Stephanie Petrosky, Director of Admissions at Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine joined me to talk about how her team reviews med school applications.
A couple of months ago, we did a behind-the-scenes look at the TMDSAS application service. It got some great feedback from students. We’re doing the same today, this time, with a medical school. Specifically, it’s an osteopathic medical school.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:45] Becoming the Dean of Admissions with a Business Background
Coming from a business background, Stephanie cites being able to bring a sense of customer service and customer focus. You have to have an eye for business operations. You have to be able to look at systems and process since it has a lot of translations to other business models. The biggest challenge is being able to translate the needs of the students in this professional program.
In general, Stephanie describes this as career progress for somebody who’s just really been out there creating success. People who want to be in a position like that would really emerge as a leader and keep issues on the forefront. There also needs to be attention to the potential and future business needs.Physicians are trained to be physicians. They're not trained to run large academic organizations.Click To Tweet
They’re not trained in these complex scenarios of running large academic organizations. Or maybe in the accreditation process of how a school maintains its status and how it moves and improves through the use of trending and data. So this is data analytics. Not to mention the attributes important in the business sense and on the financial end.
That said, it takes a complex setting and skills. There are deans of admissions that come into the setting where they are the physician. Then they also have some natural skills that can be trained and developed along the way more in succession planning. So this may work too.
But even though she’s not a physician, Stephanie has a very strong healthcare background. She has been a colleague and a friend among physicians for all of her career.
The other piece of it is the modeling of the education process. Even in their college, they have a lot of physicians in their faculty. But they also have education experts who have high credentials and experience in the development design of education program.
Stephanie describes it as a very complex school and a complex array of leadership that helps them on many different levels. Their physicians are intimately involved in meeting their candidates and setting criteria. They help them look at data together with the faculty. Non-science, physicians, clinicians, researchers, they all get together and look at it from their point of view when discussing files and choosing the best student that works in their program.
[Related episode: Interview with a Medical School Admissions Expert.]
[07:20] Nova Southeastern University Medical School Has a New Name
Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine has changed its name to NSU Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine. The college is a recipient thereby to the Nova Southeastern University of Dr. Kiran C. Patel who made them a significant gift to the university.
With that, they’re going to help the school build a second regional campus in the Tampa area. This will house many of NSU’s health profession programs. But they’re going to keep everything consolidated. So through the normal process of applications for all osteopathic medical schools, they use the AACOMAS system. It’s a universal tool that all of the colleges participate on the national level. That’s the first step in the process.
They are still going to stay at the main campus in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area. And during the admissions process, everything will be coordinated through their main campus. It’s under the direction of their current team and structure. They’re doing more interviewing and processing of applications.'Even though our name is changed, nothing about our values, our location, or our people have changed.'Click To Tweet
[09:55] Behind the Scenes in the Application Process at Nova
According to Stephanie, think about it in more of a checklist or step-wise process. An applicant is preparing to apply to medical school several years before the day actually comes that they hit that Submit button.
Applicants can do to connect with Pre-SOMA or pre-application of advocacy groups. They can even reach out to schools to learn who may be that person to help guide them in the application process. Look at the websites and try to educate yourself on the steps.
From a school level, Stephanie says they don’t get involved until the applicant has completed and submitted the application through the AACOMAS systems.There is a huge pipeline involved in the AACOMAS process.Click To Tweet
Stephanie explains there’s a third party vendor operates the application system for all the osteopathic medical schools. In that, the applicant has to attach all of their documents and pay the fees accordingly. They can designate certain schools so they can do it one time and they can just have the applications sent to all the different areas they prefer.
Then on the back-end, Stephanie describes being in the waiting zone. They have an interface with AACOMAS system at the school level. So they can actually see who might be in process or who’s now completed but waiting to be verified. This is another step that holds things up.
