3 things every medical school is looking for in an applicant

When you apply to medical school, the majority of you will consider it a success if you get admitted regardless of where you will have to spend the next four years. Sure, a small proportion will actually have to (ehm-ehm) make a choice, an even smaller group will be so set on a specific school that they will actually refuse an acceptance from anywhere else, a minute bunch will not even apply country-wide. For the rest of us, admissions will indeed be a victory, because any Canadian university grants the same MD degree that will allow you to work anywhere in North America and then some.

Keeping that in mind, you have to understand that admissions committees, aka the people that will ruin your life, aka the people that will make you wet your pants from joy are considering many more candidates than they can accept. Obvious? Great!

First, some background. As you might know, admissions committees are made of people who's single task is to select from a pool of cut-throat over-achiever candidates the ones that a) will not drop out; and b) will become (substitute the adjective of the year) physicians. Just by looking at the application numbers over at the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada official stats page, you can see this is not an easy job. Now you just need to figure out what they are looking for. Most school's websites have vaguely-worded-vomit-inducing cliches about good person this, empathetic doctor that. Does that help you in any way to prepare for the admissions process? Probably not. However, fret not, I will give you the three things every medical school is looking for in a student.

  1. People who can handle intensive workloads while being able to maintain some sort of life outside school. Read this again. There is no mention of science, biomedical science or science related orientation of your studies. I feel there is a need to stress that you absolutely have to choose whatever it is that will make you want to do it on your free time - this way you will get those grades.
    I do understand, however, that this is the toughest criteria to negotiate for most of us. Every formal evaluation is geared toward ranking your abilities in this field: your GPA, your MCAT score and your extracurricular accomplishments. Since I am yet to find where the hot tub time machine is, the only advice I can give you is make sure you choose your undergrad according to what you like to do, start preparing early or be prepared to spend a longer than usual time achieving your goals.
    • There are two important nuances you should know. First, what you really need is to get the bare minimum for the schools that have strict cut-off criteria. This will advance you into the next step of the selection, where the other 2 points come in handy. Obviously, that 45T sounds really neat the next time you're picking up a girl in a bar, but it is by no means necessary. 
    • Second, some schools take a more holistic approach to their admissions process, which means that you will have leeway to demonstrate your ability to perform in different than academic ways. What do I mean by different? You could, for example, complete your Msc in Experimental Surgery while coaching your high-school's soccer team. Or take on a hobby, like guitar or photography and get involved with the local community, take on gigs in small clubs or do weddings. The key here is that you will succeed in something you enjoy.
  2. Every school is looking for a particular 'breed' of medical student. For example, some schools will give preferential treatment to athletes, or graduates from particular programs, residents of certain areas, etc. Although this information is not always explicitly classified, often you will not be able to obtain it directly from the secretary of the admissions office. You can try to be subtle about it, and ask them indirect questions. Here are a couple to get you started:
    1. What kind of candidates were admitted to the class of last year?
    2. What was the geographic/age/any other stat you dare to ask representation in the last year admission?
    3. What is your approach to mature candidates?
    4. Etc.
  3. Personalities fitting the current wind of change. This one is a bit trickier than it might seem. The point of this third and probably most important criterion is to make you aware that each medical school prides itself with its selection of candidates. The committee selects Future Physicians. If you look at their description of this title, the usual nauseating facade about being a good person will probably appear useless. However, if you dig deeper, you will realize that almost every candidate is compared to a template of some sort. During the MMI's (Multiple Mini-Interviews), which most schools use, and even the traditional interview CV-autobio-sketch questioning period the goal is to see how close You fit their template.
    As an example, I can say that in a hypothetical school X, the focus is on person oriented care. In this vein, their school prides itself in graduating the largest proportion of GP's in the country (or even the Universe). Many of their students' accomplishments involve community work locally. Even the news strip on their main page features Dr. M. receiving a prize for his outstanding accomplishments with underprivileged populations. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. Now comes the important stuff.

    Note that this is my opinion and mine only. Follow my advice at your own risk. You, of course, already knew that.

    You want to make yourself appealing for the current wind of change. For this hypothetical school X it would probably harm your application to over-emphasize how much you want to be a pediatric cardiothoracic sugeron and how much research you had done to improve post quadruple bypass complications in diabetic morbidly obese individuals with congenital airway abnormalities. However, another school that highlights its research funding might equally easily overlook your community accomplishments.

In the end, your best bet is contacting students or recent graduates and asking them several specific questions.

Enjoyed the article? Subscribe to getting into medical school and then... to get updates on my advice of getting in as well as stories from my medical student perspective. You'll also get the warm fuzzy feeling of tapping into a pertinent knowledge source.

Your email:


Post a Comment

Feel free to leave your medically inappropriate, scientifically inaccurate or purely subjective opinion.