In this week's episode, we have two guests coming on the show. Dr. Scott Wright is the executive director of the TMDSAS (Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service. He talks about the Texas medical school application. Our second guest is Enrique, the man behind the TMDSAS podcast. It offers a valuable resource to students thinking of applying to medical school, nontrads included.
But before that, listen to this week's episode of the Specialty Stories podcast (Session 34), where we interviewed a gastroenterologist who specializes in interventional endoscopy. Also check out the other podcasts we have on the MedEd Media Network.
If you're thinking about going to medical school, check out AMSA PremedFest which will be on November 4-5, 2017 at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Gain insights into how you can best present yourself as a medical school candidate, how to succeed in the toughest classes you'll ever take, and how to emerge from the experience as a healthy, happy physician – which a lot of people aren't doing right now! Explore topics like cornea transplantation, genetics, and narrative medicine. Also get a chance to suture and splint and much more. I will also be there and talk about the interview process. Save some money off the registration fee and use the discount code MSHQ17 until October 25, 2017.
Back to our episode today, let’s go behind the scenes in the TMDSAS process. If you're hoping to apply to medical schools in Texas, and even if you're not applying in Texas, go check out this episode.
[03:30] Why TMDSAS Stands Alone
Representing the 50th year of the TMDSAS in 2018, Dr. Wright explains that the precursor to TMDSAS, which is known as the Medical and Dental Application Center, began in 1968. This is five years prior to when AMCAS started. Alongside this, Texas began the idea of centralized application service for the school in Texas. So Texas basically pre-dated the AMCAS.
The state legislature of Texas limits the number of non-residents that can go to a medical school in Texas to 10%.
This behooves the Texas schools to have a rich pool of applicants from inside the state. This is good for schools because they can say that they're getting largely Texas residents applying. This does not suffice to say that non-residents can't apply. But because of the limitations the legislature puts on the medical schools, it benefits all of them to have a centralized application service just for the Texas schools.
Moreover, they work diligently to keep the cost low. They have a flat fee. So to apply to all medical schools in Texas, there is a flat fee of $150. To apply to an equivalent number of schools to AMCAS would be $500-$600. Since they're only serving Texas schools, they are able to keep the cost low.
[06:44] TMDSAS Exceptions and New Texas Residents
At this point, all Texas medical schools are state-supported except for two private schools, Baylor University and University of Incarnate Word Osteopathic Medical School. The legislation only affects the publicly supported schools. So both of these schools do not participate in the TMDSAS.
TMDSAS doesn't get any funding from the State of Texas but they are funded strictly through application fees from the students.
They're able to keep the cost low by a small staff and not having a lot of overhead costs which AMCAS does. While AMCAS has a fee assistance program, TMDSAS doesn't. But, they try to keep the cost low for everyone. They want students to feel comfortable applying $150 as a plausible amount to commit to applying to a total of ten medical schools in Texas.
As far as new residents are concerned, Dr. Wright says that as long as you meet the residency requirements, TMDSAS doesn't flag the application of new Texas residents.
[10:05] How to Prepare for TMDSAS versus AMCAS and AACOMAS
Dr. Wright encourages students to view the questions of all three applications in the beginning of the process. Generally, all three are similar in terms of the information they're trying to obtain, although they may be asked in a different way. Largely, if an applicant works diligently to develop a strong and extensive resume, they're going to be able to answer those questions regardless of the application service.
In the case of Texas, with ten schools cooperating together, they have the ability to really work very carefully, extensively, and directly with their institutions. They meet twice a year with the deans and directors to go over changes that need to be made. As compared to AMCAS that has about 125 schools to deal with. So it's not possible for them to craft questions into ways that reach the very core of what institutions want.
[13:05] Biggest Mistakes Student Make in the Application
TMDSAS open their application every year on or about May 1st. They literally have people who submit their applications on that same day. So, those students taking less than 24 hours to complete one of the most important documents they've ever completed. So they end up messing stuff up. They rush through it.
