Courtney Lewis recently left the role of Director of Admissions at Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. Courtney is also our newest adviser over at Mappd. Today, we talk about some behind-the-scenes of the admissions process.
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.
[02:53] Her Medical Education Path
Courtney and her ex-husband started a scribing company and worked with a lot of premeds that way. And so as time went on, she wanted to gravitate back to medical education. When they opened a new med school in the city in her local area, she wanted to be part of it. She got hired and moved up the ranks that way.
[04:03] The Biggest Mistake Students Make When Applying to Med School
One of the biggest mistakes Courtney sees that students make is not proofreading or looking over their applications really well. Sometimes, they will leave certain portions blank or think other sections are more important than others. Maybe they don’t have somebody read their personal statement and see if it matches up with the tone or the wording that they use in secondaries.'When you're comparing so many people with similar stats, it's always good to have another set of eyes.”Click To Tweet
Courtney talks about how these little things like typos or getting the school name wrong become red flags, especially when they have to compare students with similar stats.
[06:02] Getting Into DO Schools
A lot of schools have transitioned away from that requirement or just left it as a preference or preferred or suggested, and changed their wording on that. And so, there are a lot more opportunities not to have that in your packet of letters.
For those that require a DO letter of recommendation for those schools, there are ways for applicants to get in touch with osteopathic physicians in their state. There are state-run osteopathic foundations and organizations that a lot of physicians are part of. They have registries where you can look up people in your area.
Do some research first and don’t just cold-email. Make it as personalized as possible.
[08:01] Why Students Struggle With Talking About Why DO
Do your homework.
Courtney recommends reading the tenets of osteopathic medicine. It gives you a point of reference on what the foundation is in terms of the teaching style and your practice.
You’re not going to be using osteopathic manipulative medicine all the time. It depends on what you go into. But they teach you another set of tools, using your hands to heal and diagnose.'A lot of the time, applicants will try to put down one or the other as being better or preferred when really it's just a philosophy in teaching and learning and the 200 additional hours.'Click To Tweet
Be careful with your wording.
Courtney also cautions students to be careful in their wording. It’s always nice to know how somebody plans to implement osteopathic manipulative medicine or if they have read the tenets and how the curriculum is presented.
It’s not just for rural medicine and it’s not just for family medicine or anything like that. But there are some benefits of having that in your arsenal if you plan to go into that in the future.
Moreover, when the secondary prompts ask you about why DO, don’t compare MD and DO. They just asked you why you’re applying to a DO school. Therefore, only talk about what it is about the DO philosophy that you like. Otherwise, it would seem like you’re just putting down your MD counterparts.
[11:13] Advocating for Yourself
Go to conferences and events.
Courtney admits she likes going to health fairs because she’s able to interact with the students there. She thinks it’s a good opportunity to get past the general questions and get into the nitty-gritty of somebody’s learning style, and how the curriculum is presented. You get to understand what they’re really looking for and learn about their student body and environment.
See if it’s the right fit.
Courtney suggests that even if it was just five minutes, take time to go to the school’s actual website. Find out who you can plug yourself in and what you want to do there if you’re going to be accepted.
[13:36] The Importance of Balance
It’s also important for you to be able to balance your credit hours as well as your extracurricular activities. That means clinical experience, shadowing, volunteering, hobbies, etc. They want to know you’re able to balance school and family life.
Medical schools want to make sure that people are engaged with the community, they can work in a team environment, and they’re able to balance lots of things at one time. They’re not just hyper-focused on just any one thing in a way that everything else falls by the wayside.'It's not just school. It's your own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. It's joining clubs, doing research, doing things in the summer, and keeping up your family relations.”Click To Tweet
They want to make sure that people are engaged with the community, they can work in a team environment, and they’re able to balance lots of things at one time. They’re not just hyper-focused on just any one thing in a way that everything else falls by the wayside.
Medical schools can consume you and you can get so bogged down that other things start falling behind. Then it escalates really quickly if you start getting behind. And so, just seeing that somebody is active and engaged on multiple levels and not having a deficit in any huge areas is a good thing.
Courtney also points out that they look at the clinical of applicants to make sure they have at least some knowledge of what they’re getting into.
[19:01] Applying to New Schools
Courtney explains that a lot of faculty will transition here and there. Sometimes, you have people that are there for 20, 30, or 40 years, and they’re looking for new schools to go to. And so, you get a mix of a bunch of different things.
