How to Figure Out if You’re a Good Fit for a New School

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PMY 519: How to Figure Out if You're a Good Fit for a New School

Session 519

Dr. Caleb Marsh and I talk about how to handle extracurricular activities, and how they can make or break an application to up-and-coming medical schools. Caleb is the Director of Pathway Programs and Recruitment at Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine. It is one of the newer medical schools in Nashville, Tennessee that is yet to recruit its first class. They are still waiting on their preliminary accreditation.

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.

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[02:11] Extra Curricular Activities

Extracurriculars will show how passionate you are about being a doctor. Through your extracurricular activities, you will get to prove to yourself and to the medical schools that you understand what it is like to be a doctor.

These activities will also show that you are a normal human being and not just trying to check off all the boxes in your application.

[03:40] Opportunities for Growth in Extracurriculars

Caleb points out the need to focus on grades and test scores as a big part of the process. But there might be blinders that could let students miss out on opportunities for growth, both personal and professional.

Extracurriculars do not just teach students how to be a doctor, but they teach them how to interact with other humans, primarily their patients and their colleagues. 

“Patients and colleagues don't exist in a vacuum and so neither should their activities.”Click To Tweet

[04:38] Caleb’s Journey in the Premed World

Caleb has been in the premed world for a long time. Prior to joining the Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine at Belmont University, he was a health professions advisor for many years at Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Southern Methodist University.

He then went on to Temple University to become a health professions advisor in Philadelphia. With the postbac program, Caleb says he learned a lot about non-traditional students.

[06:08] Start Up with a New Medical School

Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine at Belmont University is the third allopathic medical school in Nashville, Tennessee. Caleb says it’s an exciting time to be at Belmont and working to start up the school.

It is being constructed, it is being built. They are putting it up right now and expected to open its doors and start accepting students in 2024.

However, Caleb mentions that there is a lot of work to do before that. They always think of it like a startup. They are laying the groundwork so that when they are ready to start recruiting students, the Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine at Belmont University will exist soon in its full form.

[07:34] New Med School Applicant Qualifications

Thomas F. Frist Jr. College of Medicine at Belmont University will be looking for the same qualifications as with any other new medical school. But in addition, it is like having an Indiana Jones mentality where you are going on a new adventure.

Be willing to try something new. You are willing to swing from your whip, over that gorge, and be adventurous. You have to be willing to deal with ambiguity and say, “I’m building this with them. The medical school is being built at the same time and I’m a part of that.”

It takes a certain personality. It’s the difference between saying you will work at a big company or a tiny startup. Yes, it is amazing and incredible to be going to those big schools of big names that have well-established histories. But there is also something really cool about being part of something new and building from the ground floor. 

So Caleb says, the types of experiences and the attitude at a new medical school are things that people will be looking for. Admissions committees of medical schools will be looking for those kinds of things, such as their ability to understand it’s something new and they’re ready to tackle that. These are the type of students that are out there starting and building things. They are okay with building processes and systems and dealing with uncertainty.

On top of being adventurous, they also have the willingness to speak up and weigh in on what is going well and what can be improved. And they are okay with saying that out loud in a comfortable and safe space.

[12:42] Safe Space in Med School

Whenever you are looking around student affairs offices at different schools, meeting and talking to them about their processes, you ask these questions: Are you supported? Do they feel like family? Do they have an open-door policy? Are they going to listen to your concerns and talk to you about them? 

It takes a lot of trust. You have to trust that the advice that they’re giving you is good. And when you act on that advice, it is in your best interest. There is a lot of give and take there.

If it doesn’t feel like family, and if it doesn’t feel like they are there to help and support you, it will be like a very combative atmosphere.

Interview day is an important time for a student to get the opportunity to meet and talk to the people at the school. They can talk to the other students on interview day and find out if they feel supported.

This starts with those at the front door with admissions, as well as with recruiting and with student affairs on how committed they are to the wellness of the student. How they help you balance your life from the beginning will give the idea that they will help you continue to do that throughout the process that you’re training to be a physician.

