What are Med School Red Flags & How Do You Talk About Them?

Session 296

Red flags seem to confuse a lot of students. They come up in applications and interviews and you need to be prepared to talk about them. But what is really a red flag? And how do you overcome them? Do you talk about them in your application? These and more in this episode today!

Do you need some help with your interview process? Start with episodes found in this podcast including Episode 19 with Dr. Norma Wagner, the former Dean of Admissions at three different medical schools. Then work your way through and find those interview episodes to get you going.

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

If you need more help, check out the interview platform, an anytime mock interview platform where you log in and get access to it monthly. It records you as questions pop up on the screen in front of you. The key to interview prep is recording yourself and getting feedback. This platform allows you to record yourself. Just click a button and email it to a mentor, advisor, or whoever to get some feedback. It also includes a built-in assessment for you. Coming soon, we have an interview course. So stay tuned!

[03:35] What is a Red Flag?

There’s this mentality that as a premed student you have to be perfect. Otherwise, your dreams of becoming a physician is all over if you get a C+. But a C+ is not a red flag. I see a lot of students applying to medical school and they have horrible grades. Then they work themselves back and they showed that they can handle it. So when you see one C+, don’t worry about that. There are a lots of students who got C+ and they did just fine.

So what is a red flag? What should you be concerned about as you’re preparing your application? How can you start to think like an admissions committee member so that you can start evaluating your application from their eyes? Once you start thinking like them, then things get a little bit clear for you. Then hopefully, you anxiety levels come down.

The red flags I’m going to discuss here are potential red flags. They could be or not, it depends on your situation and whether you’re doing something about them to prove to the medicals school admissions committee that you own them and that you can handle the coursework.

[07:05] Red Flag #1: Arrest

If you’ve been arrested for anything or charged or convicted of anything, all of those are potential red flags. Depending on how questions are asked of you in the primary and secondary applications and during interviewers, and anything you have to fill out, you may still have to say yes, even if you think it’s been erased. Check out Episode 197, where Larry Cohen, a lawyer, talks about how to answer these questions, and what you can and should and shouldn’t say. So if you’ve been arrested and you’ve been asked by the admissions committee whether if you’ve been arrested, even if you haven’t been convicted, you still have to say yes.

You have to own whatever red flag you have in your application. If you don’t own it, you’re probably not going to get an interview. I had a discussion with the Director of Admissions at an osteopathic school a few weeks ago when I was in DC for an advisors’ conference. They cited one example of a student who got arrested but didn’t own it so they didn’t accept him.

Again, you have to own it. Then talk about what you’ve learned from it. Don’t make excuses. How have you grown form it and how have you grown more mature? How have you learned your lessons? Tell them what you’re doing to work on you as a person so that this doesn’t happen again. Some of these red flags may be unavoidable, but at least they’re explainable if something comes up. All these red flags are potential red flags because the school doesn’t understand the whole picture, especially if they see gaps in it.

Being a physician is all about judgment and being arrested for anything show potential poor judgment. As kids, we’re expected to do so. But if they see you’ve been arrested over and over, then that’s a red flag.

[15:22] Red Flag #2: Disciplinary Actions for Cheating

If you had any cheating or plagiarism on your record, that’s a huge red flag. Cheating your way to medical school is not going to look good. If it happened during Freshman year and you’ve learned from it and you’ve grown, with no other issues the rest of your time, then great. Again, own it. Don’t make excuses. Say what you learned from it.

But if you got caught cheating in your Junior or Senior year, that’s going to be a lot harder to overcome because now you don’t have a track record of personal growth.

[16:35] Red Flag #3: Downward Trends

If you have a downward trend in your GPA recently or by around the time you’re applying to medical school then that’s a red flag. If you’re stumbling into your application grade-wise then something is up. Are you burned out? Take some time off. Medical school is going to be a lot harder and you’re just going to continue to do poorly.

But if you have a downward trend early on, for instance, you take on too many extracurricular activities during Freshmen so you’re struggling with your grades, but then you rebound back up and finish strong. As long as you have a good track record past that, and long enough to appease the admissions committee so you can show them that you’re okay and you can handle the coursework.

If you have a downward trend going into the application, that’s going to be a much harder thing to overcome. And if you get an interview, you have to talk about what’s going on.

[19:00] Red Flag #4: DUI

This is another judgment issue. But a lot of good people get behind the wheel and get a DUI. Do you tell the school?

Again, own it. You would rather that you told them about it than them knowing about it from the background check. Own it and learn from it. As humans, we make mistakes and schools understand that.

What the medical school is going to think about is the safety of you during school, your classmates’ safety during school, and your ability to pass medical school and do well on the boards. They’re also thinking about patient safety as you’re rotating through hospitals. On top of that, they have to think about your ability to get a medical license after you graduate. As soon as you start thinking like that, and you get those kinds of questions thrown at you, just think about those things.

