Today, we talk about how to choose a postbac program, taking online courses, MA vs. CNA as clinical experience, whether research and MCAT are still required for the application, and whether a school’s prestige matters when you’re applying!
Ask the Dean is the first media project from my new company Mappd. It’s a technology platform that’s going to help premeds understand the process of getting into medical school.
Joining me is Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs and Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising. He’s the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and the former executive director of TMDSAS.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:54] Choosing a Postbac Program
Q: If I’m deciding on a postbac program, what are some of the criteria should I weigh? I’m considering one with lower tuition and cost of living versus another one that is a bit more expensive but offers more structured support and opportunities related to the public health that I’m interested in.
A: Postbac programs are a good idea depending on the profile of the applicant. Postbac programs have a different focus depending on the program and your needs. There are generally two kinds: the first type is for second-career people who are really starting from the beginning with sciences. A lot of times, they’re needing to build things from the beginning because they majored in a non-science.
Another type of postbac program is a GPA builder. It’s for students who have majored in the sciences but, for whatever reason, didn’t do well as needed. So they need a postbac program to repair their academic record.
Some postbac programs are both where they can accommodate both needs. There are different kinds of postbac programs in terms of being structured or nonstructured. Some of them are very individualized. Other programs give students the ability to do whatever they want to do within the context of their goals. Some are very pricey, while a lot of programs are more reasonable. So the student has to weigh the cost in terms of their support network.
If you are somebody who needs a support network of friends and family, you may not want to move 1000 miles away to do that. If a student is very capable of doing things on their own, going into an individualized program might be a great option.
Additionally, there are schools that have linkages to medical schools. They offer you an automatic interview if you do well in the program. Sometimes, they’ll allow you to the medical schools with linkages. And so you’ve got something to go on.
Not to scare you or anything but just be aware. There are a lot of schools that are starting postbac programs because they’re revenue-generators for that institution but they have no background. They offer courses and everything but they don’t have anything structured. They don’t have any reputation and there’s nothing there. The only reason they’re doing it because it’s a cash cow. So you have to be careful.
Part of your criteria when looking at postbac programs should be the structure or framework, location, linkages, cost. Look at their track record of getting students into med school.'Stick with institutions that have a reputation.'Click To Tweet
[09:00] Blended Learning Model
Q: My postbac is considering a blended learning model for fall where lectures are delivered. Remote labs are going to be run in-person throughout the week with social distancing. How do you think this model in blended learning models, in general, would be viewed by med schools?
A: We’re in the unknown world with this pandemic. They don’t have any choice but to accept students online. Otherwise, they’re not going to have students for the next three years.'With COVID, medical schools are gonna have to accept online classes.'Click To Tweet
Do what your school is going to do. You do what you feel is comfortable in terms of your health and the health of those around you. Medical schools are going to be flexible right now.
[10:36] A Background in Business
Q: If I work in business development for nonprofit organizations for a period of time, should I include that on my application? How is this relevant to an application?
A: This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that students make when they apply. Everything you do has value because they’re part of who you are. That’s exactly what med schools are looking for in terms of applicants.
Scott believes that you have to extrapolate from what you did in economic development. For instance, you’re working with people which is always a good skill. You’re dealing with other individuals or groups of people and those reach out to the AAMC Core Competencies very well.'Your application is who you are, not everything medical-related that you did.'Click To Tweet
So a way to gauge what you should be talking about on your application is to have those AAMC competencies next to you. Evaluate what you did based on whether those reflected the core competencies.
On the other hand, my personal take on this is to leave out the correlation of what you did to medicine and how it’s going to strengthen you. How you frame your description is going to show you’re going to work with people. It’s going to show your friends, your leadership skills, your communication skills – those are the key things.
[15:14] Family Situation as Clinical Experience
Q: As a nontrad applicant with a child who battled a life-threatening illness for the past few years, I am often concerned about not having as many consistent shadowing volunteer hours as my peers. Is this a valid concern? How heavily do medical schools weigh my home environment and family situation?
