Today, she’s joined by Joanne Snapp, Director of Health Professions Advising at UC Davis, to discuss how to shine through your extracurricular involvement.
Joanne runs the annual UC Davis Pre-Health Conference. Now, unfortunately, with COVID that conference, which is typically in October has already been canceled and moved to a free virtual event. So be sure to check it out!
For more podcast resources to help you along your journey to medical school and beyond, check out Meded Media.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[03:01] Experience in Both the Premed and Admissions Side of Things
Joanne says they both definitely have benefits. There’s a lot of power that comes with running the admissions office.“When you're the Director of Admissions and you walk in the room and you're wearing your suit, everyone stands up a little taller and watches what they say.”Click To Tweet
She really enjoyed being an admissions director but she didn’t enjoy the power. It’s not what she liked about the job. What she liked about that job was she really liked helping people as they all do because the medical school admissions process is just so convoluted and obscure. She finds the process subjective and there are just so many issues with it.
That being said, she always felt limited due to what she calls the party lines in terms of what they could and couldn’t say to people. And she never really felt like she could really help someone. So she felt like on the other side, she could be honest with people and really help them get in.
[06:13] Her Work as a Pre-Health Director
Joanne still stays very engaged with the medical school folks to learn and understand. Because a lot of it also comes down to the Dean of the School, what the mission is, and the mission shifts based on whatever is happening that decade.
The first thing she does is pushing people to ask the question, Who am I? Who you are as a person should drive the entire application. A lot of people come in and they’re asking questions like, what they should do or what would look better on the application. They think there’s some prescription that med schools and all med schools are looking for this kind of applicant. But nobody cares about what you do with your life.
There are different kinds of premeds. There are people who get them and they understand immediately conceptually why this is so important.
And then there are people who, at this point in their developmental stage, cannot understand why being authentic and true to yourself and showing the world who you are through your actions.“You can declare things about yourself all day. But what you choose to do with your time will say more about you than anything you write on that paper.”Click To Tweet
She asks people how they want the world to understand them if all they do is checklist things. You do research, clinical experience, shadowing, volunteering, or the president of your clubs. But you’re similar to about 90% of the people who’ve applied.
So you’ve checked off all the boxes, you look nice on paper, but what do they understand about you?
Sure you can follow directions but they didn’t learn anything new about you. So she encourages people to go backwards.
Even start from birth and think about who you are as a person. What matters to you? Where do you come from? What are some of the challenges you’ve seen in your own community? What would you like to fix? If you can fix anything in your own community, what would that be?
And then what can you do while you’re in college to build yourself up? So that when they read your list of experiences, they have a really clear understanding that this is someone who cares about this issue. Ultimately, you should always come from what you enjoy doing.
[10:20] Should You Nail All the 15 Core Competencies?
AAMC has a list of 15 core competencies and students know that AACOMAS has 15 slots for the extracurriculars for those activities. So obviously, they should just look at each of those core competencies and do one activity that will check off each of those core competencies.'We should always pull up those 15 core competencies, and they should be aware of what schools are measuring in us.'Click To Tweet
If at whatever point in your journey towards medicine, you realize that you’re lacking many of those competencies, then it might be a good idea to seek out experiences to build some of those competencies.
But if you don’t possess the competencies, they’re going to figure that out at some point. They’re going to figure it out through the things you say on your interview day.
[10:55] What Admissions Committees Are Really Looking For
Even if you’re very smart as a premed, med schools are actually pretty smart, too. They’ve devised some pretty creative ways to measure these things in you MMI, situational judgment tests, and all kinds of fun stuff.
You’re probably not going to trick a med school and trick them into believing you possess competencies that you don’t.“It's always going to boil down to the value that you bring to medicine, the value that you bring to a career with 6,000 applications.”Click To Tweet
When they can create a class, they don’t have to fill a class and pick anybody they want. For instance, the screener who’s a doctor just got off a 36 hour shift and he’s tired. He has a wife and kids or husband, kids, whatever. They’re just sitting down, for whatever reason, to volunteer to be on this admissions committee.
Then he’s looking at 40 apps at a time, probably spending five minutes or less reading these apps. He’s spending those five minutes trying to figure out what this person can do for him, what this person can do for the school, what’s the value that they bring. They don’t care what you did. They don’t care that you had the most competitive research experience. What they’re looking for is what you can do for them.
You have 700 characters and only 15 spots. You can literally say you did this amazing research experience and waste all 700 characters telling them how important it was. But they don’t know anything new about you at that point. And they still don’t know why they should pick you.“You have to be really deliberate and careful and crafty with your words so that they understand a lot of things about you.”Click To Tweet
Joanne talks about baseline expectation. Let’s say you’re hard working and you wouldn’t have good grades in college if you weren’t hard working. So they did not say that about yourself. You have an INC in science classes because you obviously worked hard. So things like empathy, compassion, working hard, dedication.
Don’t just say that you want to help people. Instead, what are some more reflective, deeper, insightful things that you can bring to the table? Things like cultural humility, understanding how to work with different people, people different from yourself. And by work, it means being effective at increasing health outcomes.