Dr. Wright explains that each section of the application has to have something in it that they're able to save before students can submit it. Students that rush through things make mistakes, miss words and have grammatical issues. They leave information off and then realize they've made a mistake. Sadly, they can no longer make changes. Once applicants push the submit button, it's done. Schools can longer open applications back up for anybody. And the medical school is going to see whatever it is you submitted. Dr. Wright advises students to slow down. Take time to proof-read everything.
Additionally, course entry is probably one of the biggest parts of the application. This is where they require the student to enter a variety of data points for every college course they've ever taken. This can be very labor-intensive. So, they often try to get around that by only entering one class per semester or get things mixed up. You need to enter these courses correctly. The GPA calculation depends on the entry of those courses. TMDSAS has to – of course – verify that what was answered on the application is what's on the transcript. As soon as a student sends their transcript to TMDSAS, a physical person looks at their transcript and goes through it line by line. So you have to make sure you're entering your data correctly.
[17:10] What If You Messed Up Your Transcripts?
Dr. Wright explains that if you happen to mess up your course entry, it depends on the extent of error for how this plays out. For instance, they have students who have entered every semester they were in school but they only entered one class per semester so the application will let them save. In this case, TMDSAS will bump this right back to them or they're going to process their application as is. They send it to medical schools then the schools are going to say the students were not following instructions.
The application service is part of the continuum of this process and they take their role very seriously. They have encountered students that lie and they've determined it was intentional falsification. They've had students who were trying to hide some classes they didn't want in their GPA. They've had students who tried to submit letters of recommendation from false people.
When this happens, medical schools are told there are flags in the application. TMDSAS also sends a letter directly to AMCAS and AACOMAS. So they would know who the applicant is and what the infraction was. Dr. Wright reiterates how serious these issues are and how they take these things very seriously. So students should take this seriously. They're seeking to enter a profession that has ethics and has moral standards. The society expects them to uphold this, so they have to do this right from the get go.
There is a national registry database for classes and this comes up on a subsequent school's transcript. They get a transcript for a certain school and it shows they transferred from another school. The other way this comes up later in the process is under the financial aid. And if they only found out about this up to this level and it goes that far into the process, the student is out. They will be dismissed before they even start.
[22:30] The Role of TMDSAS
TMDSAS transmits every data point they have to all the Texas medical schools. It is then the medical school's responsibility to load whatever they want to upload into their given admissions system. This varies from school to school. TMDSAS is communicating to medical schools so they get everything TMDSAS has.
The individual medical school uploads the information into their system and looks at it in a variety of different ways. But they're potentially going to see everything. They're going to see GPA's in a lot of different ways, as well as MCAT scores, answers to the questions, personal statement, etc. They see potentially everything that TMDSAS has access to and they just filter and sort however they want.
[24:23] GPA Calculation
TMDSAS goes through a processing effort where they have verified that the student has entered the information correctly. This is so particularly important with the course entry since this produces the GPA calculations.
Dr. Wright points out that TMDSAS differs from the other application services in the way that they don't calculate pluses and minuses. So it's strictly an A, B, C, D, E, F generation on the GPA calculation.
In addition, every course attempt is calculated into the GPA. So if they took Organic Chemistry I and made a C and retook it a semester later and made an A, both of those grades are going to be calculated in the GPA. It's not the latter one or the better one.
[25:35] The Application Cycle Time Frame
Once the student pushes the submit button, it goes into a queue. The school looks through the application. They will review a variety of points in the application. They review the way students have coded the classes. Then the application goes to another queue to be transmitted to the schools. The time of year will dictate how long the process between when students push the submit button and when it gets transmitted to the school.
The cycle typically takes up to four weeks; but they have examples where they tell students upfront what date they're working on it. This way, students will have an idea how long it's going to take until the medical school gets their submission.
Dr. Wright says they used to get tons of applications in September. Their typical deadline is October 1 although for 2017, it's September 29. So they used to get tons of application in the last week of the cycle. For example, they might get 2,000 applications in the last week. He finds this totally crazy for students to wait this long. But they have seen a shift in the trend.
Students are starting to apply early more and more often. Dr. Wright says the biggest height of the application cycle is probably late June or late July. It's interesting how Dr. Wright says this has happened in the last three or four years. This podcast happens to be out for about four and a half years now.