If you’re hesitant about going to a new school, Courtney suggests looking at the curriculum, how it’s being presented, and what resources are available. Check if they have a trust setup, in case they don’t get accreditation. See if they’re going to be able to reimburse you.
All that being said, there are checks and balances set up through the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) that goes through them.'If you're at an institution that's been around for 40 years versus something that's been around for five, you're going to have to put in the work.'Click To Tweet
Typically, if a school gets that preliminary accreditation, you shouldn’t have any fears that things are going to work out. Historically, medical schools are doing fine when it comes to getting that full accreditation.
[22:38] Passion for the Premed World
Courtney started at the med school as an advisor. From there, she moved to become an assistant director and then to a director. And so, she served on a couple of the national councils and things in elected positions.
As her job got more and more administrative, she has missed engaging with applicants and being able to give them a peek behind the veil of what they’re looking for. She missed being able to provide that transparency, coaching, advising, and helping them navigate before they get the no answer.
The Diversity of Classes
Coming from an underrepresented and underserved background, Courtney is aware of what resources in advising are available and what resources are not available. And so, she wanted to make sure they take diversity into account when reviewing applicants.
And so, maybe it wasn’t the highest GPA but they were able to maintain a very strong GPA while they were also doing all of these other things and they’ve been so successful.
[25:50] The Deposits Required in DO Schools
One of the biggest complaints in the DO world is their huge deposit requirement. Courtney doubts that it’s going to be written off. Because they have investor-owned private schools that set different fees separate from the tuition. Other times, the deposit will be rolled into the tuition.
This is something that is set outside of admissions, unfortunately. It’s usually set by a board of trustees and is a bit outside of their control, and it’s going to be different for a lot of schools.
[29:30] The Lack of Transparency From Schools
Everybody’s motivation is slightly different. But the more granular you get on your website, the harder it is to give you the latitude to view everybody. Courtney thinks this is a bit counterintuitive.
She adds that leaving a vape gives you the latitude to look at more applicants in general. But she also understands this is a bit confusing for the applicants. And so for instance, if they say their cutoff for GPA is a 3.0 and for MCAT, it’s 500, then a nontrad has a 499 MCAT score, then they can’t look at this person. That’s a bummer.'Each school's motivation is a bit different… but we want to give ourselves the biggest pool of applicants that are coming in without ruling them out over just a fine line of detail.'Click To Tweet
Again, Courtney clarifies that sometimes those decisions are made outside of the control of the people processing the application. Or they’ve just been in place forever.
Who Makes the Decision
As to who is dictating the cutoffs, Courtney believes this is different at each school as they have different processes. For the most part, it does fall under leadership. There are a lot of decision makers that come into play, some of which are reading your application, and some of which aren’t.
Courtney says they’re tracking deep in those data and numbers of students. They’ve had people with 498 MCAT scores, which may be untouchable to some schools, and now they are physicians. They look at the resources they utilized if they had to go to any academic advising or extra sessions or anything like that. They look at how many interviews they got when they were going into the match. All of that is tracked.'Institutions will have departments or personnel that specifically track all of those metrics from application through the match and also into residency.'Click To Tweet
[35:48] The Weight of the MCAT
Courtney says there’s something to be said for being able to take standardized tests because you’re going to have to take so many as a medical student, and then on through the future, as a physician. And so, there needs to be some element where you can sit for a standardized test and perform well. It’s not just about the content, but also about the test-taking aspect.
Ultimately, a lot will depend on the type of student or the type of applicant that you’re dealing with when you get into those circumstances. They’ve seen people that had really amazing numerical metrics that didn’t perform well. And so, it’s a matter of mindset.
[37:55] Final Words of Wisdom
Courtney says self-awareness is key as you’re going through this process. Think like the admissions committee and play to your strengths. Remove your red flags, if possible, and show the kind of student that you are now.“Be willing to invest in yourself and do what you need to do to overcome those things, for whatever reason they happened. It's totally doable.”Click To Tweet
There’s maturity that comes with life experience and mistakes. And Courtney is excited to work with people who are willing to invest in themselves and improve their applications.
[42:41] The MCAT Minute
The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.
If you are planning on taking the MCAT in August or later for the 2022-2023 application cycle, just be cautioned that it’s getting late. Make sure you’re going to do what’s best for your MCAT score and for your application. And sometimes, that means slowing down.
If you run over to Blueprint MCAT, sign up for a free account and use their study planner tool to see what you’ll need to do to make yourself as successful as possible.