[12:57] AACOMAS Announces Faster Verification Turnaround
Having returned from the OMED Conference and got a first-hand update. AACOMAS is saying that their verification turnaround has gone down to about two to three days on average. This used to be weeks of people double-checking transcripts and everything. This is great news in the system.AACOMAS is saying that their verification turnaround has gone down to about two to three days on average.Click To Tweet
So once the applicant is in the system and has submitted, this verification timing could delay or up-regulate if there’s a lot of good documentation sent in advance. But they don’t even see this application until everything is submitted and has been verified by AACOMAS.
Once a week, their school “goes to the mailbox” to check and download system to system. They don’t receive ongoing downloads. They do it once a week by the volume of applications they take in for all their health profession programs. Wednesdays as their designated day, they go in and check for all of the status changes in applications that have now been verified and ready for the school to pick them up.
[14:15] NSU-KPCOM’s Application Cycle
Then they do an internal process of them collecting all of the additional pieces. The secondary application is sent out to applicants once they have the application from the AACOMAS site. So they fill out all the more customized information for NSU and the school they have. And they also have to submit letters of recommendation or any additional attachments that may didn’t get into their original application.Faculty and physicians are busy, so it's understandable that they can be slow getting their letters of recommendation written. Click To Tweet
Sometimes students have late letters of recommendation. Faculty and physicians are busy, so they can be slow getting their letters of recommendation written. So sometimes, the application is ready to go and they would hate for an application to be waiting. So she would usually advise students to go ahead and submit and then send the letter of reference directly to the school.
Then they would match everything up, check off the checklist. Once it’s ready for review, then it’s expedited to their admissions office. And their admissions counselor will be down with their reviewing process. This is when they apply their criteria and some of the characteristics they really feel are a good match for their program.'From there, decisions are made about a certain number of applicants that we are targeting to interview.'Click To Tweet
They have a certain schedule of interview dates and a certain number of seats they can offer. Then they begin the interview process, which goes on all the cycle. They work in a rolling admission process.
So from May 4th when AACOMAS application opens, they start interviewing and calling people about mid-August. Their secondaries don’t go out until June. And by that time, they’re just sending out invites all the way through February or March. The year is almost complete in activity for them.
[Related episode: What Does the Med School Application Timeline Look Like?]
[16:32] What’s Happens at the End of the Application Cycle
What they find on the back end are those that are late to the cycle or they interviewed but they weren’t the first offers that came back from the school but they’re on the waiting list. Then you start the formal deadlines of maybe somebody who may be in an allopathic program or away from the state.
And now, they’re considering offers coming closer to home and they’re making their final decision. It’s a very tensed and stressful situation, so Stephanie feels like she’s working at a booking agency at the end of the year.
So it’s at the end of the cycle that they see a lot of movement, and that’s when the fun starts. These are the candidates they get to contact that they’ve really been diligent in staying in touch with the school. They’ve been able to rank them and put them in order they know they’re going to come back and get them.
Waitlists and Late Acceptances to Medical School
Typically, they see 50-60 drops at the end of the cycle. These are people who have given them their full deposit and they’ve reserved their seat all the way through that process. And then at the last minute, life happens or they need to defer or for some any other reason.
Stephanie says there’s a lot of settling on the back end of the year. It’s gotten less and less, but it’s a good opportunity for a candidate who may not be strong in the academics to attract that offer right up front. But they have shown perseverance or they’ve gone back and strengthened their application by adding an update. They have updated their academic record to show them your perseverance.Their goal is to find the right balance of students with the drive, tenacity, passion, and heart for medicine who can also handle the rigor of the academics.Click To Tweet
Their goal is to find the right balance of students with the drive, tenacity, passion, and heart for medicine who can also handle the rigor of the academics. They also found that by using their magic formula with what they’re looking for in applicants is that they have had tremendous success at helping the students avoid the failures. They move on together collectively and get past their board scores.
[20:20] Number of Applications at NSU-KPCOM
In the last few years (except 2016 and 2017), there has been a huge upward trend in the number of applications at Nova. The osteopathic medicine has really been a very strong profession program that has been drawing a lot of candidates from other areas. But they’ve seen the peak nationally.
