Q&A With a Former Dean of Admissions and TMDSAS Director

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PMY 431: Q&A With a Former Dean of Admissions and TMDSAS Director

Session 431

Dr. Scott Wright and Rachel Grubbs join me for a live Q&A to answer questions on clinical hours, personal statements, GPA median, financial aid in medical school, and more!

Scott is the VP of Academic Advising at Mappd, a technology platform that I co-founded with Rachel Grubbs. More than 1,400 students are using it to track their progress to medical school. If this is something you’re interested in, check it all out for a free two-week trial. Also, check out Mappd.tv.

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.

[00:38] The MCAT Minute

This section is sponsored by Blueprint MCAT. The MCAT registration just opened. If you’re planning on taking the MCAT in these first few months of 2021 with more dates opening in the next few months and if you haven’t registered yet, and you’re planning to take the MCAT in March, April, or May, then you should go register as soon as you can.

The MCAT is taken at testing centers that have limited seats available for each day the MCAT is offered. The longer you prolong your registration, the higher the likelihood that you will have to travel far distances to take the MCAT on a date or within a certain time period that you want to take the MCAT. Just go to Blueprint MCAT and see what dates are available. Then go register for the MCAT as soon as you can so you can reduce the burden of travel and expenses, and the stress needed to take the MCAT.

[04:14] Medical Assistant Experience

Q: Is 113 hours of clinical experience as a medical assistant over eight months enough?

A: If there are only 113 hours of clinical experience as a medical assistant over eight months, and that’s all you’ve got, then it’s a little concerning to me. Medical schools want a diversity of experiences and they want to see a commitment to medicine. A medical assistant is a job. And if that’s your job, and you’re only working 113 hours over eight months. That’s only a part-time job. And so, the hours are not enough, unless you have other experiences under your belt.

Now, doing all that with a mentality to just check off the boxes is not a good mentality to have. Stats are not all you need. There are students out there who are amazing on paper stat-wise but they have zero idea why they’re doing this or they weren’t able to communicate their why in their application.

Medical schools try to be holistic in their approach to these things and not just centered on the numbers they’re looking at. They look at your commitment to medicine and how you’re able to illustrate that over a long-term experience. They look at what its impact is on you and what those things meant to you. Scott says TMDSAS is a little bit more specific. But that doesn’t change the reality that you should be able to use the same one for all three.

'It's not all about the numbers and it really is an issue of mentality often.' Click To Tweet

[10:40] Using the Same Personal Statement for All 3 Application Systems

Q: If I’m applying to both DO and MD school, should I make my personal statement for AACOMAS’s answer for “Why DO or why is medicine sufficient?” I wanted to use the same personal statement from the AMCAS.

A: AACOMAS changed their essay length from 4,500 characters to 5,300 to match AMCAS. In my mind, that action said to use the same essay. The application doesn’t specifically talk about osteopathic medicine.

“Secondary essays are where you will most likely talk about ‘why osteopathic medicine.’ The personal statement is why do you want to be a physician.” Click To Tweet

On the Application Renovation, one of the applications I reviewed was for a student who applied to AACOMAS and had one sentence in the application that said osteopathic medicine was… and this is why I like osteopathic medicine. So just completely out of the blue, they didn’t really fit with the rest of the context of the sentence. But they just felt the need to mention osteopathic medicine. And that just made it worse.

The secondary application is where schools will want to explore those things and where the student will have an opportunity to explore those things in terms of Osteopathic Medicine and a commitment to that or recognition of what it is all about us and stuff like that. And obviously, in the interview, that’s going to come up at almost every osteopathic school.

Interestingly, allopathic schools are not going to ask why allopathic medicine. But for the osteopathic schools, that will definitely come up in an interview. 

Additionally, TMDSAS is slightly shorter than the AMCAS/ AACOMAS so you should be able to use the same one for all three with a small adjustment on the TMDSAS one. What I usually recommend students to do is write the 5,300 characters, and if you’re applying to TMDSAS as well, find 300 characters to cut out.