How do you bring multiple languages to the table? Can you increase access by providing linguistically appropriate care? Can you provide culturally appropriate care because you’ve been exposed to various cultures through a certain mechanism you know?“Critical thinking is important and a lot of people have it. But to what degree can you critically think and what?” Click To Tweet
Joanne thinks that sometimes people lose touch of the really basic human connection. These are things like how to read people like their facial expressions. This all boils down to drilling down to showing people that you possess that level of insight and reflection about humanity.
They know how many patients don’t listen, when they give recommendations. They understand what it takes to get people to do what they want them to do. If you show them you already have some degree of insight about humans, then they don’t have to teach you that.
So whatever you can bring to the table now, in terms of all those competencies, you’re one step ahead because you already possess them.
[16:04] Extracurriculars: What to Focus on the Most
A lot of students have to work for a lot of different reasons. And if you have to work, then you can do a lot.
Obviously, technical skills aren’t only what med schools are measuring. If you could be a scribe at some point, then that’s great just because of the medical terminology and the critical thinking that goes into that.“If you have limited time, do something that allows you to get a really good sense of what you're getting yourself into.” Click To Tweet
It would be great if you can be near a hospital or a clinic or something so you can just see the day to day work of a physician. This will give you a better sense of the career.
Do anything where you can still interact with humans even if it’s not medical. It really doesn’t matter what it is that you do, as long as you’re showing that you have transferable skills, where you can do what you can apply to medicine.
You should not have to give up doing things that you enjoy and love because you want to be a doctor.
If you love soccer, if you play the piano, if you play the guitar, whatever it is something you love, just figure out how you can take that thing that you love, and give it to others because it is a service. You are giving your time to others.
Try to figure out how you can show them that you’re willing to help other people and still do something that you love.
So if you love soccer, basketball, whatever it is, go become a coach. Because honestly, if you’re coaching a group of eight year old girls, the attributes that you’re using, you have to have patience, you have to be a leader, and they’re all over the place. You have to have good communication skills. You have to have patience. There are so many transferable skills. If you play the piano, go to an assisted living facility and offer to play piano in the lobby or go to a low income community and offer free piano lessons to kids. Do something with your talent to help other people.
[20:36] What If You Can’t Fill Out All 15 Spots on the AMCAS Application?
Everyone should have at least one hobby on their application on their experiences list. Hopefully, even in your busy life, you can carve out one hobby to do.
Consider breaking down those different titles of your position as different experiences in the section so that it still appears like you have had multiple roles just at the same institution.
Most people have around 10 experiences, which is a decent number to have. But if you bring age and maturity and all this value in other ways, then that’s great. Just try not to get hung up on those little details.
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Try to humanize this a little bit. And remember that you’re going to have a person reading this and this person’s going to see everything that you did in your life. And they’re going to take that into consideration.
A lot of students think it’s so black and white that they forget these are human beings on the other side, reading these applications.
So as a reviewer, they understand that your ability to do other things is going to be limited. They’re going to take that into account. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be less of a doctor.“Sometimes people feel ashamed to list jobs that aren't related to premed. But if you don't list the job, it just looks like they won't know what you did with your time.”Click To Tweet
[24:20] Marking Most Meaningful Experiences
The actual prompt in that 1,325 characters section is what was it? What is the transformative nature of this experience? How did this change you?
Joanne always tells people to answer that question of how the experience changed you in your personal statement. How have you impacted the change at whatever organization and talk about how this organization impacted you.“Highlight a very specific growth that obviously parallels with the value that they have.”Click To Tweet
In picking your most meaningful experiences, go back to the ones that impacted you the most. If you want the world to understand you in a certain way, think about what those experiences say about you. Make them right out next to the experience. What does the world understand about you after reading this description? And that is how you craft your writing.
If you’ve done this whole process authentically, then you would have chosen to do activities that do connect back to you. So choosing the three meaningful shouldn’t be hard because they’re all meaningful to you. It’s just a matter of which ones are the most reflective of who you are as a person.'It's not about what you did. It's about why you did it and who it made you.'Click To Tweet
You will never get into med school based on what you did. You’re going to get into med school based on what’s in your head. And it’s not just that you don’t get picked because you were lucky enough to get this really amazing experience. You have to be able to reflect on it and share your insights and what you learned about it. You have to bring something to the table. Just doing stuff doesn’t make you a better future doctor than someone else.
[29:12] Advice to Students in the Face of the COVID-19 Situation
Everyone is on the same boat right now. And medical schools are going to be forced to change the way they do things with the way they see things and the expectations will change. So nobody is disadvantaged at this point.
People may feel a really strong desire or urge to want to do something because none of us like sitting still. So try to look into your region and look at crisis hotlines. A lot of students have recently been trained and hired to be in crisis hotlines, where you can text people, and you could.
Look to see if there are any online training programs if you can afford it. Continue building on yourself if there are online certification programs. Keep building your credentials because knowledge is always a good thing.
Stay engaged, read a lot of books, and all of that stuff . Try to do informational interviews. So if you can’t shadow someone, reach out to a physician and see if the can sit down with you for half an hour. Ask some questions about the career challenges in medicine and just pick their brain.“Use this time that you have to to build yourself and the way that you can right now is your mind because you can't go out and do too much.”Click To Tweet
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