How is COVID-19 Impacting Med School Admissions in 2021?

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PMY 438: How is COVID-19 Impacting Med School Admissions in 2021?

Session 438

Today, we have the first episode of Inside Med Admissions with host Dr. Scott Wright. We had 3 great guests join us to discuss admissions during the pandemic. Hopefully, you’ll get some great insight into how COVID is going to potentially impact medical school admissions this cycle and the cycles in the future.

Inside Med Admissions was created by the map team to give you more insight directly from deans and directors of admissions and medical schools.

The show is hosted by Dr. Scott Wright, the Vice President for Academic Advising at Mappd. He’s the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and retired executive director at TMDSAS.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

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

[00:28] The MCAT Minute

One of the questions that students typically have is “how do I know if I’m ready?” What happens if you don’t have all the prereqs necessary to take the MCAT?

Now, there’s a lot of confusion around prereqs that med schools want you to have as well as the prereqs that the AAMC expects you to have to be prepared for the MCAT. So be sure to dive into your study plan, reach out to an advisor, and really find out how to best plan to have most of your prereqs done before you take the MCAT.

You can self-study some of the topics. Ideally, you can only self-study one topic. But if you need to study more of those topics by yourself, you may want to think about postponing your MCAT.

The MCAT Minute is sponsored by Blueprint MCAT.

[02:03] Map Your Way to Med School with Mappd!

The session I’m going to play for you today is the start of a new series that we created over at Mappd.

Mappd is a technology company that I co-founded with Rachel Grubbs. It’s a platform that allows you to track and get feedback on everything that you are doing as a premed student.

When you enter that C– that you got an organic chemistry, our platform will let you know that a C– is not passing for almost every medical school and that you’re starting off poorly. Then we suggest some steps to improve.

[6:07] Today’s Guests

Filomeno Maldonado is the Associate Dean of Admissions and assistant professor of Medical Humanities at Texas A&M University College of Medicine.

Dr. Leila Harrison is the Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Admissions and clinical assistant professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University.

Lyman Mower is the Director of Admissions at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

[08:31] COVID’s Impact on the Future Cycles for Texas Schools

Interestingly, at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, they are going to proceed like they did in 2020. We’re still not out of the woods, unfortunately. And the committee has decided to exercise some of the same measures that they implemented in 2020. In fact, most of the sister institutions in the state of Texas that are TMDSAS participating schools are going to do very similarly.

In 2020, they decided to extend the deadline by a month and also extend interviews into January and early February. So instead of an October 1 deadline, they’re going to have a November 1 deadline, and then they’re also moving the match.

Texas is unique in that they have the medical school match in addition to pre-match offers between October and December. so they’ve extended that period through the end of January for prem-atch offers and then moved the match from February 1 to early March.

And this has allowed them to see more applicants and obviously to adapt to the applicants that were affected by the cancellation of MCAT scores, or MCAT tests.

Moreover, the school, along with their sister institutions in the state of Texas decided to keep the requirement of the MCAT.

That being said, they’re exercising flexibility, in terms of those that were applying late. Some schools are interviewing students with the MCAT pending and they’ll just be re-evaluated after that. They also found that for the most part, most of their applicants had their MCAT scores so it didn’t affect the pool as significantly as they thought.

So those are some of the things that they did in 2020 which they’re going to continue into 2021. Some of their sister intuitions in Texas might go hybrid, but for the most part, it looks like all of them are going to go virtual for 2021.

[13:11] COVID’s Impact on the Future Cycles for MD Schools

Being on the AAMC’s committee on admission, Leila explains that they anticipate that applicants might have fewer experiences. They might have virtual experiences, as well as issues related to letters of recommendation.

“Traditional students have had to be, in many cases, online in this past year, and some have conveyed that that has made it difficult to get to know their faculty member.” Click To Tweet

All those being said, letters of recommendation might look different. So they might read differently, in terms of the depth that they have had in getting to know the applicants.

The majority of medical schools are likely going to be continuing with virtual interviews. But some were also considering having sort of additional second looks. Or for those that they accepted, coming back to campus or even those that they had interviewed virtually to come back before acceptance to view the campus.

One of the things that’s important for medical schools, especially this coming cycle, is to be really transparent about what they expect of other applicants. A lot of anxiety for applicants right now is the uncertainty of what schools really are looking for and what they require.

