What’s Going On In The Heads of Admission Committees?

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PMY 539: What's Going On In The Heads of Admission Committees?

Session 539

Today, let’s speak with Dr. Christine Crispen, an advisor from Chapman University and MSHQ, on what exactly is going on with admissions committees. Christine is a former Director of Admissions at UC Irvine, a former admissions committee member at Keck Medicine at USC, and is now again, part of our advising team at MedicalSchoolHQ. We’re going to talk all about what’s inside the head of these admissions committee members, and how potentially you can take that knowledge and increase your chances of getting into medical school.

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.

[00:55] MappdCon 2023 is Coming Up!

MappdCon 2023 is coming. We’ll have sessions with panelists who are experts in their field, we’re going to have do admissions panel and an MD admissions panel. We’re going to talk about creating a competitive application, how to prepare for your interviews, how to develop your personal statement, how to have a career with children, and how to explore other healthcare fields. If you’re not sold on becoming a physician, just yet, we’re going to create inclusive healthcare spaces.

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[06:55] The Importance of Community Service

Community service plays a vital role in society, and it’s considered to be almost as important as clinical service. When evaluating potential candidates for positions in hospitals or healthcare institutions, recruiters look for individuals who not only talk about serving the community but also demonstrate it through their actions.

“Community service is almost as equally important as clinical service.” Click To Tweet

One of the reasons community service is highly valued is because it reflects a sense of altruism and selflessness. By engaging in activities that benefit the community, individuals show that they are willing to put the needs of others before their own. This quality is essential in healthcare professionals, as they are entrusted with the well-being and care of the patients they serve.

Furthermore, community service allows individuals to gain a deeper understanding of the community they are serving. By actively participating in initiatives aimed at improving the lives of others, individuals become more aware of the challenges and needs within their community. This awareness helps them develop empathy and compassion, which are crucial qualities for healthcare professionals.

In the case of USGS hospital, being a safety net hospital, community service becomes even more significant. These hospitals cater to underserved populations, providing essential healthcare services to those who might not have access to care elsewhere. Therefore, having a strong inclination toward serving the community is an important criterion for being a part of such institutions.

Community service also fosters a sense of unity and collaboration within a community. When individuals come together to work towards a common goal, they build connections and strengthen the social fabric of their community. This collaborative spirit is beneficial in healthcare settings, as it encourages teamwork and effective communication among healthcare professionals.

By actively engaging in community service, individuals not only contribute to the betterment of society but also develop valuable qualities that are essential for success in the healthcare field.

[10:40] How COVID Will Impact the Admissions for the Long-Term

Despite the reopening of many activities, students across the country are still struggling to find significant shadowing opportunities that are essential for their applications. Virtual shadowing, which was more widely accepted during the height of the pandemic, may not hold the same weight now. This poses a challenge for students who rely on shadowing experiences to gain firsthand knowledge and exposure to the healthcare field.

However, Christine suggests that students should be creative in finding alternatives. While certain types of experiences may still be difficult to obtain, there are still options available. Hospitals are now allowing volunteers, and students can explore opportunities in hospice or community clinics. It becomes important for students to assess the importance of shadowing and weigh it against other relevant experiences they can pursue.

'Figure out your way to navigate to new experiences to still get the quality you need for your application.”Click To Tweet

The key is to navigate through new avenues and seek out different opportunities that can provide the quality experiences required for their applications. Adapting to the changing circumstances and being resourceful in finding alternative experiences will be crucial for students in overcoming the challenges brought about by the long-term impact of COVID-19 on admissions.

[11:56] Do Med Schools Know the Struggles of Premeds?

According to Christine, med schools may not be fully aware of the struggles faced by premed students during the COVID-19 pandemic. She shares her own experience as an admissions committee member. She noticed a significant impact on applications in 2021, which she attributed to the effects of COVID-19.

Christine explains that in previous years, the impact of COVID-19 on applications was minimal, with only a few months of lost opportunities. However, last year, she observed many applications with noticeable gaps due to the challenges imposed by the pandemic. As an admissions committee member, she had to adjust her expectations and take into account the unique circumstances that premed students faced.

While some admissions committee members may understand the struggles of premeds during this time, Christine believes that it ultimately varies from person to person. She suggests that med schools may not fully comprehend the ongoing difficulties that premed students are experiencing, assuming that things should be returning to normal now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

It is important for premed students to communicate their experiences and challenges effectively in their applications. That way, admissions committees can better understand the impact of COVID-19 on their journey.

