still attend these sessions and come prepared with legitimate issues or questions to discuss. Showcase your interest in the subject matter.
  • TA for the class – This is not always possible, but if so, it is one of the best ways to gain significant responsibilities and achieve results. In turn, your professor will be enabled to write a detailed strong letter of recommendation. Such an experience can also display your leadership qualities.

Reach Out to Teachers to Expand Your Network

You should utilize your pre-med advisor, pre-med club/chapter, and student organizations to find experiences that medical schools require – such as shadowing, clinical work, research and community service. Additionally, asking your professors directly can also lead to opportunities.

Your professor may be involved with the exact type of experience you’re looking for, such as research. Or maybe your professor will refer you to other colleagues of theirs who can help you.

There’s a skill to networking. Don’t just march up to your professor and say, “Hi. I need a research opportunity in psychology. Please help me find one.” Instead, set up a one-to-one meeting with your professor. Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in medicine, why you specifically wanted to meet with the professor, and the added value you would bring to whatever experience you’re inquiring about. In other words, sell yourself.

Many students don’t recognize that proactively fostering relationships with faculty is critical to their medical future. With this knowledge, you’ll be more likely to thrive on your journey to becoming a physician.

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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