Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Advice Premeds With an Institutional Action

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Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Advice Premeds With an Institutional Action

Session 94

How do med schools view institutional actions like alcohol violations? Are they red flags that will get your app thrown out? How does it vary between schools?

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For more help on your medical school application, check out The Premed Years Podcast.

[00:30] Question on Alcohol Violation

Q: I have previously applied to medical school and they have the institutional action question on the application. And I had an alcohol violation, my undergrad, during Sophomore year. So my biggest question is how big of a red flag is that? Is that just going to make the admissions committee see the red flag and throw me away because they have so many applications? Or is it just like a small piece of my whole application? Does it depend on that?

A: Institutional actions are going to be a flag, and schools are going to see that flag. That will vary from school to school. There are some schools that won’t waste their time because they have enough applications. So they’re putting your application into the trash. That’s not fair of course. But that’s a very easy way to get through these.

Most schools will see the flag but look at your application, just like they look at every other application. Schools are going to sort the applications however they want to sort it. That can be frustrating. But one of the best parts of it is that every school is different. So one school can just give up on your right from the beginning while another school might give you a shot.

'Institutional actions vary widely.'Click To Tweet

Alcohol infractions are probably the most common institutional actions. It’s not a shock that college students drink alcohol and don’t wait until the 21 age restriction. So it really depends ultimately on how you write your description.

[02:49] Own Up to It!

When you click that box on the application, you get 1,325 characters to write an essay on that institutional action. And how you write it will really depend on the schools that are going to give you a chance.

So when you write it, really own the thing. Admit to it and tell them what you’ve learned from that experience. Tell them you did your time and you’ve reflected on that experience. Talk about it in a genuine way.

I’ve talked to plenty of admissions committee members that see alcohol infractions as institutional actions all the time. But it doesn’t prevent you from getting into medical school. It won’t prevent you from anything in life, from getting your medical license, or from anything else.

[04:46] Apply Early

This student got one interview at Case Western and got waitlisted and then didn’t get off the waitlist. Her process date was August 5. And she took the MCA on July 22. She only applied to four schools – all MD schools. She has a lower GPA but has an upward trend.

So the upward trend is great. The later application could have definitely played a role as to why this student didn’t get into medical school. 

When you take the MCAT in late July, that score doesn’t come out until the end of August. That’s something for students to really pay attention to. That’s why you need to apply early.

The MCAT had nothing to do with that delay in processing the application. That’s just how long it takes to get through applications at that point in the cycle.

[06:19] Unfinished Programs

Our student did two-quarters of a pre-health academic program but financial constraints prevented her from taking any more classes. Although she did well in those two quarters. But she’s assuming it doesn’t look good because she only did two quarters and didn’t finish.

That’s not something to worry about students who don’t finish a program. A lot of students fear that medical schools are going to see that they’re a quitter, they don’t know what they’re doing.

But they understand that students are going to take extra classes to improve their GPA for whatever reason or take extra classes. That stuff happens all the time. So that’s definitely not a potential issue.

[07:22] No Shadowing Experience is a Red Flag!

This student also started working as an EMT and was hoping to get more recent shadowing, but she’s still trying to because it’s been five years now.

Now, pay attention to this because that’s a red flag. If you say you’re working hard to find shadowing, well, then work harder. Ask more people. Knock on doors. Blow up the phone lines. Slide into DM’s.

'Do whatever you need to do to get out there and to shadow.'Click To Tweet

[08:40] How to Improve Your Re-Application

This student has to obviously take the MCAT again. It’s been a while so hopefully she can improve her MCAT score. She got a 509 before which is a solid MCAT score. The grades are what they are at this point.

The only other thing that you can do to improve your application is shadowing and clinical experience, and just being a better human being. Volunteer and do everything you can on that front. Put together a good story and apply.

Our student has taken a full length and got a 502. She plans to take the MCAT on May 29 and apply earlier.

As with the one interview she had at Case Western, she didn’t reach out for any feedback from the school. She felt her violation was her weakness. So again, it’s not something to worry about. It’s not an issue.

'Always take the opportunity to interact more with the medical schools that you're applying to and you want to go with.'Click To Tweet

What you’re doing is you have the ability to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who may have the ability and power. So the next time you apply, they can move your application to the top of the list. Never pass up an opportunity to build those relationships.

[11:55] Do Shelf Scores Help?

There’s really no place to put it and I don’t know if it would fit anywhere. Some students will put their GRE scores in there. But I don’t think you can put shelf scores in there because the far majority of students applying to medical schools don’t even know what a shelf exam is.

[13:51] Going Into a Specialty Through the Military

'It's all about networking.'Click To Tweet

Everything in life is all about networking. The one thing about the HPSP (Health Professions Scholarship Program) that’s offered by the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army– they’re all relatively similar.

But you have to realize that the Air Force has its own programs. The army has its own residency programs. You can look to see how many programs are accepting. 

And so every year, the Air Force gets together and the Army gets together and the Navy gets together. Then in, say, five years, they figure out how many orthopedic surgeons they need. Then they’re only going to accept three orthopedic surgeons this next match. Then they figure out how many internal medicine doctors they need and so on and so forth.

That’s the general process and that comes out when the military match happens in December. And then you get the notification if you got what you wanted or do you need to go match in the regular match. So there is a lot of stuff going on there.

“The military tries very hard to be very objective in their measurements of their people.”Click To Tweet

The military has a rubric that gives you a certain number of points for your preclinical years. This includes your Step 1 score. You get a certain number of points for your clinical years and for being a prior military active duty. You get a certain number of points for research and publications and all that.

Then the program director gives discretionary bonus points. And that’s where the networking comes into play. 

And that’s why I mentioned on one of my podcasts that at University Services, Uniformed Health Sciences (USUHS) – the uniform services, the University of Health Sciences medical school, the military medical school – they have all of their rotations in mostly military medical centers. So they are networking and being exposed to these program directors.


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University Services, Uniformed Health Sciences (USUHS)


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