[15:14] The Lack of Transparency and Bias in Med School Admissions

Christine, who has worked on both sides of med school admissions, shares her thoughts on the challenges and biases present in the process. She highlights the issue of students being admitted without adequate preparation or academic struggles, often due to external pressures from parents.

While Christine acknowledges the importance of clinical exposure, she believes that there needs to be more flexibility in the types of experiences that are considered valuable. She also emphasizes the lack of transparency in the admissions process, particularly for students who may not have the cultural or social capital to navigate it effectively. These students may not be aware of what needs to be done or where to find opportunities, leading to a significant disadvantage.

Christine mentions that some schools may be attempting to address this issue through pipeline programs aimed at assisting students from lower-income backgrounds. These programs aim to provide support and information to help bridge the gap of hidden knowledge and resources that many students face.

Overall, Christine sees a bias and lack of fairness in the admissions process. This stems from a lack of awareness of the challenges faced by certain students. She believes that without proper transparency and support, students may not even realize what they are missing out on, perpetuating the inequality in med school admissions.

[18:27] The Challenges of Attrition and Bias in Medical School Admissions

“Medical schools work very hard to keep you in medical school.”Click To Tweet

Christine emphasizes that once a student has successfully gained admission, there are support services in place to help them navigate their medical education and prevent attrition.

She acknowledges the importance of clinical experiences as a potential factor in weeding out ill-prepared students. Yet, she also recognizes that attrition levels are generally low due to the comprehensive support provided by medical schools. 

She notes that some individuals may be pressured or forced into pursuing a medical career despite not having a genuine interest or aptitude for it. These students may meet the academic requirements but lack the passion and commitment necessary for success in the field.

Christine points out that solely focusing on academics can create bias and disadvantage, particularly for first-generation, low-income students who face additional barriers. These students often have to overcome hurdles such as limited resources, inadequate preparation, and the need to succeed in demanding prerequisite courses. As a result, they may face attrition at different stages of their medical education journey.

While support services exist to retain students, it is crucial to consider factors beyond academic qualifications and provide equal opportunities for all aspiring physicians, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

[21:27] A Call for Transparency and Future Leadership in Medical School Admissions

It is important to consider the students who are currently entering medical school and those who will follow, especially those who have experienced the brunt of a lack of transparency and struggled the most in the admissions process.

There is hope that these individuals, who have had to navigate through multiple applications and unnecessary challenges, will eventually become the leaders of admissions committees, deans, and directors.

However, given the current leadership landscape, it may take some time for significant changes to occur. Nevertheless, if the message of the need for transparency and fairness in admissions continues to spread, there is potential for newer students going through the process to eventually take over and bring about positive change.

By having individuals who have personally experienced the difficulties firsthand in positions of influence, the hope is that they will work toward creating a more transparent and equitable admissions system. This would ensure that future generations of aspiring medical students do not have to face the same unnecessary struggles and barriers.

Ultimately, it’s possible for students who have faced the challenges of a lack of transparency in admissions to take on leadership roles. And this holds promise for a fairer and more inclusive future in medical school admissions.

[25:26] Shifting Perspectives and Trusting the Medical School Admissions Process: Insights from Christine

Transitioning from a Checklist to a Mindset

Christine emphasizes the importance of shifting the student’s mindset from simply checking off items on a list to understanding what it takes to become a doctor.

Rather than focusing solely on the number of hours or activities, she encourages students to approach their aspirations with the question, “What do I need to do to get there?” This shift in perspective allows them to consider the holistic journey towards becoming a physician.

Navigating Advice and Trusting the Process

Drawing from her experience and training, Christine advises students with a tech perspective and highlights the significance of clinical community service. However, she notes that students often seek advice from various sources, including friends who have already been accepted into medical school. This tendency to gather multiple opinions can lead to misinformation and misconceptions.

Christine urges students to trust the process and recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to medical school admissions. While academic performance is important, she emphasizes the importance of finding reliable guidance and understanding that admissions criteria vary across institutions. By trusting credible sources, such as live sessions, podcasts, and videos, students can make more informed decisions and receive accurate guidance.

Christine emphasizes the need for students to shift their mindset and ask questions early. Trust the guidance of reliable sources throughout their journey toward medical school. By doing so, they can navigate the complex admissions process more effectively and increase their chances of success.

[30:58] What Makes You Stand Out

Christine believes that it is not about the activities or accomplishments themselves, but rather the narrative and personal growth that stem from these experiences.