Then the whole other piece of it is that everything stops. When things go up, they kind of rescind a little bit. And there are new trends within the health professions and the academics.Two years ago, NSU-KPCOM had over 10,000 applications. This year, they have about 9,000 applications. Click To Tweet
Two years ago, they had over 10,000 applications. This year, they have about 9,000 applications. Last year was a small stabilization. They didn’t grow nor drop. But this year, they’re looking at a bit less.
[21:47] Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine Secondary Applications
They have an established process that they follow, being in a university scenario. They have applications done on a secondary basis. Once the application is complete, they do not evaluate, which means the whole review process can delay an application. So leave it up to the applicant to decide, based on their criteria. But pretty much, it goes out to everybody who has submitted a complete application.
There are about 1,200 or so that start their application but don’t submit it because that’s the part the applicant usually has to pay a fee for. So sometimes people would designate and they can see those applications on their side in the AACOMAS. But they don’t pay the fee unless they submit and go forward with their applications.
The same thing is true on the NSU side is they have the opportunity to submit an application and secondary if they’ve gone that far to apply to NSU. They typically want the secondary as well, which is a smaller fee.
At NSU-KPCOM, their fee is $50 for the university to cover the processing of it internally. Then they look at the full complete application together to decide whether this is an applicant they’re interested in interviewing and meeting.
[Related page: Medical School Secondary Application Essay Library.]
Should the Secondary Application at NSU-KPCOM Be Wrapped into the Primary Application?
Additionally, the option of wrapping the secondary into the primary application has been given to them. Stephanie thinks this would be ideal because it’s mainstream from an applicant perspective. The downside, however, is that there are so many different processes. Not just AACOMAS but all of their application services.
They’re interfacing with so many different programs and so many different universities and policies and procedures and processes. It’s mind-boggling to think how this could be streamlined. That said, it’s an option.
At their university, they could participate in the wrap around. But their university does not control their final handling decisions being under a big university. They have a division of enrollment student processes which already make the decision. Hence, they decided to do it separately.'Sometimes the school is subject to larger operating procedures and decision-making that may not be in our hands.'Click To Tweet
[25:28] Why You Need to Apply to Medical School Early
Stephanie advises students to make sure they follow directions when they enter in the AACOMAS portal because there are a lot of details. Really watch the time frame and make sure to apply early. There’s always a group of students that the minute midnight strikes, they’re in the application system. The big bulk is out there. 75% of the best applications or the most competitive applications are out there.About 75% of the best applications for medical school tend to be submitted early.Click To Tweet
Even Great Applicants Can Struggle to Find a Seat When Applying Late
But there’s a great group of applicants that tend to come into their attention in between January and March. It gets her because they’re really great candidates but they just apply right before the deadline. At this point, their response would be there’s no room. So they’re put on the list as soon as they’ll have the cancellation. You can’t be offered admission if you don’t interview. So it’s about managing the interview opportunities.You can't be offered admission if you don't interview.Click To Tweet
Having gone from the conference, Stephanie has interacted with admissions officers for two days. They’re all telling her they set their schedules in April and they’re interviewing pretty much all the way through January or February. And final decisions are already out there.
There was an occasion that they added four more rounds of admissions interviews late in April. It was an interesting place for her to be because they had all these candidates who were still open, active, and waiting to hear And it was late in the season. They were all willing to pay the money. They came to Fort Lauderdale, spent the whole day with them, and fell in love.
At lunch, Stephanie let them know that they wouldn’t have invited them there if they weren’t really holding seats for the right candidates. So it was important for the students to let them know of their top choice. And they look for that during the whole day.
[28:09] It Goes Beyond the 30-Minute Interview
People think that they just have to pass that 30-minute interview window. But when you come to campus, the minute you show up to the time you leave, everybody’s collecting feedback. Stephanie points out they do a 360. They want their student ambassadors to be involved. They want their faculty to be involved.
