The Importance of Authenticity in Medical School Applications

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PMY 567: The Importance of Authenticity in Medical School Applications

Session 567

Today, we share with you Dr. William Kilgo’s journey from an undecided premed student to becoming a neurologist and program director. William provides advice on navigating medical school and standing out in residency applications.

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Interest in Medicine

William realized he wanted to be a doctor after struggling in his first semester working at a TV station in college. He retrospectively thought about other career options after that experience and took a biology class that he loved, which helped lead him to pursue medicine.

William adds that he doesn’t think he was necessarily bucking against being a physician like his father. He says he had no issue with wanting to be like his dad or not, as he was very honored with what his father does as a neurologist. William notes that he likes to think that he came back to medicine on his own terms later on in life.

The Hardest Part of Being Premed

William says the hardest thing about being a premed student was that there wasn’t as much information available online at the time, around 2008-2009. He had to rely on books to learn about the medical school application process. 

As someone who was naive about the process and didn’t join many premed groups, he found figuring everything out on his own to be quite difficult and is surprised he was successful.

How He Found His Path to Neurology

William says he got through the first two years of medical school, which were a struggle for him, particularly the neuroscience block during his second year which he found very difficult. However, he liked the material.

During his third-year rotations, neurology was his first one and he loved it, though initially he was just relieved to be out of the classroom. He did other rotations but didn’t like anything as much as neurology. He did an elective in neurology. He also loved the department he currently works in, which was where he did his medical school training. This experience helped solidify his choice to pursue neurology.

“We had really good mentorship, so that’s kind of what helped get me going.” 

William acknowledges that as an MS specialist, he came of age in the field at a time when there were finally good medications available to treat multiple sclerosis, which he notes is an awesome development that significantly helps patients. Having treatment options is an important part of being able to effectively care for those with MS.

Overcoming the Struggles in Medical School

William says it was the immense amount of material being taught at the same time at a very fast pace during his M1 year that caused him to struggle. He notes he had never truly learned how to study effectively before medical school, where daily studying is required. 

The pace and volume of information were difficult to adjust to after being able to succeed with last-minute studying in college. This was his first real challenge as a student.

William says he never felt threatened by his meetings with faculty after poor exam performance. He felt it was out of concern, not something bad happening to him. It was more of a debrief to understand what happened and go over his answering strategy, not a punitive measure. The faculty wanted him to understand how badly he did but also provided feedback to help improve, so he didn’t feel like the school was trying to kick him out or that his situation was unsupportive.

“Knowing what your learning style is – that’s the most important thing.”

William advises students not to compare themselves to others getting higher grades, as everyone learns differently. He says it’s more important to understand your own learning style. For medical school, diligent daily studying is crucial. He encourages students to seek help if struggling and not get discouraged, as adjusting to the workload and pace takes time. Additionally, having support from friends who are also adjusting can help alleviate the pressure of feeling alone in challenges.

Applying for Neurology Residency

Factors William Considered When Applying to Neurology Residency Programs

When applying to neurology residency programs, William says he was looking for the “good feel” when interviewing – wanting to get a sense of the culture and environment. He also considered where his fiancée (now wife) would want to live and opportunities in that city.

Beyond academic qualifications, he valued finding a place with people he felt he could get along with and enjoy training under. Personal fit was important to him in choosing where to do his residency training.

What He Looks for in Residency Applicants

When reviewing applications for residency spots, William looks for good academic performance. He also looks at the research experience to show time management skills, and most importantly, genuine interest in and fit for the neurology specialty and program. He wants to see that applicants have considered where they want to train and why they want to train at his program specifically.

Discerning Genuine Interest in Neurology

William suggests there could be a few reasons someone may apply to neurology residencies without being genuinely interested in the specialty. They may be dual applying to different specialties and using neurology applications to increase their chances of matching somewhere.

Applicants from schools without strong neurology programs may feel it expands their options to apply more broadly, including Neurology. Some applicants may also mainly be applying to prestige programs in neurology without true passion for the work, just wanting to be at a renowned institution.

William agrees that through conversation during the interview process or by looking at an applicant’s background and past experiences, a program can get a sense of whether someone is genuinely interested in neurology or just applying broadly. Speaking with applicants allows them to probe their level of interest and see if it seems authentic or if they just want to match at that institution without passion for the specialty itself.

Emphasizing Early Clinical Exposure and Accessibility

William says he wishes students had more opportunities for hands-on clinical experience earlier in their training to better understand what a medical career entails. While the curriculum has improved with more early clinical exposure options, he thinks continuing to emphasize real-world experience early on would be beneficial.

Additionally, he notes students are now much more informed through the help of online resources, which allows them to make selective, well-considered choices. If he could change anything, it would be to make the process of becoming a physician more accessible and attainable for all interested students.

“People have so much more information now than they used to. Students are much more well-versed, very selective in what they’re looking for now.”

Qualities that Make a Student “Stand Out”

William says what stands out most in an applicant or rotating student is their ability to communicate and present information succinctly and clearly. He wants to see someone who can concisely discuss a patient case over the phone in an emergency situation and be trusted to have all the relevant details.

Other qualities that impress him include writing skills, time management, and an ability to not ramble when conveying important clinical information. More than academics, he looks for well-rounded students who demonstrate strong communication and organization.

“Sometimes, it’s maybe that student who takes an extra step to express interest in a special way… if you get one that’s very specific and personalized, that goes a long way.”

William notes that for some programs, what stands out is a student who takes the extra step to express genuine interest in that specific program through personalized outreach. It could be an email highlighting why they specifically want to train at that institution. 

William adds that hecan distinguish manufactured messages sent to many places from those tailored and convey authentic excitement about the opportunities at one program in particular. Taking the time for individualized contact demonstrates the passion that makes a strong impression on selection committees.

Are Audition Rotations Still Strong?

William thinks audition rotations or away rotations during medical school are still very important for competitive specialties like orthopedics. Away rotations allow students, especially those from schools without robust specialty offerings, to showcase their abilities and make connections at their target programs. 

While a few neurology applicants rotate through William’s program to audition, he views these rotations positively as a way for students to be exposed to different training environments and learn more about a specialty from a new perspective.

“Seeing things done a different way in a different place might open your eyes to that specialty in a different way, either positively or negatively.”

Ways to Connect with Potential Letter Writers

William suggests several ways for students to connect with potential letter writers:

– Doing research projects, clinical work, or other experiences collaboratively with mentors at other institutions through online platforms allows direct engagement.

– Connecting on social media is a way for undergraduates to start building relationships with specialists they may ask for letters later on.

– For those at larger schools, finding opportunities like shadowing or volunteering within their home institution makes it easier to form strong bonds with letter writers there.

– Online tools have enabled students at smaller schools without access to specialists to still work on projects together with potential references remotely.

Final Words of Wisdom

William advises students to seek out quality mentors who genuinely want to support and encourage their goals since there will be many potential naysayers questioning this career path. It is also important to make sure to learn as much as possible about the realities of being a physician from trustworthy sources before firmly committing to a path.

Students should not get discouraged if challenges arise along the journey, as diligent work and the right support system can help one persevere to success. Having passion and purpose will aid in sustaining motivation through difficulties.

If medicine truly feels fulfilling, students should pursue it despite any hurdles as long as dedication remains. Finally, William also wishes the system was more accessible for all interested students to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams of helping others as physicians.


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