[15:26] Clinical Experience for 8 Years with 6 Years Gap

Q: What does it mean if I had eight years of full-time clinical job, then took another six years of gap and everything? Is it fine to have about four weeks of clinical?

A: Clinical experience is about showing a long-term commitment and interest in working with patients. And there are a lot of ways to shape that. You don’t need to quit your job or get a low-paying job as a scribe or an EMT just to show you’re committed. Now, that’s not to say that maybe you work 30 hours a week instead of 40 as an engineer to give you a little bit more time for more clinical experience. But it’s not an all or none thing.

[18:50] Hitting an MCAT Score Plateau

Q: What do you do when you see yourself plateauing in MCAT studying? I’ve consistently held 509-510 on the past few tests, and I’m wondering how to break through. My test is on March 26.

A: 509-510 is great. But what we want to know is how you did in each section. That’s more important.

Step 1: Get away from a composite and look at the up and down patterns by section. Check out this article Am I Ready to Take the MCAT? and it walks you through doing an analysis of your last four or five practice tests, and looking at the average of the section scores.

Now, if you want to get out of that plateau, look at every question whether you got it right or wrong. This might take you one to two times longer to review your MCAT than it took you to take it.

If you’re at the point where you’re a month from your MCAT, you’re probably done with content and the drilling sections, and you’re probably just taking full links. At this point, you might only have time to take one a week, because you spend eight hours taking the exam and then another eight to 15 hours reviewing it each week.

Look at every question whether you got it right or wrong and what the takeaway is. Depending on the company you’re using for your prep, you may have some detailed analysis that will show you the breakdown by critical reasoning, skill or, or topic. Start zeroing in on both the tiny little things where you’re still getting wrong. But also zero in on anything you’re getting right when it comes to critical reasoning and how you can apply that to other questions.

“Do not freak out about plateaus because they're normal.”Click To Tweet

[21:31] Median Score

Q: How do you interpret medical school or AMCAS apps in the sense that we have access to information regarding median MCAT GPA scores? So hypothetically, if our GPA falls below a median GPA score, let’s say the median is 396 for the school, then are students already at a disadvantage applying to the school with the GPA MCAT below the median? Obviously, letters of recommendation, research, and extracurricular activities play a role, but I’m curious if medical admissions committees have these stats in the back of their mind.

A: If a medical school has a 3.8 median GPA and the student has a 3.6 GPA, it means half of the class has a GPA below 3.8. Well, 50% of the people that got in were below the median. So why on earth would you not apply there?

At the end of the day, don’t use stats to apply to medical school. Many students push back applying to five or ten schools. They need to make sure they’re applying to schools where they have a chance. And that thought process alone just doesn’t logically make sense. Because assuming you have good stats, you can’t really define that for anyone.

Unfortunately, schools are not more transparent about this process and come up with excuses as to why they can’t be to the detriment of students. This is why we see an average number of schools being applied to going up year after year. And schools benefit from that.

Rachel explains that one of the reasons students are fixated on stats is because if you were told that this is the way it works. They say you’ve got to look at your SAT, ACT, GPA, class rank, etc. And that’s also because colleges are unfairly fixated on their U.S. News World Report ranking.

And medical schools don’t play that game. There’s a lot with the medical application process that could be more transparent, but they’re not playing a rankings game like that. And that’s where a lot of that data stuff comes from.

“Don't look at the numbers. And if you should, just look at the 10% cut off.”Click To Tweet

Moreover, if students are only looking at the MSAR for picking schools to apply to, you’re not giving the schools an opportunity to tell you yes or no. You are saying yes or no before that ever happens.

[31:59] Combining Medicine and Teaching

Q: I have an ample amount of teaching experience and absolutely want teaching to be a part of my career in medicine. Should I be specific about my aspirations on my application?

A: It would be beneficial to connect the two. Until you’re into the environment of medical education, and what that looks like, you may not know for sure. But expressing how much you like teaching, and maybe mentoring and that you want that to be a part of your career does make sense.

