Enrique Jasso, Associate Director, Texas Health Education Service, answers your questions about how TMDSAS and Texas medical schools are reacting to COVID-19.
Enrique has a unique perspective from the TMDSAS’ front and the medical schools in Texas that participate in TMDSAS.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:12] A Little Background
Enrique is the Associate Director of the Texas Health Education service inside the TMDSAS office that everybody knows and loves. And then there’s another branch called the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP). It’s a special program for economically disadvantaged students.
The mission of the Texas Health Education Service is to amplify the messaging for TMDSAS and for JAMP. They’re a lot more advisor facing and applicant facing. And they have some online communities where they’re very active on those.“Our goal is to make sure that students are heard in the application process.”Click To Tweet
[05:32] A Brief History of the TMDSAS
Enrique takes us back to 1968. Back at the establishment of the University of Texas, medical and dental application. And back then it was just the UT System schools that just came together and formed their own application service.
Over the years, they’ve tagged on some non-UT System schools like the Texas Tech University schools, Texas A&M University of North Texas. And more recently, they have the Sam Houston State University and University of Houston.
So all those schools have opted to go with TMDSAS for the service and make sure they’re involved in coursework, determination, making sure that prerequisites are fulfilled. They’re more involved in residency determination.“If you're not a Texas resident, you have to abide for up to 10% of the spots available in the schools.”Click To Tweet
They are the ones that are setting the guidelines for determining whether a course actually fulfills a prerequisite. They are very active with making sure that the application reflects exactly what it is that they need to find in applicants.
18 schools are a part of TMDSAS that are medical, dental, and veterinary schools in the state.
[07:44] TMDSAS’ Take on the Covid Crisis: What’s Next?
It’s going to take a little bit longer than it was for the national services to get their answer together. They really want to hear out the schools and make sure they’re providing an environment for them to collaborate. They want to make sure they understand that the students are the ones that come first and the pre health communities come first.
They have a LISTSERV that consists of all Texas advisors, professional schools, and even beyond medical – dental and veterinary, where they’re sharing some of their experiences and questions they’re asking students and asking advisors. They’re hearing that feedback directly, essentially, from students and they’re able to address those concerns.
For the most part, what the schools are really sharing is that this is an anomaly. Clearly everybody knows that. But most importantly, is that the schools are really empathetic with students and realizing that this is a huge disruption to their education.
There’s a huge disruptive disruption to their preparation. It’s affecting courses turning pass/fail. It’s missing out on shadowing opportunities. It’s MCAT tests being postponed or canceled.
Based on the feedback they’re getting from students and advisors, they’re able to start thinking about those questions and how to address those.
TMDSAS’ response may seem initially broad. But they actually have a committee made up of all their participating institutions. They’re meeting regularly to address those questions and those concerns. As a result, students are well aware of how this semester is going to affect the application. And they’re aware of how the schools are going to process their applications.
The goal of the TMDSAS is to present a unified front. Enrique can’t guarantee that each school is going to fully agree with everything that they’re saying. But for the most part, he feels very confident that the schools are acting in the interest of the entire pre health community. And that would include having a unified set of expectations or regulations for applicants affected now.
[12:06] The Three Biggest Headaches Moving Forward
One is going to be assessing a pass/fail course. For the most part, the schools seem pretty unified in that they will work with applicants on a case by case basis.
For instance, a pass/fail or a biochemistry course, when you have a history of A’s in all of your science courses is not a big issue. Pass/fail course when you have a majority of C’s is a completely different picture. It’s a matter of giving it context.
As far as MCAT scores go, it’s like the elephant in the room. Schools will not invite anyone for an interview until those MCAT scores come out. TMDSAS has been touting how important it is to apply early. So that kind of throws a huge wrench into that whole system.“As far as the MCAT scores go, it’s like the elephant in the room.” Click To Tweet
The schools are looking at perhaps extending their interview process a little bit further. This is something they’re still working on and which they don’t have a unified response to.
The third one is on activities and how those are affected. One of their deans, Dr. Julianne Callaway, gave this really amazing response on how students should think creatively if their activities have been canceled or have been postponed for shadowing or volunteer work.
She was actually talking about seeking alternative options. For example, YouTube is a treasure trove of just so many great resources that people could go out and find. Just sit down and commit a couple hours a week to watching a video on different human systems.“The application to medical school is certainly a marathon.” Click To Tweet
She adds that a regular semester is not going to determine the outcome. How the schools are seeing this is their thesis. But your application is the entire context of your operation.
[17:15] Using the COVID-19 Situation in Your Application
It’s really just how you are reacting to the situation. It’s something they’re always challenging students to think abou. They asked you to list all your activities and the things that are most meaningful to you. And what did you take away from this? Why is this important to you? And why is it important to your journey as an aspiring healthcare professional?
It’s kind of thinking outside the box right now. If that comes down to you – volunteering for a food delivery service for your local food bank, or actually signing up for a part time overnight shift to restock the grocery stores nearby. That speaks volumes to how you’re taking on what you have right now and still seeking out an opportunity to help other people. You’re going around the neighborhood and signing up five neighbors who are elderly immunocompromised, who don’t want to go outside.“Just be there to help and do it because it's helping and not because this will look good on your application.” Click To Tweet
[19:32] How Re-Applicants Are Affected
Enrique thinks this goes back to context. What would it look like beforehand? What does it look like? What did it look like up until February? That’s going to be a huge part and how the schools are going to take a look at applications.“If somebody needs to fix their GPA, it's not going to happen in a year.” Click To Tweet
A lot of postbac programs tend to be a year long but they include other opportunities and other experiences. Enrique’s advice to these students is to stay the course, as far as TMDSAS applicants are concerned.