[14:46] Overemphasis on Research

When a student thinks of extracurricular activities, it seems like the first thing they think about is that they need research.

One of Caleb’s favorite questions to ask students is whether they’d be upset if they went to an interview and no one asked them about research. If it was your concern that you did all this research and you were not asked about it at the interview, then you were doing the research for the wrong reason.

If you really want to do research, it should be because it is something that you love and are passionate about. It is something that has an additive to that DO or MB that you are going to get.

In Caleb’s opinion, if you don’t look at it through that lens, it is not worth doing.

Schools have different emphases on those things. But at the end of the day, the question to ask would be whether you want to be a researcher or not. If you want to spend time in a clinic or hospital, or if you want to spend time in a lab.

Almost every student Caleb has talked to say they would much rather spend time in the hospital or clinic around patients. And to him, that is the answer.

[18:41] Things that are of Value

Caleb says, if you enjoy something that is of value to you, then it is also of value to the admissions committee. That can include full-time jobs, and spending time with family, all of these things are valued clearly by the applicants.

You don’t need to do things just because it’s what’s expected of you. Do the things that make you better and make you feel better about the things that you’re doing. Those are the things that you enjoy and help you understand the profession better.

You may not always be asked to tell why something is of value to you. But if you are asked, you need to have a good answer as to why that was valuable.

[20:21] The Power of Human Connection

Caleb shares a story of going to a doctor to have a procedure done. It was not huge but he felt terrified despite having worked around doctors all these years. As he was laying down, the doctor could tell he was getting nervous and went on asking about the basketball game last night. They were talking through the game and the next thing he knew, they were done.

Caleb says that his doctor may not be that big of a basketball fan but he knew that was interesting to him. He used that as a way to make him feel calm, and relaxed, and have a better experience in that room as a physician and as a patient. 

That story is about the power of human connection. He always thinks of that as a great example of how those things can be utilized in different environments but can accomplish the same goal.

It is understood that there is a need to do some time in a clinic, or if you want to be a scribe and work at a hospital. That also supports that goal. But at the end of the day, you still have to connect with your patients and your colleagues around you. 

Extracurriculars can really help support that and make you a more fun and interesting person to be around with.

[23:51] Understanding the Life of a Doctor

Students need to be getting clinical experience to make sure they like being around patients. Sick patients are not fun to be around. It is an amazing experience. It is a privilege to take care of people. And it is very hard to do. You have to shadow to understand what the life of a doctor is like.

Caleb says the clinical experience can be tough and harder to quantify. You can have 500 clinical hours but when you show up in an interview and ask what you learned, you can quickly determine that in those 500 clinical hours, you didn’t learn anything. You could just be there, racking up hours and not doing it to understand who you are in this process.

“It's not about the total hours. It's about what you take away from that.”Click To Tweet

Someone with 100 hours may have an amazing ability to reflect on those 100 hours and have some great takeaways for growth versus the student who racked up 3,000 hours and took away nothing. It was just there because they were checking off the box.

[39:00] Final Words of Wisdom

Caleb says there are two parts for students to try and figure out what they need to do to help medical schools understand they want to be a doctor and they are great applicants.

Find out what you want to do.

The first piece is to find out if this is what you want to do – this is as much for the admissions committee, as it is for the applicant, for the applicant to know if medicine is their right fit. 

If you do tons of clinical experience and be around sick patients, Caleb suggests that you would rather be a student and figure this out earlier in the process

If you do tons of clinical experience and be around sick patients, then you would rather figure this out earlier in the process before spending time, energy, effort, and money moving toward this goal.

“That part of being yourself is just so important... if it's of value to you, it's of value to an admissions committee.” Click To Tweet

Be yourself.

Do the things that drive you. The things that you enjoy and make you tick have a cumulative effect. It helps keep you balanced and keep you from stress. It helps you remember why you’re doing the things that you’re doing and why you’re working so hard so you can do the fun things that you enjoy in life. It’s also important to stay grounded.


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