A: A child with a life-threatening illness as crappy as that is, is a great experience in terms of a medical school application. Obviously, hopefully, it’s not the only experience that you have. You don’t want to lean on that as the only experience.'Some of the AAMC competencies relate to things like empathy and compassion. And these are very important qualities for a physician.'Click To Tweet
And having gone through that kind of thing, not only do you have empathy for your own child. When you’re in these support groups and stuff, you develop these relationships with other parents and with their kids.
That makes a huge difference and can be a real plus for an applicant. So it’s not a drawback at all. Nevertheless, it’s important you know how to talk about this on your application, how it has become meaningful to you, and what you’ve gotten out of the experience of dealing with that.
Q: Our premed advising office keeps stressing the students that research is critical for an application. Is research really that important?
A: In general, research is not necessary for you to go to medical school, especially if you don’t like research. You don’t need it just to be an attractive candidate in medical school.
But if you want to get into a program that’s very research-intensive, then you might want to consider at least trying it out and see what happens. Then you can decide whether you like it or it’s not for you. It all goes back to the question of what do you want to do?'You don't have to do research.'Click To Tweet
The goal of doing research is to show that you liked to challenge the status quo. You like to ask questions and you like trying to figure out answers, and that you can think critically through problems.
If you don’t like researc, then don’t do it to check off a box because you think that’s what you have to do. Don’t do it if you hate it.
And if you apply to medical schools that are going to be more research-heavy, are you going to be happy as a medical student right? In that case, may just try to avoid the schools that require research. Because there are not that many medical schools that actually require some level of research if you try to look at medical schools broadly. Moreover, medical schools will teach you the research you need. So it’s not like you need skills that you’re going to learn from your undergrad research project.
[24:09] MCAT Not Required?
Q: What are your thoughts on not requiring the MCAT?
A: The general consensus is if a school is going to potentially not require an MCAT, it’ll be across the board because it’s too confusing. But it’s interesting because it sets up a perfect experiment in four years.
One study compared two groups who took the MCAT and those that didn’t. And what they basically found was there was no difference. There are a lot of schools that are waiting to see what’s going to happen with the MCAT and figure out what they’re going to do.
Scott suspects there’s going to be very few schools that are going to actually enroll students without an MCAT. There’s probably going to be some level of give-and-take on this. But at the end of the day, you’re not going to get away with not taking the MCAT.
[30:15] Prestige of School
Q: How much does the admissions factor in the university you attended when looking at your application?
A: Medical schools are looking for good students who have performed well wherever they go to school, whatever their major is, they’ve done well in the prerequisite courses. They’ve shown via the MCAT that they have some cognitive capabilities to take an exam. Schools don’t really look at where you went to school.
There are going to be admissions committee members that are going to have a bias. There are going to be interviewers who are going to have a bias. But institutionally. medical schools don’t carry that bias. Ultimately, go to where you want to go to in undergrad. Look for a school which you feel fits you the best.'You're going to do better in college in an environment where you feel comfortable and you fit.'Click To Tweet
Admissions committees understand the importance of diversity. Pulling students from different parts of the country and from different universities is very important because there’s a diversity of thought.
[35:33] Being an MA vs. Being a CNA
Q: Will my four-year degree and Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA certificate be sufficient? Or would it be better to get a CNA job in a hospital?
A: In Texas, a medical assistant (MA) has a lot more patient contact. They’re doing vitals. They’re taking a good portion of the history when the patient comes in. And if they’re in a clinic, that’s the lion’s share of medical students in private clinics or offices as opposed to a hospital setting. That being said, it’s a very valuable experience. You’re meeting patients, you’re interacting with them, you’re finding out what’s going on with them. You’re taking their vitals. You’re preparing the way for the physician or the PA that comes in and to deal with them.
As opposed to a CNA, they’re often in settings of nursing homes or hospitals or other settings that don’t have as much patient care. They’re cleaning up the stuff that the nurses don’t want to do.
[38:17] See What’s Happening on Mappd
The idea behind Mappd is to give our expertise in a really low-cost way. So we’re building it all into the system. So that if you have budget concerns, just the subscription of Mappd, you will be getting expert advice. But if you have enough room for more, you can do the one-on-one which we will also be offering soon as we’re still currently developing it.
My goal from day one has been to give correct information which you shouldn’t have to pay for, or at least, pay only minimal costs. I have all the podcasts for free. The books are very cost-effective. The information is out there so please take advantage of those.