It doesn’t replace clinical experience. But in terms of the personal statement, for example, or in the application itself, connecting all that together makes a lot of sense. 

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend it for a personal statement. But that stuff can come through in the activity lists where you’re going to talk about teaching because that’s what you’ve been doing for a while.

There are also some secondary application essays that will ask about “if you had a dream about what your future would look like, what do you anticipate that might be?” And so, that would be another place where that might come out.

[34:56] Scribing vs. Patient Transport

Q: How is a patient transport aid viewed by medical schools if I have the option to do scribing? Or would transport give me a better clinical experience?

A: There are some medical schools out there that don’t consider transport as clinical experience. But you can just mark it as clinical on your application. And hope they’ll like it.

Or you can take transport, if that’s the way to get the job, and then see if you can parlay that into something different.

[36:41] Not Coming Across as Arrogant

Q: I found myself feeling uneasy listing, let alone describing, relief or volunteer work? How would you recommend describing these experiences without sounding self-centered, prideful, all while not undermining the work itself?

A: A lot of applicants fear coming across as arrogant or prideful or self-centered. And the chances of that happening are really low. In other words, if you’re a relatively well-adjusted, centered, balanced person, and you’re going to input the things that you’re doing. You’re gonna be talking about what you did.

'The application is all about you, of course, it's going to be self-centered, it's all about you. But the chances of you coming across as prideful or arrogant are really low.'Click To Tweet

So don’t worry about it. Just do the application and answer the questions. Describe what you did and what you got out of those experiences.

[41:46] Research Grants to MDs vs. DOs

Q: After doing some research, I found that NIH grants are given out 800 times more often to MDs versus DOs. As I am interested in pursuing some research in medical school. Is that enough reason to ask “why MD over DO?”

A: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. If this is a true statement, if the NIH truly does give out 800 times more often to MDs versus DOs, then why? We don’t really know.

What we do know is that DOs are still relatively new in the medical world. There are far far more MDs graduating every year, than DOs. That education has typically access to these big urban academic centers where research is usually being done. And so MD students are typically more exposed to research. There are also MD/Ph.D. dual programs, then there are DO/Ph.D.

So that’s not to say that as a DO, and if you’re really interested in research, you can’t go forge your own path and go get those grants too.

When you’re looking at the individual medical schools, whether it’s DO or MD, you have to look at their values, their mission, what they do, their location, etc. Is it within the context of a general academic institution? Or is it a standalone where it doesn’t have any connection to anything outside of medicine?

“You have to drill down to the individuality of the medical schools. And make sure you match with the goals and the values and the mission of the institutions you're looking at.”Click To Tweet

Again, why MD over DO is rarely ever asked, while why DO over MD is sometimes asked. Finally, there are way more schools that are MD across the country and worldwide since Osteopathic Medicine only exists in the United States. At the end of the day, they’re physicians – MD or DO.

[49:00] Financial Aid

Q: I’m anxious about financial aid concerning medical schools. Specifically, is working a full-time and part-time job after college frowned upon? In the sense that admissions to medical school may offer you a smaller financial aid package.

A: Medical schools are not doing a whole lot of leveraging of financial aid. Different schools are going to have different ways and different types of financial aid.

'The financial aid picture for medical students is so much different than it is for an undergraduate.'Click To Tweet

Generally speaking, there’s plenty of money to go around to go to medical school. Most of that money is going to be loan money for almost every student. And if you don’t have a buttload of money sitting somewhere, then you’re going to be taking out loans.

Often, medical schools will try to lump a lot of their institutional aid into the first or second year. Because that makes a difference in terms of when you’re repaying the loans and the interest.

If you’re a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, then you’re going to be able to finance your medical education. 

Now, the other part of this question about working really hard to help you pay for medical school. And it’s not going to affect it. So save as much money as you can and pay off as much debt as you can before you get to medical school. Watch out for credit cards. And that’s really all you can do.

'Pay close attention to where you live and what you drive. And don't worry about anything else.'Click To Tweet

Little luxuries can go a long way to making you feel better on a daily weekly basis. But you’ve got to save at the big places.


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