Most of the time, their dean goes to meet the candidates and she writes the seating chart. She puts all the names down. And she would observe the behavior of students. There’s always something that can come up as an opportunity. So she advocates for students to stay engaged. Find somebody at the school that you can chat with. Find a way to be personable.
So when you’re afforded an interview, take advantage of that 100% and tell people you love this school. This message gets over to the admissions committee. Moreover, this is just the logistics of the application. Stephanie explains there’s a lot more to it after the interview has transpired or even what happens if you don’t get the invite.Students think they just have to pass the 30-minute interview, but from the minute you show up on campus, everybody's collecting feedback.Click To Tweet
[30:47] Advice for Nontraditional Students Applying to Medical School
Stephanie says that the nontraditional students are becoming standard these days. So her advice is that if you really want this, never give up on your dream. Life is what makes who you are special. And the most interesting candidates that come to them are those that had a rich experience in life and been able to turn that around and become competitive.If you really want this, never give up on your dream. Click To Tweet
There’s also a lot of interesting things happening to academics where students in dual admissions programs or articulation programs that brought in the undergraduate world. 50% of their students are in the nontraditional category, about 26 years old on average.
Stephanie looks for the distinguishing story since every candidate has a story. Moreover, Stephanie stresses the importance of finding your story and see how you fit in that school. Look for schools. You may go to the AACOM website which shows all kinds of matriculant stats that you can look up on data reports. They show you the volume or trends. It’s educated to be an educated consumer as Stephanie puts it.It's really important that as an individual and an applicant, you find your story and how you fit into that school.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: The Nontraditional Medical Student: A Different Path to Med School.]
[32:35] How to Make Your Application Stand Out: Upper-Level Science Coursework
With the sheer volume being translated who completed their application and checked all the requirements off, that limits the pool now down to 5,500. They know the numbers in order to yield the class size that they have. Usually, they have to interview about 3 candidates for every seat. That’s somewhere around 700 applicants that they’re looking to meet. And out of 10% of the first application pool, it’s quite a challenge.
So you have to put some minimum criterion. And if you’re not meeting the criteria, you really need to find a way to stand out. Because even though their guidelines allow a dean to make a variance, it’s also accountability to their crediting body.
They have to tell them and put on file that they’ve not followed their own policies. And so that might get everybody into trouble. So their criteria are mostly set at an achievable level. And candidates should at least try to maintain that.
If your GPA is 3.02 and just over the minimum criteria, you’re really going to need some inside guidance. Find a way to connect with the school you’re seriously interested in and go visit. Find the name of somebody who can set an appointment with you. Spend 30 minutes just talking about your file. Then do what they tell you to do.
As Stephanie has mentioned, she takes a personal approach to making it very transparent. She will open up somebody’s file with them on the phone and discuss how they can strengthen it. Most of the time, it’s going to be higher sciences.
Showing Academic Rigor with Upper-Level Science Courses
If you can show your academic rigor in microbiology or immunology and really come away with a good grade on that, that might lessen the impact. For instance, you let the sciences slip during your second undergraduate year because you were just having too much fun.
Stephanie adds that the biggest conversation she has that’s most common is they know they’ve messed up but they really want to go to medical school. And they know they’ve got a bunch of things in their undergraduate career they’ve got to fix.
If students started out of high school with 100% mindset on doing it, then they’re going to miss out on all the fun of undergrad. So it’s a constant balancing and taking and giving of what life brings to the candidate.What can you add to your medical school application that will distinguish you?Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Are There Hidden MCAT Prereqs I Should Take?]
[35:47] How to Make Your Application Stand Out: Volunteering, Scribing, and Scholarships
Besides taking upper-level science classes, you can find volunteer work or work with a physician. In their case, they love when you work with an osteopathic physician. They need to see you have the heart and translation of the whole philosophy osteopathic education. They’re really looking to see that emulated in your application. And it comes out. So it’s easy for them to spot.