If you do have the option to do a pass/fail or to stick with a letter grade, you should definitely stick to a letter grade. And that’s what’s preferred from the schools.
And if you have the mindset of how are they ever going to know that I had that choice? It’s because there are so many other applicants from your school that have that choice and took the choice of the letter grade.
Find opportunities to engage with an advisor of sorts. Your postback program might have an advisor integrated there and they have solutions for you. In the meantime, if you’re doing a DIY postback, Enrique highly recommends that you reach out to the NAPA LISTSERV.
Stay engaged with online communities like the platform that you have on Facebook. Applicants see how other people are kind of responding to the situation, hearing them out and hearing out different options that you might have not thought of.
[22:06] Optional Pass/Fail vs Grades
The message Enrique is hearing right now is they’ll work with students and that pass/fail would be accepted.”“It's all about context.”Click To Tweet
Side note: I actually personally called out Harvard which has updated their policy. It was actually pretty nice. They said they don’t want any student to be disadvantaged by this situation. And the language around their pass/fail policy was that they understand that students are taking pass fail courses because the school is requiring that. And basically the language It was they will accept pass fail if that was the only option given to you.
So I wrote them an email saying that I love how they’re advocating that this shouldn’t disadvantage anyone. But the honest truth is that it’s disadvantageous to a lot of students, especially those who came into this.
When the campus shut down and the dorm shut down, they didn’t have a home to go to. When the school cafeteria shut down, they didn’t have a job to pay for anything anymore. And so the stress of them going for the option to pass/fail. Their grades have been really good. But the toll of all of this is affecting their mental health, their physical safety, whatever that is. They’re going to take pass/fail because they just need to take care of themselves.
Now Harvard’s out there going sorry, that’s going to disadvantage you because you had the option. So I sent them an email I haven’t heard back yet. I’m trying to be the voice for all these pre med students out there that this obviously is affecting everyone differently.
As for TMDSAS, they’re 100% on the same page on this. They’re seeing a lot of students who have to go back home. And at home, they’ve got 10 younger siblings and their parents are having to work remotely and all of a sudden they are a babysitter.
Talking about being disadvantaged in that scenario, or going home. And realizing that you need to buy a laptop now all of a sudden, so that you can sign into your resumed classes because you don’t have access to a computer lab.
There are so many things that are at play right now that are affecting students.
[25:00] The Fate of Nontrad Students
For non traditional students, you are already at a huge disadvantage and that you opted to take a different path than the one that you decided to pursue at the end.
For the most part, you know, the students that Enrique has worked with tend to be second career students. They’re business majors and then all of a sudden decide to pursue medicine. And for them, their disadvantage is that they don’t have the network to exchange ideas with.
As a pre med student in a traditional school, you have 100 other people in your biology class you’re able to talk to and it depends on the culture of that pre med world. With the nontrad, you don’t always have that opportunity.
Secondly, a lot of them don’t have access to an advisor who’s able to help them. And those that do have access to an advisor tend to have really terrible experiences with those advisors, for some reason or another.
Enrique explains that his mission is more longitudinal in making sure that the schools are able to identify who a non traditional student is. They’ve done a lot of great work and make sure that“Students are able to identify themselves on the TMDSAS application as a non traditional.”Click To Tweet
Schools really love that question. Because it gives them some insight, not just on whether or not they’re non traditional. It gives them an insight into how self aware the student is, it’s almost like an extra secondary question.
As a result, they were actually able to pull some numbers. Previously, they had been using age as a cutoff for non traditional. But they’re no longer doing that.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is that the schools are always talking about how amazing non traditional students are. They really engage with the human experience better.“Everybody really wants people who have life experiences to come into medicine because they're able to connect more and engage more with other people.”Click To Tweet
Moreover, TMDSAS is about to launch a survey that is going to address some issues non traditional students have. So they can take that back to the advisors and have them assess how their advising might be improved by some of the feedback from non traditional students.
[29:53] Final Words of Wisdom
This is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. One semester is not going to trip you up. Two semesters will not trip you up. It’s how you’re reacting to the scenario.
As you mentioned, this is affecting everybody. It’s affecting every aspect of every industry. How are you reacting to that?
Are you really taking the time to engage with other resources? Right now, you’re really fortunate to have so many programs that are offering free services for you to watch videos online, educational resources. You have Rosetta Stone that has three free months right now. For students, maybe this is the time that you learn how to speak a different language.
Take some time. Eat that pint of ice cream. But figure out where you want to go from here because your decisions are really what’s going to make you stand out in your application. Most students know about the Freshman 15. But work on your Corona 15 right now.
[31:26] Check Out Inside Health Education
Check out Inside Health Education Podcast. They talk to pre med students, but they talk to students through the perspective of the TMDSAS and where they come from.
They have a lot of their deans coming on the podcast talking about different issues they’re seeing in the application. Since they also changed the name from TMDSAS Podcast to Inside Health Education, they broke free from having to just talk about the application all the time.
They actually had just recorded an episode with a professional writer who’s talking about the hero’s journey, and what that looks like in your application. Essentially, it’s like, the hero’s journey starts with something that happens to them, and then how they address that, and how they overcome that.
But in your essays, a lot of students tend to focus on just things that happen to them, and then you’re just stuck there.
[32:30] The Hero’s Journey
I talked about that in my personal statement book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.
The hero’s journey is every movie that you watch, most action movies. It’s the same story just with different characters in different dilemmas right from from Neo and Morpheus to Luke Skywalker and Yoda that they all have their mentor that guides them on their way. It’s all the hero’s journey. This is how we’re hardwired to understand stories.“It's just an aspect of storytelling.”Click To Tweet
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