Today, we talk with Joanne Snapp about how attending conferences can make a huge difference in a student’s medical school admissions experience.
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.
[00:51] The MCAT Minute
The MCAT Minute is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT.
Did you know that planning your work has shown it to increase not only your MCAT score, but just life in general? When you plan stuff out and you’re intentional, you are more likely to get stuff done. And in this case, we are more likely to study for the MCAT. Study what you need, and hopefully, get the score that you want.
Sign up for a free account at Blueprint MCAT today and get access to their amazing study planner tool.
[04:26] Medical School Recruitment at Conferences: Unveiling the Purpose Behind It
There are reasons why medical schools engage in recruiting activities at conferences, despite the significant number of applications recieved. The first reason is a sense of responsibility to meet and support potential applicants, providing them with accurate information about the application process.
Face-to-face interactions can help dispel the mystery and misinformation surrounding the medical school application process. The second reason is twofold: First, there is a drive to recruit diverse candidates, and secondly, while there may be a large number of applicants, not all of them may be suitable matches for the school or may not be genuinely interested in attending that particular institution.
As a result, medical schools attend conferences to connect with prospective applicants who may not have considered them due to a lack of awareness. Medical schools can also reach out to a broader pool of potential candidates beyond the ones who are already familiar with their institution.
Joanne says she wants to be able to share information with people face-to-face because so much of this process is just so elusive, mysterious, and scary.“There's just so much misinformation out there about everything. I always felt I could get out there and speak the truth a little bit, maybe I could make a difference.”Click To Tweet
[06:48] Demonstrating Mission Alignment and Standing Out at Medical School Fairs and Conferences
Demonstrate mission alignment and mission fit when engaging with medical schools at fairs or conferences. Attending these events is not just about figuring out which school to apply to, as most applicants would have already made their decisions by October.
Instead, students can use this as an opportunity to stand out by asking tailored and specific questions that show knowledge and interest in the school. Avoid asking generic questions like “Why should I pick your school?”
Research each school beforehand and come prepared with well-thought-out inquiries. Make a strong connection with admissions representatives. This can help applicants be remembered and considered more seriously during the application process.
Joanne says that when you walk up to that table, have your notebook out and ask those really targeted questions because now you look like an educated consumer.“Look like you know what you're talking about. Look them in the face, stick out your hand, smile, and act like a professional.”Click To Tweet
[11:35] The Impact of Meaningful Interactions with Recruiters at Fairs or Conferences
Students’ interactions with medical school recruiters at fairs or conferences can create a great impact. Students must ask thoughtful and tailored questions that demonstrate knowledge about the school and show professionalism.
When a student engages with a recruiter in this manner, it indicates their readiness for medical school and their genuine interest in the institution. The recruiters are more likely to take note of these students, mark them as potentially viable candidates, and may even prioritize their application for interviews.
Candidates who approach fairs in this manner have yielded positive results. They receive many receiving interview invitations shortly after engaging with the recruiters in a thoughtful and knowledgeable way. By making a strong and memorable impression when interacting with medical school representatives, it is likely to result in interview invites.
[14:31] Valuing Human Connection
Human connection plays a great role in the admissions process. The admissions office can be a lonely place since applicants do not show their true authentic selves during the application process. Despite this, Joanne expresses her desire to help students and provide genuine advice, which motivates her to participate in recruitment events and engage with potential applicants.
Not all medical schools participate in recruitment events for various reasons. Schools choose to attend fairs and conferences as they have a student-centered philosophy and value making personal connections with applicants.“It's not because the schools are less than or they need people. It's just that they have a different philosophy… those schools tend to be a little bit more student-centered.”Click To Tweet
[16:07] The “Who Do You Want Me To Be” Approach
Students who ask, admissions personnel to tell them “who they should be” to fit the school’s expectations, is a concept that admissions staff cringe at. This approach is not effective and can lead to a disconnection between the student and the admissions staff.
Instead, students can focus on making a genuine human connection during these interactions. Admissions teams are looking for students who can engage in normal, relaxed conversations and demonstrate confidence in themselves.
Communicate naturally, as this skill is vital in medicine when interacting with patients and colleagues.