And so, in this coming cycle, applications are going to look different than what people are used to. It’s going to be really important that they’re all training their admissions committees and interviewers to be thoughtful of that. They’re taking into consideration that applicants don’t have control of their environments or opportunities that they might have pre-pandemic.

[16:44] COVID’s Impact on the Future Cycles for DO Schools

AACOMAS is also aware of the changes happening due the pandemic. They’ve seen some significant disruption to the way they’re making changes to the administration of the MCAT. The situation that many test takers needed to face was a little bit unconventional.

Certainly, there were some logistical hurdles that the applicant pool needed to manage. But in terms of preparation, this pool was not significantly impacted. 

Lyman anticipates that many, if not all, osteopathic schools will probably stay the course in terms of the processes that have served them well over the past year.

Specifically for Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lyman anticipates the coming year to have essentially the same interview process they had the past year. It will be a virtual one-to-one type of interview, which they think is an effective format.

Part of the new challenge here will be how do applicants effectively communicate their skills, their attributes, the way that they’ve developed the pre-professional capacities that medical schools are interested in evaluating and assessing.

It’s a challenge to have that communication in an environment. Because right now, they no longer have that same access to the traditional pathways or the traditional tools that allowed easy exposure to clinical experience, volunteering, etc.

So students need to think about how they can articulate their strengths around leadership, teamwork, communication, adaptability and resilience – all of that in a virtual way.

[20:34] How Texas Schools are Preparing for the Cycle

Filomeno explains that for the pool coming or going into medical school in 2020, for the most part, they already had medically related experience and service leadership in the pipeline. And for this application cycle, they’re probably going to see students who were sophomores or juniors now coming into the process for 2021. These were people who were affected in 2020 because of COVID.

'Like most schools, admissions committees come together for retreats to look back at the year to make adjustments and prepare for the upcoming year.'Click To Tweet

Admissions committees came together for a retreat to look back at the year so they could make adjustments for the upcoming year. They discussed all the measures they were going to implement going forward, and how it was important to exercise flexibility. And the committee was good about that.

Filomeno says they also didn’t see a lot of applicants lacking experience, which wasn’t what they anticipated. That being said, they’re going to make some adjustments for this year since the pool coming in this year might have been affected.

In addition, they have training modules, and they do in-person training of their faculty to make them aware of the current circumstances. Essentially, they’ve all agreed to exercise flexibility, given the current circumstances.

[25:12] How DO Schools are Preparing for the Cycle

Lyman says they have oriented the admissions committee members to expect the candidate to have a, b or c on their application.

And that candidates understand they’re not trying to check the box of an adequate number of hours of volunteering, or shadowing and other opportunities.

From the perspective of DO schools, they are among the osteopathic medical colleges that do not require applicants to have a letter from an osteopathic physician. But beyond that, they expect that candidates who are going to be good candidates will find other ways to advance in their application. Specifically, what may grab them about osteopathic approaches to medicine.

Lyman adds this is an opportunity for everybody to break outside of some of these norms to some degree and think a little bit more creatively.

“It’s an opportunity for everybody to break outside of some of these norms to some degree and think a little bit more creatively.”Click To Tweet

This will be a unique opportunity for students who are willing to take a little more time to stop and think about what they expect to communicate to schools. And if they’re successful in that, students will have a very good application cycle in the coming year.

[28:52] Limitations Due to the Pandemic

Oftentimes, applicants are even concerned about reaching out to admissions offices and they don’t know if they’re supposed to do that. And Leila clarifies they encourage them to do that.

Applicants need to be reminded that people who serve on admissions committees are compassionate humans. They care deeply about what they’re doing in their work. And as a new medical school, one of the things that’s amazing is being able to be so mission-driven.

Leila says they don’t have a specific requirement for clinical experiences for a reason. They believe that there are different ways people can demonstrate that they have exposure and their motivation. Furthermore, they want to attract a diverse group of people to serve the diverse population they have in Washington.

Leila points out that if they’re being too prescriptive, then they’re going to miss some real opportunities from applicants. 

Ultimately, the diversity of the admissions committee is really helpful to help ground them about their work and the ultimate goal to bring in ultimately mission-aligned candidates.

[34:25] Changes in the Interview Process for MD Schools

For allopathic or MD schools, prior to the pandemic, they used an MMI model. It was a hybrid MMI with a structured one-on-one inter woven within the circuit.

Leila’s team did a few virtual MMI’s and they found that while they’re resource-intensive in person, it’s highly resource-intensive virtually. It’s fraught with all kinds of issues with technology.