While everyone may engage in similar activities, it is how individuals can articulate their passion and reflect on their journey that truly sets them apart.

Christine emphasizes that pursuing a master’s degree in public health, for example, may not automatically make someone stand out. Unless it is accompanied by a remarkable achievement like being a Rhodes Scholar. Instead, she highlights the importance of the individual behind the achievements and how they can effectively convey their unique story and experiences.

The narrative an applicant presents through their application is what makes them memorable and distinguishes them from other candidates. Christine acknowledges that conveying this message can be challenging, as it requires candidates to effectively communicate their personal growth, motivations, and lessons learned.

Christine believes that standing out in the medical school admissions process is not solely about the activities or achievements themselves. It’s about the ability to articulate one’s narrative and the personal growth derived from those experiences. By sharing their unique perspectives and insights, applicants can leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.

[34:21] Subjectively Objective: Christine’s Approach to Evaluating Medical School Applications

Academic Achievement as a Starting Point

Christine describes her evaluation process as “subjectively objective,” where she begins by looking at the academic qualifications of applicants. While academics are important, she acknowledges that she may be forgiving in this aspect. She is open to considering individuals who have pursued post-baccalaureate or special masters programs to enhance their academic credentials. However, academics alone do not make the final decision.

Once the initial evaluation based on academics is completed, Christine shifts her attention to the experiences outlined in the application. This becomes the primary focus when determining whether an applicant should be invited for an interview.

She looks for meaningful and impactful experiences that demonstrate an applicant’s commitment to their chosen field. These experiences play a significant role in shaping Christine’s decision-making process.

Interviews and Letters of Recommendation

If an applicant is invited for an interview, Christine places further emphasis on their performance during this stage. The interview allows her to gain more insight into the applicant’s character, communication skills, and professionalism.

Additionally, letters of recommendation also hold weight in Christine’s decision-making process. They provide valuable insights from individuals who have observed and worked closely with the applicant, offering further validation of their abilities and potential.

The Challenge of Limited Spots

Christine acknowledges the challenging reality of the medical school admissions process: there are typically far more qualified applicants than available spots.

With thousands of applications and a limited number of interviews and spots, she recognizes that even exceptional candidates can be rejected due to the sheer competition. This underscores the importance of standing out through academic achievements, experiences, and compelling narratives.

“You can literally do everything right… but there are just not enough spots. That's the problem.”Click To Tweet

While a generalized checklist exists, the final decisions are based on a subjective assessment of each applicant’s qualifications and fit for the program. Furthermore, Christine acknowledges the difficulty of the admissions process due to the limited spots available. This then makes it challenging for even highly qualified individuals to secure a spot in medical school.

[42:31] Pursuing a Career in Medicine: Christine’s Advice for Success

Overcoming Timing Challenges

Regardless of the year in college when students decide to pursue a career in medicine, Christine believes that with dedication and focused work, they can still achieve their goals. She emphasizes that becoming a physician is indeed feasible, even though there may be variations and generalities based on individual circumstances.

Christine advises students to commit themselves to the process and invest the necessary time and effort to build a strong application throughout their undergraduate years. 

This includes engaging in reasonable clinical service for a period of three to four years, which can involve regular volunteering for two hours per week or every other week. Additionally, she recommends actively pursuing community service and dedicating at least a year and a half to research, depending on individual goals.

Creating a Well-Rounded Application

To create a well-rounded application, Christine suggests utilizing the remaining time to take on leadership roles and engage in extracurricular activities. These experiences contribute to showcasing an applicant’s diverse skill set and interests, enhancing their chances of success.

Christine acknowledges that her formula does not guarantee acceptance for every student. But she draws confidence from her track record of successfully helping students navigate the competitive application process.

By dedicating themselves to clinical service, research, community involvement, leadership, and extracurricular activities, students can enhance their chances of securing a spot in medical school and ultimately achieving their goals as future physicians.

[44:51] Final Words of Wisdom

If you are willing to take the time, ask the question. Just go talk to somebody. There’s Mappd’s Live Office Hours, the podcasts, and you have all these opportunities.

Ask the questions, start early enough, take your time, and do it right. 

Take out the checklist mentality and figure out what to do to go to medical school. Do good clinical work. Figure out if it’s the job for you. And do good community service because you need to show and demonstrate that you care about somebody other than yourself.

“You do have to be academically qualified but you don't have to be perfect. Perfection is not the goal.”Click To Tweet


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