Approach conversations with authenticity, rather than solely focusing on candidacy. Engage in conversations about various topics, beyond just the applicant’s qualifications, to create a more meaningful and memorable interaction.“The best conversations are usually not about your candidacy.”Click To Tweet
[18:12] An Opportunity to Improve Communication Skills
Joanne disagrees with the idea that premed students should avoid attending conferences and interacting with admissions personnel due to being introverted or shy. She believes that these interactions are valuable opportunities to practice important communication skills, especially if the student is nervous about talking to people.
The opportunity to develop communication skills early on is beneficial. Students should start attending conferences and engage in conversations with admissions staff as early as their first or second year of college. Conferences are safe spaces to practice and improve communication abilities.
If a premed student is unable to have a conversation with someone while applying to medical school, they may face larger challenges in the future that need to be addressed.
Premed students are encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities for practice and growth.“You need to go out and go to conferences, you need to get out early, and you need to practice this skill from a very early age and get all of that out of your system.”Click To Tweet
[19:23] Tips and Advice When Attending Conferences
When attending conferences, these tips and advice for engaging with medical schools are useful. Dress professionally and maintain eye contact during conversations. Handshakes or other formal greetings are encouraged. A business card, with your MCAT ID number, picture, and email, may be useful for current applicants but not necessary for those not applying.
The main purpose of attending conferences is to practice communication skills and explore potential schools of interest. Bringing a resume is discouraged, and the focus should be on building connections and being personable rather than boasting achievements or experiences.
You do have to force yourself to look people in the face even if it’s uncomfortable. Maintain eye contact. You need to be ready to extend your hand or extend an elbow or something.“The purpose of going and connecting with people is to gain the skills and to figure out schools that you might be interested in.”Click To Tweet
[22:52] Feigning Confidence
Confidence is very important and these are some tips on how to build confidence for those who lack it. Do not apply to a school if you have doubts about your abilities.
Imagine yourself in a patient interaction and use the same level of professionalism and confidence when speaking to admissions personnel to feign confidence. To sound more powerful and assertive when communicating with others, use a lower tone.
[25:36] How to Effectively Navigate Conferences
A student can effectively navigate a conference or event, with a specific focus on optimizing networking opportunities with exhibitors at their tables.
Divide the day wisely to attend relevant talks while also setting aside time for networking. Observe the exhibitor tables and approach them when there are fewer people present to avoid unnecessary waiting.
Additionally, be considerate of exhibitors’ availability, and avoid interrupting them during meals or busy moments. Take advantage of idle time to initiate conversations. You can expand your network by engaging with representatives from various schools, regardless of their initial considerations.
Ask insightful questions and gather information from different sources during these events. You can maximize the benefits of the conference and seize valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth.
[27:35] The Value of Networking
Networking is defined as the process of establishing connections with people in a given space. In context, it is where you can make a positive impression and form meaningful relationships. You have the responsibility of taking the initiative to start conversations with others, even if it is uncertain whether an immediate connection will be established.
Be persistent and remember that not every interaction will result in a strong connection, but that shouldn’t deter you from continuing to approach and engage with others.
Joanne shares personal experiences of attending conferences and forming valuable connections with a few individuals and genuinely clicked with them. These connections often lead to fruitful opportunities, like feedback on applications or long-term professional relationships.
Face-to-face interactions at conferences provide the best chance for these unexpected and beneficial connections to occur. This is the “magic” of networking, where small connections can lead to significant and unforeseen outcomes, making it a highly valuable practice for premed students.“You're going to find a handful of people who you connect with… You can't force it to happen, but they tend to happen when you put yourself in positions to meet people face to face.”Click To Tweet
Ultimately, that’s why you go to conferences as you’re hoping you’re going to hit it off with some people and it’s going to be fruitful.
[29:44] In Person Conference VS The Zoom Room
Students may ask a question, “Why should I attend conferences in person rather than just relying on virtual attendance?” There are a lot of benefits of being physically present at a conference, especially when it comes to listening to panels.
Online panels are limiting, where interactions are limited to only asking questions in front of everyone and not having personalized conversations with the panelists afterward.
In contrast, at an in-person conference, after a panel ends, students have the opportunity to approach the panelists they found most interesting. They introduce themselves and ask individualized questions. This builds human connections and being physically present makes those connections happen which is very valuable.
There is also the excitement and fulfillment that comes from receiving positive feedback and opportunities for further meetings when engaging with speakers face-to-face.
This is a unique value of in-person interactions that are established at conferences. The experience creates more meaningful and personalized connections that are difficult to replicate through virtual means like Zoom.