Also, Stephanie mentions that scribing is a great way to get into the business of medical care. There is exponential growth in the candidate’s ability to relate, to grasp, to express themselves. Because all of this is part of what they’re going to look at in an application. So they screen by GPA and by MCAT to have some minimums. And then they may have some stratification based on what the results are.Scribing is a great way to get into the business of medical care.Click To Tweet
They also look at whether you’re coming from an underserved, minority background. Maybe they just didn’t have access to tutoring and skills. It may be an opportunity for someone to showcase a scholarship or even an agency they’ve been working for on a volunteer basis to help explain.
[37:11] Master’s Degrees and Postgraduate Coursework
Master’s degrees and postgraduate coursework are very good application enhancers. So if you didn’t do so hard in the sciences and got a very moderate GPA. Again, science courses are only a big part of the application they review. They suggest going ahead and proceeding into a Master’s program. It changes the student’s ability to really get into the track for medical school.
Stephanie explains that most of the time, people come to the table saying they’re weak in the sciences, particularly those who would pursue their master’s. But she has seen some really interesting masters and a variety of programs that show a whole different side of that.
They happen to be a provider of an MPH program. So candidates interested in NSU, if they get involved in their MPH program, they’ve already demonstrated an affiliation and an interest in NSU. And they’ve gotten to know them. In fact, some of their faculty from the DO program teach in the MPH program and vice versa. So for them, an MPH program is a really good thing.
MPH Programs Don’t Address a Weakness in Your Science GPA
But the issue is it doesn’t take care of the science problem—if that is really the problem. So you want the student to be also working on the coursework. Harvard Online has that, as well as the University of New England. Each specialize in online prehealth prerequisites. She thinks it enhances somebody’s academic resume.
So even though people have traditionally gone through a program and attended a university with the online program available, you can be doing a couple of things at the same time. Nevertheless, the C is a requirement for their individual science prerequisites.
You really want to show that you now have got it together and you’re a matured student. You figured out your learning style, you know your personality, and you how to balance things. And you’re working now and you’re gaining this experience so you’re able to apply what you’re learning.Going back and repeating a course to augment that grade in your transcript is a good tactic.Click To Tweet
[Related episode: Choosing Between an SMP and Postbac Program.]
[40:30] AACOMAS Rules and More Tips to Improve Your DO Application
The one thing that’s killing everybody this year is that AACOMAS went through a major change in how they’re recording grades. Instead of grade replacement, they’re using an averaging mechanism. So it makes it much harder to get people’s GPA up with that kind of strategy. But they look at everything.
So even though your prerequisite may be one degree and then you have another A in replacement in the file, they will see it. They can see academic coursework over four to six years. And they can see where the candidate has really been. This can become a part of the context during your interview. Anyway you can demonstrate that is going to tell them that you’re ready for medical school.Your ability to handle and recover and be resilient is really what we're looking for in the application.Click To Tweet
Additionally, just continue to show in any kind of community service. Their school is big on community service. So they really like to see a variety and not just what happened in the undergrad. The want to see that you’re intentionally deciding that you’re an advocate for, say, abused women. And that you’ve been giving time at a free clinic for rape victims, for instance. There are lots of ways a personality can be expressed.NSU-KPCOM is big on community service. So they really like to see a variety of community service work, and not just what you did in undergrad.Click To Tweet
Take your time with your application and ask people for some feedback. See if an objective person could see the same thing that a candidate from the inside is thinking they’ve put together in their application.
[43:01] Are You Worrying About the Merging of ACGME and AOA?
In the MD world, the postgraduate training is merging (ACGME and AOA). When a student is looking at applying to MD and DO schools and thinking about that postgrad training, Stephanie advises thinking of it in terms of the medical school. Does MD or DO rank higher over the other when it comes to residency?
Conversely, Stephanie has a different view on this whole scenario. She feels very optimistic that this is a great opportunity for medical schools to come together. They can look on a parallel basis of what is the best demonstrated practice and what might be things that can be left behind as old ways of doing business.
