Admissions Director, Former Premed Advisor on Applications

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PMY 427: Admissions Director, Former Premed Advisor on Applications

Session 427

Kristen Anderson is Director of Admissions at the new Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine in Utah. Noorda is one of the newest medical schools in the country. Kristen joins me to talk about applications, curriculum, and her time as a premed advisor.

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[04:17] Kristen’s Journey to the Prehealth Advising World

Holding a Master’s of social work degree and working as a therapist for a few years out of grad school, Kristen realized she was a little bit too sensitive for the overdoses and the relapses. The suicides were a little bit too much for her psyche. So she did some soul searching.

Her mom actually worked at the university she ended up working at for a long time so she practically grew up on that campus. It was also her undergrad University. So when it was time to make some career changes, she started looking into options at the undergrad institution.

Kristen landed completely by accident into premed advising when she applied for the job. She didn’t even know what a premed advisor was. Luckily, her boss just thought that her counseling background was enough and that she could just learn the nuances of the actual premed advising. So she was a premed advisor for eight years.

'It comes down to authenticity, being themselves, and finding the experiences that show who they are and that help them shine.'Click To Tweet

Schools can see through it when someone is just checking the boxes and just trying to get more hours. It comes through in how they talk about it and how they write about it. More isn’t always better. If you’re just cranking out hours, you might not be getting a lot out of that experience.

[09:36] Understanding the Medical School Admissions Process

As a former premed advisor, Kristen certainly knows the feeling of her advisees hurrying up with the application and only to wait and wait, and not hear anything. So they just end up waiting and wondering.

But now that she’s on the admissions side of things, she totally gets it now. Medical schools try to be as transparent as they can with where they’re at in the process. They’re getting out as much communication as they can, but they’re just insanely busy.

[14:35] What Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine is Looking For

Noorda is looking for students with a trailblazer spirit, especially for their inaugural class because they are going to lay the foundation for years to come. They’re going to set the stage for what their community will look and feel like within the school.

They want to make sure that students start off strong. Their curriculum is different from a lot of schools. So they’re really looking for students that can really dig in and roll with the punches.

Some students are going to be pushed outside of their comfort zone a lot because they’re not doing scheduled classes with large lectures. And for some students, that’s going to be a big change. And so, being able to adjust is also important.

'First and foremost, we're looking for students with the servant's heart.'Click To Tweet

Noorda is looking for students who have a genuine desire to serve others. Their mission is to provide health care to the Intermountain West, which is currently lacking in physicians in a number of areas.

Utah is not ranked very high. In fact, they’re very low in a lot of areas. They’re 15th in the nation for female physicians and 49th for primary care and surgery. So, they’re looking for students to help fulfill that mission to help get services out to the underserved in their service area, ideally, but wherever they feel called to serve, ultimately.

[17:43] Noorda’s Curriculum

Noorda’s curriculum is based on bite-sized chunks of content. They’ll have different content areas and have a seven-minute video that covers that content area. Students will be working in small groups or learning pods. There will be board-style questions at the end of each chunk or each core curriculum piece, and then they’ll work through those together.

“All early birds can learn and study together and then those who are night owls can learn and study together.”Click To Tweet

Their model lends to a better balance. If you want to get in and do all of your curriculum and all your work and get your labs in the morning, and then go hit the slopes in the afternoon, you can do that. Or if you want to hit the slopes first thing in the morning and do all your work in the afternoon, you can also do that.

Wellness is also built into Noorda’s curriculum. Students could be in the middle of a really challenging content piece going through a video on, say, biochemistry. It’s going to be really hard and then all of a sudden, they’re going to have a wellness module that comes up and it’s going to have them meditate or something like that.

They’re really passionate about mental health and making sure that students leave medical school as happy and healthy as they started. But sometimes, that doesn’t always happen because medical schools can leave people feeling pretty cynical and beaten down.

[20:12] Overcoming the Fear of Applying to a New School

'Every school was a new school at some point. Every school has their first class at some point, and they've ended up okay.'Click To Tweet

In her eight years of being a premed advisor, she had seen a lot of medical schools open up. And Kristen says she has yet to see one that doesn’t get accreditation. That being said, there’s really not that big of a risk involved because the accrediting bodies have the students’ backs. It’s really pretty risk-free for the students in that regard.

With regard to residency placement, obviously, they don’t have boards or residency placement history for that matter. But they do have some really strong things in place that will help students do well on their boards and place really well into residency.

With USMLE Step 1 going pass/fail and COMLEX recently announcing that LEvel 1one is going pass/fail, Kristen says they’re going to make sure their students have ample opportunities to get research.

Research is built into their curriculum. That’s a really big piece for a lot of residency programs is having that research experience. They plan to have every student leave with at least one publication, if not multiple.

At Noorda, students will have some unique experiences with their clinical rotation where students will do a six-week rotation. Through the first year, they will do the scribe training and certification. 

