Carle Illinois COM: How to Thrive in the Midst of Adversity

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Session 386

Carle Illinois College of Medicine thrives on being different and finding solutions to uncertainty. Danny & Nora share how you can too as med school applicants!

Nora Few is the Director of Admissions and Danny Teraguchi is the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

This is my third time talking with a representative from Carl, Illinois College of Medicine. The last time was Episode 349 where I talked with Heather Wright, who was at the time their recruitment director talking about the secondary process, the interview process, and much more.

I also had Dr. King Li on the podcast way back in Episode 256 when Carle Illinois College of Medicine first got their preliminary accreditation.

Students are going through with this COVID-19 pandemic, with potential changes in the application process with a lot of interviews from the previous cycle being turned into video interviews.

If you haven’t listened to the previous podcast, Carle Illinois doesn’t do in person interviews. It’s not something they think is beneficial. And we had that whole conversation about that as well.

I reached out to them because there’s so much uncertainty right now. And Carle Illinois College of Medicine really thrives on being different and building on that uncertainty and finding solutions to that uncertainty.

'As the premed student, find out who you are through this time, and not necessarily trying to pigeonhole yourself into being something that you think you have to be.'Click To Tweet

[05:25] What Their Early Conversations Look Like

First off, they don’t do interviews so this isn’t something they have to worry about. They won’t have to worry about scheduling. Their review is holistic-based. They look at competencies rather than actual classes. Although classes are one way that you can show competency. If the rest of your application is strong, one semester is not going to make a difference. Additionally, they have a very specific secondary process.

'We have been accepting online courses all along. We really try to look at the whole student.'Click To Tweet

[07:54] What’s Next for the Students?

Danny thinks that the trajectory of an individual applicant is not going to change because of COVID-19. Their academic ability and their volunteering are all going to be apparent. There’s going to be obviously a little blip because of this period.

If they are doing well, holistically, this little area is not gonna matter a whole lot weighted in their overall application process matters with each individual institution. But if they were trying to do an upward trend in their grades, having a graded piece to their application may be more important. Because they’re showing that upward trend. Hence, this varies case by case.

Danny adds he’s fascinated by how their students are doing amazing volunteer opportunities through the web. They’re working with the Boys and Girls Clubs, doing activities with them, trying to call people in senior residents and homes that might be a little more isolated.

[10:40] Competency-Based Part of the Review

All students should be familiar with the AAMC core competencies for medical students who are on the AAMC website. Nora highly recommends looking at that carefully because there’s so much information there.

In terms of academic competency, there are many ways to be competent academically. Someone may learn about statistics by doing a project, a project at school, a project at work. Someone may learn about statistics by doing epidemiology or something to do with the cold virus.

At Carle, they give students the opportunity to show ways they have learned material in slightly untraditional ways or less traditional ways. So through research projects, through an online course, they’re not just giving them a strict set of prerequisite courses.

'Students have to always think about doing what's best for them and highlighting who they are – not pretending to be someone else.'Click To Tweet

[14:54] Looking at Your Application Longitudinally

At Carle, they really want students to understand what they bring to the table. Even when you write your application if you gave this to somebody else, what characteristic would you want them to pull away from this? 

'What story are you telling them?'Click To Tweet

No matter where people are, figure out this pathway of medicine and what feels right to them. At Carle, they have people in all different stages of that level. They look at what cemented them in understanding why this is the field they want. They’ve had people that already gotten their PhD, and realized they want to have personal impact on people’s lives and society and systems, all combined together to make a good fit for them.

'No matter what stage you are, you really have to evaluate the why.'Click To Tweet

Aside from figuring out your why, also figure out why you don’t want certain things. Like, why not public health? Why not a school teacher? A lot of people love teaching, but it’s really the patient interaction that they like. So be able to explain why and how it makes them feel when they do it.

[17:05] Being Innovative and Waiting a Year If You Need To

Some students make a checklist and then the checklist becomes the ultimate thing rather than the original goal. So they wanted to show their service orientation. They decided that meant that they had to do 123. And then 123 is all that they can think about.

Go back to what it is that you’re trying to show about yourself, and then be innovative. Remember, they’re looking at you holistically. Danny mentioned some innovative ways earlier that students were doing things to do with COVID. There are things that can happen right now maybe not the things that you’re meant to do. But there are things that can happen.

And one last thing, maybe if this is just not working, you might need to take a year off and apply a year later. There is nothing wrong with that. Looking at this as a silver lining, this is a good time for premed students to really evaluate if this is what they want in their life.

'This isn't a checklist for medical schools. You're getting the shadowing, you're getting clinical experience to prove to yourself that you want to be a physician, that's it.'Click To Tweet

Nora anticipates that a lot of places will push their deadlines back a bit, just in order to try to even the playing field. There are at least some places that are saying they will start to review without having MCAT, and then just add it later into the process.

[20:44] What Happens to the MCAT?

Nora wishes to tell students not to worry if you are in that group that does have to reschedule. We see you. They know that this is a problem. And they’re not going to extend deadlines forever because that wouldn’t be fair to everybody else or to them or to their process. But she suspects everybody will be looking at whether or not they’ll do that and thinking about it really carefully.

'Schools that really look at holistic review are in a great place because the MCAT does not define the whole person. It's just part of that aspect.'Click To Tweet

Danny mentions that they had a call with AAMC. Their commitment was that anybody who’d like to take the MCAT before the end of the year will have that opportunity to do so. So they’re really trying to make adjustments for spots so that anybody can have that ability. They’re really working on waiving the fees. They’re looking for all kinds of ways so that students who want to take it can take it at least by the end of the year.

Then the scores will at least be available hopefully in early spring, before March 15 and those deadlines for schools to incorporate that into their decision making. Nationally, AAMC has been really thoughtful about that process as well.

[24:25] General Advice to Applicants

Nora thinks how schools see an application won’t be uniform. But she hopes people will treat everyone the same way. And that other schools will also think carefully about that and think about trying to make things as fair and equitable as possible.

'Identify who you are as a person and how you want to approach medicine and then pick the school that matches you.'Click To Tweet

If a student is really struggling with MCAT, they’re going to need a place that recognizes your talent and motive. And that school would have resources that are there holistically to help build those test-taking skills because test-taking is a skill level.

For students that struggle with MCAT, if you’re going to a school that relies heavily on metrics, and doesn’t have the support to help you, it’s not going to be a good fit. So really see what kind of environment do you want to thrive in, and then pick the school.

'You need To figure out the school that best suits where you want to thrive and how you want to approach medicine.'Click To Tweet

The MCAT is unlike any other tests that students are going to take in medical school. The board exams are not like the MCAT. Hopefully, that’s some silver lining that even if you struggle with the MCAT, that doesn’t mean you’re going to struggle with all the other tests that are going to come later.

[28:32] Uniformity in the Process

Nora is not sure whether there will be uniformity because of this. But she hopes that it will be an opportunity, at least in some ways, for every school to look more closely at their process changing. They were so lucky to be able to start from the beginning and build their application process the way they wanted to. She hopes this will motivate some schools to make a change and do things a little bit differently.

'It's much harder to change an application process. What this experience through COVID will show is that you can change your process.'Click To Tweet

Danny thinks everybody will have the opportunity to reevaluate. What’s great is that it’s not like one school is affected by this but the whole gamut across the country and the world are affected by this. It gives schools a great opportunity to recalibrate. 

Everybody wants to treat applicants fairly. And from a practical standpoint, they have to really evaluate their profit, whether they have the bandwidth or not, in order to treat those applicants fairly.

[32:50] Taking the Lead

Danny actually emailed the chair of the AAMC to make sure that she was aware of what their process is. Carle wants to serve as a model for people to begin to look at that.

Carle presented at AAMC about a year ago on their application process in general. They’re continually refining not changing. But they also were going to have a presentation in Chicago with the AAMC Professional Development Series. Unfortunately, it was canceled because of COVID.

They were going to talk about their video interviews instead of actually having students come to interview. They do hope they will be able to redo that presentation at some point. But it might be a really easy place for people to start.

'Interviews are biased when they're in person. And there are lots of things that we can do when we're doing it online to make it less so.'Click To Tweet

[34:54] Advice to Students During the Interview Process

'Show up for who you are.'Click To Tweet

Make sure you’re a teammate and that you’re choosing the right medical school for the right reason. 

Rehearse differently for MMI and in-person interviews. If you do an MMI, you have a dilemma you need to respond based on how you see the world. And that’s okay. There’s no wrong right answer, per se. But you have to display that.

There’s also the language if you are masking or covering and all these different languages that if you’re an interview or just trying to get in. 

Because if you’re only trying to match that personality of that school, it’s going to be a really difficult journey for you to be in that space for a long term period.

You’re telling the narrative of who you are. And your journey is going to share that all along the way. You bring all of yourself to that. And if that institution doesn’t appreciate all those aspects of it, you’re going to struggle.

'The person makes the physician, not the other way around.' Click To Tweet

If you’re pretending to be somebody else, then you’re going to be accepted at the place that wants somebody else. Not you. And that’s just not going to work well.

[39:42] Advice to Students Worried About Their Stats

Nora explains that they don’t want your numbers to look good. They want to have happy students who graduate and go on to do the things that they want to do. In order to make that happen, they have to choose students who are right for their school who are going to thrive there.

In their first series of reviewers, they do not know your MCAT. They don’t want to show them your transcript because it’s important for them to see what courses you’ve taken but they blind them to that MCAT score.

The MCAT tells overall how you are prepared for certain academic areas of medicine, but it does not tell them everything. And it has some biases because some people do better than others.

'If you want to be physician, it's not defined by test taking skills. And these markers are not going to define you as a great physician.'Click To Tweet

[43:51] Final Words of Wisdom

Everybody is tracking what AAMC is doing and working with their faculty at their institution. For many places, things will be delayed. You’re not the only person and unfortunately, that helps.

Finally, Carle Illinois would like to highlight their Cs – creativity, compassion, and curiosity. 

They want applicants who navigate this world differently as they approach problems and really see things beyond the status quo. They want people who can think about how they can jump in and create a system that can respond to this pandemic. They want people to think about how to address these problems differently. And that creativity, curiosity, and compassion are the kinds of folks they’re looking for.


Meded Media

AAMC Core Competencies

Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Previous episodes featuring Carle Illinois College of Medicine:

Episode 349: This Recruitment Director is Revamping Secondary Apps

Episode 256: An Interview with Dr. King Li of Carle Illinois College of Medicine