She thinks the vision to create a universal postgraduate training experience is right where it needs to be. Her hunch is the standardization process at the medical school level. She thinks it just makes sense that if you’re going to be producing candidates desirable to residency programs, that they come out with consistent competencies from those programs. It’s a long time down the road though.As a medical student, you need to find a way to make yourself distinguishable and desirable.Click To Tweet
With residency applications, they’re all looking for the same characteristics. Be distinguishable and engaged in your education process. Show leadership and that extra pieces of where you take initiative. Most of them now look for students that either have a graduate certificate or some type of master’s degree, maybe in a subspecialization. Or what kinds of student club leadership and things you can do in medical school.
So she really doesn’t think this issue between osteopathic and allopathic is going to be too much of an issue in the long run of residency applications. They’re all working on this universal guideline.
[Related episode: How Will the Single GME Accreditation System Affect You?]
Future Challenges in Osteopathic Education
The biggest challenge she sees in osteopathic education is going more towards the ACGME guidelines are. So she thinks they’re students in the osteopathic world have more to catch up on. But isn’t any different than what they’ve been doing for years. Their students have always been competitive to both. They’ve been ahead of the curve on this.
Stephanie adds that when you look at a school, look at their residency match. Because the schools have to report in what all the graduates are doing when they take the residency. What kinds of subspecializations are they going in? They make this available on their website, which is also a requirement for all schools. Make sure that when you get down with your process that you are highly competent and competitive physician. You want to be able to find where you want to match.Match rates are a really good indicator of where students are going.Click To Tweet
For the most part, DO schools are doing a good job in preparing competitive applicants. Her biggest concern is the locations of facilities so they have to get clever and creative about how much training spots they have.
That’s three years of intensive training that most students have to acquire. So the creative piece of it is still the same challenge we have today. We have to find good quality training places for residents to go and then still have physicians involved in training. They are licensed in a limited way. So they still have to have that residency director and other senior physicians overlooking what they’re doing.
[49:32] More Advice for Premed Students
The only thing that matters is your attitude going into it. Everything is predicated off of your effort and the work you put in. Just because you go to Nova because they have great residency match rates, doesn’t mean you’re going to match at a great residency. You still have to put in the work and put in the effort.
Stephanie adds that you should focus on where you are and do the best with what you can and where you’re at. Find a way to really know yourself and figure out how to leverage your strength. And that’s where it’s going to shine.
Even if you realize you hate the rotation, just embrace it and get the best you can from the scenario. It won’t last forever. You’ve got to get through the process. Then eventually, you can go where you want to go. Be mindful of where you see yourself in the long run. Just find a way to really accentuate your strength.The only thing that matters is your attitude. Your effort is going to determine more than your circumstances.Click To Tweet
[53:16] Why You Should Consider Going to Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephanie says she has worked in the community for almost 30 years and when she had a career change and opportunity, she tried to come to NSU-KPCOM only because she worked on the outside and they train their physician students. She could see the distinguishable difference in the candidates.
The ability to see the caliber of their student body and faculty and their dedication to the process to her is nowhere else.
Lastly, she says it’s not for everybody. It has to be the right fit. But for those that decide to make it, it’s just truly focused on students. They’re focused on being innovative, and the care and compassion they emulate in their mission. It’s not marketing talk and a different walk when you get there.
That’s why they encourage people to visit their campus to get a feel for it. Stephanie says it’s only something you can experience when you’re there. They’re engaging their students throughout the whole process to make sure people can walk out with that impression.
Lastly, there are students in our Facebook Hangout Group who go to NSU-KPCOM. They’re always open to answering questions about the school.
Links and Other Resource
- Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Related episode: Where to Get Letters of Recommendation as a Nontrad.
- Related episode: How Soon Can I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
- Need MCAT Prep? Save on tutoring, classes, and full-length practice tests by using promo code “MSHQ” at Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)!