In this week’s Inside Med Admissions, Dr. Scott Wright leads a panel discussing secondary applications with several med school associate deans from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM).
In this episode, you’ll learn more about letters of recommendation, why they’re important, and what you can do about them. Sign up for the next session of Inside Med Admissions, happening on June 30, 2021. Live at 1pm Eastern where we talk all about one-way interviews.
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.
[01:32] The MCAT Minute
The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.
One of the most confusing parts of taking the MCAT is trying to understand the difference between what are prereqs for medical school and what are prereqs for the MCAT.
The MCAT doesn’t have any true prereqs. AAMC doesn’t require you to take any classes before you take the MCAT. However,they expect you to have the knowledge from those courses. One of the biggest ones is biochemistry, which became even more important in the 2015 MCAT biochemistry.
Ideally, you take a course to build that core solid biochemistry foundation. If you’re struggling to get that course in by the time you need or want to take the MCAT, you could potentially self-study that information. Blueprint MCAT has more information all about prereqs and everything else. Don’t forget to sign up for a free account where you get a free half-length diagnostic and a free full-length one.
[04:00] An Overview of Today’s Panelists
Dr. Felix Morales has been a faculty member here at Texas School of Medicine since April 2012. He graduated from medical school and completed residency there as well. He’s a board-certified family medicine physician. After residency, he went to practice in a couple of rural areas in West Texas.
Fast-forward to now, he’s working with the admissions committees, initially as an interviewer, then became assistant dean. He has been in the role as Associate Dean of Admissions at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) for four years now.
Dr. Lindsey Ridgeway is the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). She has been with the college since they opened in 2010. With four different campuses, VCOM is an osteopathic medical school. DO is their only program so they focus solely on osteopathic medical education. Lindsey has been working with enrollment there for the past seven years.
[09:04] The Purpose of Secondary Applications
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM)
At VCOM, the secondary application helps them dive in a more mission-specific way. As a highly mission-based institution, their goal is to educate physicians to serve the Appalachian and delta regions of the United States. And so, they’re looking for students that come from those areas, and most importantly, what to practice in those areas one day.
They have a focus on rural medicine where they educate physicians to go into the rural areas of the country to serve as a DO. You have a lot of great tools in your tool belt to be able to better help patients that don’t have a specialist nearby and they might be two hours or three hours away.'We utilize our secondary application to dive into some questions that help us get to the heart of the student.”Click To Tweet
The secondary application helps them get into why students want to be osteopathic physicians and why they are interested in VCOM because of their mission.
At VCOM, they also have a medical mission program and they operate three medical mission sites in Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. Over 60% of their students participate in these mission trips. They’re not part of their curriculum so it’s not required. But it’s something students may choose to do outside of their curriculum.
In the secondary, they dive into volunteer experience, previous mission trip experience, healthcare-related mission trips, or just mission trips in general. So they’re getting into the heart of service.
It also allows them to ask more questions to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re able to bring to the table as a medical student. It shows how they’re capable of handling the rigor of medical school. It’s also their avenue to show the resiliency they’ve built through their education and that they’re able to take on something like medical school, which is so challenging and difficult.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC)
The purpose of their secondary application is to get a better insight into who the student is, specifically looking for mission-centric qualities for medical school. Their mission is to train physicians for West Texas and beyond, not only in the rural parts but also the underserved areas throughout the state.'Would you be a good institutional fit for us? Are you going to be someone who has a servant's heart?'Click To Tweet
It also gives them a good insight into their dual degree programs. They ask questions about applying through their family medicine accelerated track and why they want to do that.
They ask questions in regards to their other dual degree programs so they want to make sure you have a good fit and good profile for that particular program.
They ultimately hope that those students who come to their school will eventually go into one of their residency programs and practice medicine in West Texas. So they’re trying to get that type of feel and that type of information from their secondary application.
[14:26] What the Secondary Questions Are Like
VCOM has a moral scenario or like an ethical scenario. There are so many things in medicine that are challenging for physicians and you’re challenged in a different way in the care of another person.
They try to get a sense of how you execute your integrity and your day-to-day life. Even if it’s a situation where you didn’t make the right choice but you learned from it. They want to see your introspection in terms of growth and where your ethical compass lies.
These questions allow them to see the maturity of a student. For instance, if you got an F, then you’re going to ask for help. Because they believe that if you are going to help other people, you have to be willing to first help yourself. And so, one of their questions gets to that point of what are some things they can do to make sure they’re becoming the best version of themselves.'What are some things you can do to make sure you're becoming the best version of yourself?'Click To Tweet
[17:02] The Secondary Application Timeline
TTUHSC has a strong partnership with the TMDSAS. Once they determine the eligibility of that candidate and process it, they transmit that application back to the school. And this is an automatic process for them.
They want everyone to submit an application to them or check off that box through the TMDSAS. The turnaround time is usually a day. Their system analysts will review all the various components of the application.