So they incorporated the AAMC VITA his year because they believe in a multiple assessment model which is what the MMI gives you. These are independent assessments which allow for multiple lenses into the applicants, supported by the research literature.

VITA has six competency stations, and then two live virtual, highly structured interviews. So they still have eight independent assessments for each applicant. And they actually received favorable feedback from applicants which they found more equitable. And that it took off the strain and stress of finances associated with in-person interviews.

[36:06] Changes in the Interview Process for DO Schools

For DO schools, Lyman describes how they had an MMI style, in-person half-day interview day in the years past. And when push came to shove, they knew they needed to pivot for this last application cycle. So they went back to basics and wanted to really rethink what it is that they hope to get from an interview experience. 

And so, they leaned heavily into a group of interviewers they had never been able to really engage before – through the extraordinary network of alumni they have around the world. So having a virtual interview this year allowed them to move through a one-to-one format.  

They wanted to give candidates an opportunity to present themselves in a way they felt was reflective of who they are, their experiences, and unique things they wanted to contribute.

They also ask candidates interviewing this year to take the CASPer situational judgment test to give the committee additional data.

[40:20] Changes in the Interview Process for Texas Schools

Filo says they’ve adapted some aspects of MMI and has made their interviews very structured. They’ve embedded in the interview process some scenarios with guiding questions to assess behaviors. And they’re moving around throughout the four categories they’re evaluating in terms of creating scenarios relevant to that particular category,

They have a subcommittee of the admissions committee just committed to creating these scenarios on a pretty regular basis. So they can change them out on a regular basis over the course of the interviewing season.

And besides the traditional one-on-one interviews, they give each candidate 230 minute one-on-one interactions.

They’ve also added a standardized patient exercise where each candidate gets to have five-minute scenario-based encounters with their trained standardized patients. These standardized patients are trained on how to evaluate and then they would submit that evaluation, which the committee will have access to.

They’re working with Altus Assessments, the creator of CASPer, on analyzing their data over the course of four years with regard to CASPer and how they’re using that and selecting applicants. And they want to see if it has any relationship with the standardized patient exercises as well.

'Most of the TMDSAS schools have gone to requiring CASPer which is interesting.'Click To Tweet

Leila explains they are one of the eight medical schools that are doing the research study with AAMC that’s also building a situational judgment test. And if they roll it out as an official, they are holding out for the AAMC .

[46:06] Secondary Question Specifically Related to COVID

Both Texas and AACOMAS have a COVID-related question in their applications. Whereas DO schools do not have a secondary application question, specifically related to COVID. 

In the AACOMAS application, that is captured at the level of all osteopathic schools. Candidates have an opportunity to articulate especially what their circumstances are, and how that might have been impacted by the pandemic.

Lyman explains they will have other opportunities on their secondary application to provide other types of contextualization. Some of which may be endemic related which they think is something they’ve neglected to give that level of specificity.

[47:15] Words of Encouragement

Leila wants applicants to know that  admissions offices and Dean’s admissions committees are thoughtful about what circumstances applicants are coming with.

'There are humans behind the scenes that really do care and are thoughtful and really are trying to be careful and considerate about what things might look like in this upcoming cycle.'Click To Tweet

She also wishes to remind students that there is no one perfect pathway into medicine. There’s a lot of pressure on traditional applicants – either self imposed or otherwise, that they should be enrolling into medical school right after college, or that gap years look bad.

There is nothing wrong with waiting. So pressure yourself to make it happen this year, if it’s not the right year for you because they don’t look at it in that way.

Filo wishes to tell students that there are going to be limitations in terms of experiences. But that doesn’t mean you can’t seek out experiences even if they are virtual. And so, it’s important to continue to explore more opportunities to get involved in the community than there may be to get involved in a healthcare capacity simply because of the limitations.

Finally, take advantage of their resource on TMDSAS Core Competencies because at the end of the day, the key is that you care about people. So be sure you’re able to show and manifest that in your experiences.

Lyman emphasizes that one of the essential features of good candidates over the coming years will be creativity.

Be creative in seeking opportunities to be engaged in appropriate ways. Then understand that you are now going to have to communicate a little bit more comprehensively and thoroughly. Be able to explicitly connect the things that you have done to the competencies that schools expect you to demonstrate in your application materials.


Meded Media

Application Renovation

Blueprint MCAT


Inside Med Admissions



Altus Assessments

TMDSAS Core Competencies