[29:25] Understanding the Rolling Admissions Process
I asked him about changing the term “deadline” so that the students understand that this is a rolling admissions process. Medical schools really want the applicants to apply early because this gives them more time with the applications in a holistic environment. They want students to submit as early as possible.
A discussion that they've made with medical schools is a graduated application fee. For example, if a student applied before September 1st, the fee is $150. And if they applied after September 1st, they could raise it to $250. This encourages the students to apply earlier and it essentially benefits the student. It not only saves the applicant money, but also, the school can get the students information a lot earlier.
[31:21] Competencies of a Successful Applicant
Dr. Wright emphasizes that's important for students to recognize that everything they do from the minute they step on their college campus is going to affect their application. This includes the organizations they get involved in or the amount of time they study. This includes the efforts they make in class to engage and concentrate. It involves the friendships they make in and out of the classroom and the connections they make with professors. Everything they do is going to build in their application.
Dr. Wright recommends students to envision it this way, otherwise it could badly impact their success. Moreover, they emphasize the idea of holistic admissions. But he firmly believes that society expects of its physicians. What medical schools want out of students that come into their institutions are ones that have strong personal qualities. They're ethical, honest, and with a strong degree of integrity. They know how to communicate with each other. They're empathetic. They have a broader picture of what it is they're doing.
At TMDSAS, they will soon be doing a podcast on personal competencies. Dr. Wright recommends listening to their podcast. They emphasize the importance of interpersonal skills. The see a lot of students who fail on these issues. Maybe they have a great MCAT score or GPA but they can't carry out a conversation and that's going to be problematic.
Dr. Wright recalls taking his daughter to the doctor when she broke her arm. And as they walked to the orthopedic surgeon's examination room, the doctor didn't look either one of them in the eyes. Never once did the doctor make any personal connection with them. And Dr. Wright was just flabbergasted. So they found someone else who can treat his daughter as a person and patient.
[36:27] The TMDSAS Podcast
While Dr. Wright is the god of the admissions universe, Enrique is the god of the TMDSAS podcast. It basically started when Enrique ran into Dr. Wright's office and introduced the idea of starting a podcast, which he approved of.
The podcast seeks to connect the different admissions officers and different advisors throughout the state. Enrique has been able to come in contact with most of them in his eight years of medical admissions in Texas. So he tries to get them to offer some advice to applicants, who may not necessarily know what kind of questions to ask. So the whole concept of the podcast was to acclimate the potential and current applicants to the world of medical, dental, and veterinary admissions. So applicants get to understand what the schools are looking for and how they can develop different qualities the schools are looking for.
[37:38] Resources and Help for Nontrads
They had just finished their first series where they're meeting all of the deans of admissions of all the schools. They also started a series for nontraditional applicants. They're going back to some of the deans that offered to help some of the advisors. They want to tailor certain topics to nontraditional applicants. These could be persons looking into a second career in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine. They can be somebody who took a gap year or a reapplicant. They all come from different backgrounds.
But the ideas that come from theses diverse applicants and the drive they have to get into these schools is negated by the fact that they don't always have access to somebody who can help.
Many times too, new advisors throughout the state figure out what to do in order to prepare students for the school application. Another cool thing they're currently developing is a community for nontraditional applicants. On their Facebook page, they've built out a group for nontraditional applicants. They encourage everyone to join so they won't feel they're alone. They hope to build this community as part of the series. They will be having some webinars hosted with different advisors and different admissions officers that relate to the questions coming out of the group.
[41:03] How to Strengthen Your Application
Dr. Wright recommends students apply early and be very careful in submitting their application. For nontraditional students, he talks about making good choices.
So he advises nontrads to make good choices which produce good results. Finally, he quotes Albus Dumbledore from the movie Harry Potter that says,
You have choices to make, so you have to make wise choices. This is going to affect how successful you are in the medical school admissions process in multiple ways.
[43:43] Final Thoughts
Go listen to The TMDSAS Podcast and go share it to your colleagues and advisors. Give a rating and review. Your advisors would definitely love to hear an official podcast from an official application service for the great state of Texas.
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