Then they’ll send an invite via email and provide a link to the secondary app. Once the applicant gets the link to that secondary app, it’s up to that applicant to complete. They won’t review their application until they have that secondary app in the system.
To streamline the process, they’ve posted their secondary app questions on their website. They want to make sure students have enough time to review those questions and have those questions ready to go. So there’s no delay in regards to submitting the application.
When you apply to VCOM through AACOMAS, they always encourage students first to only apply to one campus since there are four different designations in AACOMAS. So don’t waste the money applying to all four because they have a process through their secondary that allows you to only be reviewed at one campus.
They invite students for a secondary application based on a number of different factors. They’re primarily looking at students from their target regions or they attend a four-year institution within their target area. Or they have indicated in some way on their campus that they have ties to one of their target regions
At that point, a secondary application is offered. They have such a process because they don’t want to take a student’s money outside of their target area, so they only extend secondaries to select students. Then once those applications are returned to them along with the letters of recommendation once application is complete, it goes to the director of admission in one of their four campuses for review for an interview.
Also, on the secondary, you have the opportunity to rank their four campuses. Then the application services team has a process that will sort students through.
[21:23] How to Write Your Secondaries
Give it to someone else, or maybe two or three people to make sure your secondary is free from grammatical errors. If you want to become a physician, all they’re going to see is what’s on paper until they actually get the opportunity to meet you. And so please take the time to review it.'I can't tell you how many students we have not extended an interview to because there were so many grammatical errors in their secondary AACOMAS application.'Click To Tweet
The things that are going to get their attention are being authentic and answering the question in a way that allows them to get to know you better.
Sometimes, students want to have a big story to tell. But it’s okay if there’s not a big story to tell and just the answer to the question. Don’t exaggerate something that happened to you to make it look bigger than it is. Tell them what the lesson learned was and how it impacted you. Because that part is going to come out in a way that is stronger to them than a big flowery, creative writing story.“Don't be afraid to just be authentic and be who you are.”Click To Tweet
A lot of the questions involve whether you had any academic road bumps or issues in your life that held you back. You want to make sure that everything is mapped out the right way, but be honest with your answers.
[27:49] How They Use Secondaries in the Selection Process
The faculty at VCOM likes to use some of the tidbits students have given to ask more questions or dive a little bit deeper into something this student has shared. J
One of the questions they ask is if you have had a lapse of two years or greater within, throughout your college education. The secondary tells the story and allows the student to control that narrative a little bit more than them trying to piece it together and put what they think happened.
One of the things with COVID recently is they’ve added to their secondary how COVID impacted their application. And this has been a very popular question the past year, especially in regard to shadowing, healthcare volunteer opportunities and the plans students had.
TTUHSC has also included a COVID-related question to their secondary app.
[31:40] When to Submit Your Secondary Apps'Get all application materials submitted as soon as possible.'Click To Tweet
TMDSAS data supports that all those who get interviews are those students who have everything ready to go. They always hit the sweet spot to submit an application in the middle of June to the first week of July. Be sure to get everything turned in by that point and you have a bigger chance to get eyeballs on your application.
Lindsey adds that something that can be detrimental to students is if you take two or three months to get the secondary app back to them. Their interviewers are probably going to question that and for which you should have an answer for.
[35:48] Talking About a Specific Specialty of Interest
Felix explains they want to make sure they’re training physicians to be able to treat all patients in all walks of life, hopefully, in an underserved type of community.
So if you have a specific interest in any particular field, then definitely document that and display that. But you want to make sure at the same time, you have some evidence of why you want to do that, maybe through one of your shadowing experiences.
Lindsey adds VCOM has a section on their secondary under mission, where they ask students to rank their current specialty thoughts.
About 70% of their students go into family medicine, internal medicine, OB/GYN or pediatrics. That means 30% of their students go into something else. And that’s okay, because they need all types of physicians.
Ultimately, they look at whether you’re a good fit to them and whether they’re the right place to educate you to become a physician and help them achieve their mission.
[38:19] Disclosing Academic Accommodations
Lindsey says they don’t specifically ask about learning disabilities. But if it’s something relevant to your experience, or to a challenge that you have experienced in academia, then talk about it.
If that helps you authentically answer the questions, then that’s your decision to make as to whether you want to disclose that with them or not.
Whatever you do share on the application, they can ask about and talk about in an interview. But that does not mean that it would be utilized in a decision. It just means that by putting that into your application, they hope the student is comfortable enough to talk about it if they are asked about it because it is material in the application.
Felix feels the same way as Lindsey. He also wants to reassure individuals that medical schools have student disability services that are going to be able to help provide accommodations. So there shouldn’t be any concerns about that.
[40:52] Q&A'Medical school is going to be difficult wherever you go.'Click To Tweet
Felix thinks that if you feel like you’ve had some weakness in regards to an academic issue, or some life issue, they’re more interested about how you overcame that.
Felix and Lindsey asn more questions from students related to their secondary applications. They touch on topics covering secondary prompts, secondaries before an MCAT score, how to effectively prewrite your secondary apps, and more secondary app tips!