[22:20] Red Flag #5: Failing Semesters

Even if you have failures in a row, that’s a red flag but if you’re able to explain that and show them that you’ve grown from that and you can handle coursework, then no problem and move on. The goal is for you to be able to remove their fears, then they can just move on.

So if you failed out of college or got kick out of it, what are the issues? Own the reason behind it. Don’t blame others. Own it. Again, if you failed earlier on, it’s going to be easier to apply. But if you fail a semester right before you apply, it’s going to be a lot harder to overcome that. You may need to take some time off and do a postbac to get that upward trend going again.

[23:50] Red Flag #6: Too Many Withdrawals

Again, this depends on the situation. If you withdrew one semester or one year, then it’s possible something went on in your life at this time and so you had to withdraw. This shows a level of maturity. Whereas if a student has 16 Fs, it shows a lack of maturity. But that’s okay if you’re able to give your reason and prove an upward trend.

It will come up of course, but that won’t stop you from getting into medical school. Own it. What did you learn from it?

As long as you can explain what happened and the rest of your application looks great, then no problem.

But if you have a couple withdrawals after the semester or that you’ve withdrawn from the same class a couple of times and then you took that same class at a community college and got an A, that is a red flag. Why did you withdraw from the class at a four-year university and end up taking it at a community college?

If you have a great GPA but you’re withdrawing every semester from classes, are you just protecting your GPA? That’s a red flag.

[26:06] Red Flag #7: Not Enough Shadowing or Clinical Experience

Not enough clinical experience, shadowing, or volunteering, those are red flags. How can they know that you want to be a physician if you don’t have enough clinical experience? You have to show them that this is what you want.

Moreover, your application has to be able to show to the reader why you want to be a physician, not what. So you did all these extracurriculars, but why do you want to be a physician? Again, it’s the why, not the what. This is a tough one as you may not know about it, until you go in and get grilled during the interview.

But what is enough shadowing or clinical experience? There is no set number. It’s whatever you want. Just get enough and be able to show the interviewer why you want to be a physician.

[28:22] Red Flag #8: Big Gaps in Your Application

This could mean big gaps in your volunteering, clinical experience, and shadowing. Maybe you shadowed for 300 hours in your first two years of college and nothing since then. That’s a red flag. This shows the admissions committee that you just aren’t really dedicated to be a physician otherwise you’ve spent more time being around physicians.

Another example is if you’ve taken a prolonged time off school. You may have a reason but it’s a potential red flag and that’s going to get asked. So be prepared to explain why.

[29:39] Issues International Students May Face

These are just of the other red flags out there. But the key here is to put yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee member. Think about safety. Think about being able to pass the boards. Think about matching and are you going to be able to get a medical license?

As for international students where it’s so hard to get accepted into medical school, one issue that could prevent you from getting a medical school license is getting a visa. Is this going to be an issue? You could graduate from medical school and you match. But there’s an issue with your visa for some reason. This is a huge problem. And medical schools see this as a very big risk so they accept very few, if at all, international students.

[31:45] What is Not a Red Flag?

C+ is not a red flag. F could be a potential red flag. Again, it depends on what happened. Own it, learn from it, and move on.

Your poor first MCAT score is not a red flag. If you’ve done well the second time, then it’s not a red flag. If you take the MCAT back to back or even with some period in between and you get the same score, or worse, that is a potential red flag. What happened that it didn’t work the second time?

Below average MCAT score and GPA are not red flags. Be less anxious when going into your interview. If you are there for the interview, that means they’ve looked at your application, your GPA, and MCAT score. So they’ve determined based on your application that you are qualified enough to be a student. Not amazing, but not a red flag. They may bring this up but again, tell them about what you’ve learned.

[34:33] Are Community Colleges a Red Flag?

Community college classes are NOT a red flag. I really hope community colleges are going to be the norm in the future. Not every student knows they want to go to college right after high school. So community college is a good way to figure that out. It’s inexpensive. And in some states, it’s free. So taking those classes are not a red flag.

There’s a lot of discussion in the admissions world that diversity of medical school classes are getting hurt because historically, lower socioeconomic students or minority students are going into community colleges. And the less affluent students are the ones going to four-year universities. But this is going away since many schools frown upon community college classes. So it’s hurting the more diverse students coming in.

[36:40] Final Thoughts

Be prepared for anything on your application. Know your application inside and out. Have reasons for everything. Own your red flags. Talk about what you’ve learned from them and how you’ve moved forward.

Links:

PMY 19: Interview with a Medical School Admissions Expert

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon

mock interview platform

PMY 197: Can You Become a Doctor If You’ve Been Arrested?

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