By the second year, they can opt to go and do scribing, and get some experience. So by the time they’re actually doing their clinical rotations, they’ve already got their feet wet. Being a scribe helps open up some doors to these rotations and specialties that you may want to do.

[25:48] How They’re Training Their Interviewers

Kristen says they have a set of questions that fall under key areas for which they encourage their interviewers to go off of. They can then throw out a few questions for every kind of question area which corresponds with their scoring rubric for interviews. That way, it would help them assess the key areas they want the applicants to be assessed on to find that goodness of fit.

'A rubric, if done properly, is the epitome of holistic admissions because you have the ability to pick apart every piece of the application.'Click To Tweet

Every student starts out meeting expectations unless they do something or say something that raises concern. And this is by design.

There are a lot of schools out there that really just try to scare the crap out of students to see how they handle stress. That could be helpful, but they don’t think that’s the best way to approach it. They don’t want to trick students and stress them out. Noorda wants to have a friendly conversation so that they can assess whether they’re a good fit. And this is what their rubric is based upon.

All of their interview sessions this year have been totally virtual. The session opens with a welcome and a short message from the dean. And he reinforces to let interviewees know that they’ve gotten to this point because they’ve seen something in their application. They’ve reviewed the primary application and the secondary application, and there’s something in their application that called their attention that they might be a good fit. And so, now they’re looking to assess that even further.

[30:34] Secondary Interview Instead of a Secondary Essay

Kristen explains that they decided on having the secondary interview versus a secondary essay because they want to have an opportunity to get to know their applicants better.

The school didn’t feel like having them write yet another essay. They know that with secondary essays, students can just recycle, reuse, and swap out the names. Kristen admits she used to advise her students to do that when she was an advisor. You have to work smarter, and not harder when you’re cranking out a ton of essays. But they really wanted to get a feel for who they are. Therefore, what better way to do that than a video.

Also, with the curriculum, students have to be comfortable with technology. So if they struggle with the technology of even recording a simple video, then their curriculum and their school might not be a good fit for them.

To overcome any possible bias, Kristen explains that whenever they have low-scoring videos, they are either watched by one other person or by their entire video reviewing team. So nobody is screened out, or they don’t move beyond someone without somebody else or a group of people having a look at that video.

[33:26] Developing the Culture of the Class

Noorda is accepting 90 students for their first class and a little bit more than double that for a final class tally eventually.

'We're looking at how each potential accepted student could make their class better.'Click To Tweet

When looking for applicants to build their class, they look at what they can bring to the table, their experiences, and their backgrounds. They believe in the diversity in experience and backgrounds – where they grew up, and everything that just enriches their education. So they’re really looking to have a good diverse class that may all make one another better for having gone to school with the others.

[35:04] The Future of Medical Admissions

Kristen hopes to see medical admissions become holistic in their review. And this is one of the things that drew her to Noorda. At Noorda, they look beyond the GPA and the MCAT score.

Kristen says she had seen too many people who people thought “shouldn’t have made it” actually have made it and they’ve thrived. And she believes they’re going to be some of the best physicians out there because they have the heart and they’ve put in the hard work, and they fought for it. They want to be there.

Noorda’s curriculum is unique in that they provide additional support to applicants. Every student will have docents and advisors who will check up on them if they’re falling behind. And students who are struggling will be required to attend review sessions.

That being said, they weigh the last 60 credits (regardless of whether that’s undergrad and masters combined) pretty heavily and they’ll be looking at that upward trend.

'Students have to be willing to dig in and do the work.' Click To Tweet

[39:20] Is MCAT Mandatory?

About 98% of their applicants do have MCAT scores. So the vast majority have been able to sit for the MCAT.

Noorda has a waiver option for students that can demonstrate that they were not able to sit for the MCAT. It could be for different reasons whether the MCAT was canceled or they got sick or they were caring for a family member that got sick or they have financial constraints related to job loss due to COVID. Although Kristen also explains that having an MCAT score can help them in making some decisions.

'This pandemic rocked everyone. And we get it. We want to err on the side of compassion and understanding to the extent that we can.”Click To Tweet

[41:35] Application Red Flags

One of their hard stops would be the legal charges. They understand that people can change and the past doesn’t always predict future behavior. But they’ve had some students that had otherwise strong applications but they could not get them into the hospitals to do rotations.

This is specific to Noorda and not every medical school. She had worked with plenty of students as an advisor who had some of the same charges that did go on to medical school and residency, and they did just fine.

In terms of institutional actions, it comes down to whether the person has taken ownership of their role in whatever happened. And even if they feel like they were unfairly accused, and they didn’t believe that they did whatever, they should be able to show what they’ve learned from that experience.

'Demonstrating that they've learned, they've grown, and they act and operate differently as a result of that experience goes a long way.'Click To Tweet

[45:19] Final Words of Wisdom

If this is your passion, if this is what you feel called to do, find a way to make it happen. And it might not happen on your terms or in the timeline that you would prefer. But if you put in the hard work, and you keep pushing forward, everyone can find a way to achieve their dreams.


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Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine