In this episode, we cover concerns about transcript submission, personal statement red flags, MCAT prep tips, getting letters of recommendation from a DO, and more!
Ask the Dean is the first media project from my new company Mappd. It's a technology platform that's going to help premeds understand the process of getting into medical school.
Joining me are Mappd co-founder Rachel Grubbs and Dr. Scott Wright, our VP of Academic Advising. More than 1,400 students are using it to track their progress to medical school. If this is something you're interested in, check it all out for a free two-week trial. Also, check out Mappd.tv.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
Q: Are the forms with barcodes that are submitted with our transcripts available any time? Or do we have to wait for the application service to open before we can submit these forms to the registrar?
A: The transcripts are needed before you can start the application when it opens for the cycle. The forms with barcodes, which are good for only one cycle, are not required.
However, they are helpful because the application services get tens of thousands of transcripts every year. When the form is received with the transcript, it identifies whom the application belongs to.
“Do not send the transcripts ahead of time. Wait until you have started the application process.”
Q: What can I be doing right now in November to be preparing for the applications in May?
A: Relax, breathe, do well in your courses.
Q: What are some big red flags you've seen in a personal statement?
A: Big red flags include misspelled words, grammatical errors, and lack of readability. Students rush through their personal statement and don't get adequate advice in terms of readability and editing. Non-native English speakers, in particular, should let other people read their essays, and seek help from those who write well in the English language.
Another red flag is using language that is too confrontational and aggressive. On rare occasions, I've seen applications that approach negative topics or come across as negative. For example, an applicant cites a bad experience with a doctor, and suddenly, all doctors are bad. And the applicant is going to save the world from bad doctors. When admissions committees read that type of thing, it's a real turnoff.
Q: I am planning to retake the MCAT. And I plan to focus on practice questions and practice exams and test conditions. I've heard a lot of talk in the pre-med underworld about your world. Any thoughts on suggested question banks?
A: Plenty of practice questions and practice exams are important. Make sure you have the content down. A lot of students want to jump ahead to questions when they're still missing a lot of subject-specific items.
“Make sure you have the content down.”
For example, if you work with Blueprint MCAT, you could check your content knowledge with the Subject Tests. It's basically the equivalent of a stand-alone MCAT question.
If you're always getting the stand-alone right but you're missing passages, then you probably need passage practice. If you're still missing the stand-alone, then you might have some content gaps, too. Almost all of the test prep companies offer some kind of percentage feedback, where you can look at the categories and check how you're doing, not just what you got right or wrong.
Timed work is also important. Do timed passages, and then time sections, and then work your way up to time full-length exams.
Q: What sort of questions or issues have you seen our MAPS members struggle with?
A: A lot of confusion over Advanced Placement (AP). Students are often told that it's really important to get as much AP as possible, both to make oneself look attractive to colleges and to get college credit out of the way. And then it turns out that for pre-med, some of those Advanced Placement credits might not qualify as a prereq fulfillment.
But don't panic. Go do your research. If you've got an idea where you're going to apply, start looking at the school policies. For applicants, it's better safe than sorry in terms of getting good groundwork. You're not going to go wrong by actually taking foundational courses in college.
It also gets tricky when there is enormous pressure on a rigorous course load. If you're going to state schools for college, they are primarily looking at your numbers. What's your GPA? What's your CT score? But if you're applying to a highly selective college, the number one thing they'll look for is rigor of course load. So, you might end up taking a bunch of APS.
Q: What is your opinion on the attempt of Texas to mandate that social workers and first responders don't have to serve people in certain categories (LGBT, religious beliefs, etc.) if they wish not to?
A: Among health care providers, there must be a delineation between urgent care and non-urgent care. For instance, responding paramedics should treat emergency situations as such, regardless of the patient's beliefs or orientation.
In a non-urgent situation, knowing the primary care provider's stand would be in the best interest of the patient, who would, in turn, want someone who can provide better care.
On the other hand, physicians should be allowed to disagree with a patient's lifestyle and opt to refer a colleague who can take care of the patient. You refer the patient to the right people.
In medicine, ethical questions are raised all the time, and how these issues are perceived varies from one place to another.
“The reality in the healthcare field is that you're going to run into people who do not want to give you the best care because of their judgment.”
Q: So the bigger and more challenging question is: if you are a racist, if you are homophobic, should you even have a medical license to practice?
A: There are plenty of racist and homophobic physicians and health care providers out there. We're seeing people coming out of the woodwork every day, unfortunately. And so, our job is to weed them out as early as possible.
At the same time, it is our job as healthcare providers to sound the alarms early among problematic health practitioners. If that means going to the medical board or hospital administration to report something inappropriate, it's your job.
“Part of how we move forward is we look around the room, and we add who's missing, and we get rid of who shouldn't be there. We all have an obligation.”
Q: I'm concerned about getting a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) letter of recommendation (LOR) for the 2020-21 season. Do schools require one? Do you think this might change?
A: It's one of these myths that you need a DO letter of recommendation to apply to DO schools. There are one or two or three DO schools that require or recommend one. But with COVID, everything's up in the air, so I wouldn't worry too much about having a DO letter of recommendation.
If you can't get a letter of recommendation and some schools require one, what option do you have? You just have to put your application out there. And if some schools say no, you have no control over that. So don't worry about it. Just do what you can.
Q: I'm a post-baccalaureate student working full time, and it's a struggle juggling it all. Would it look bad to have a "Pass/No Pass" grade for Biochem and a letter grade for my Gen Chem retake? I might change to "Pass/No Pass" as I don't want my GPA to be negatively impacted.
A: That's exactly how it's going to come across to the admissions committee. It's not a good idea. With COVID, there's plenty of anxiety out there with so many unknowns. So, it's understandable that people are still struggling right now. But from a medical school perspective, they're going to expect letter grades from here on.
Q: I am an ER nurse on my way to med school, and I'm planning to take my prerequisites in junior college. I have a Masters’s in Nursing already. If I go back to a junior-level college, how would this be viewed? My reason is to save money.
A: In this case, junior college is acceptable. The courses are going to count. But there's a caveat: it is a non-selective environment. Anybody can walk in the door and take classes, and that's going to affect ostensibly how the courses are taught and the level of rigor involved. And what would it mean to the admissions committee upon evaluation? For one, are you prepared for the rigorous environment of the sciences and medical school?
Attending a university, though, would be optimal when the competitive nature of medical schools is considered. Also, MCAT results are important for a student to show that the science knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge in a meaningful way are there.
As to money matters, you can write in detail about your circumstances and how you deal with adversity in your personal statement or optional essay. Take note, however, that admissions committees prefer to see concrete realities over assumptions.
Q: For the activity section of the application, is it appropriate to add multiple activities to one section? I've done a lot of small fundraising projects and would want to make sure that these events are highlighted, or should I just pick one?
A: You can lump it into fundraising, then provide details on the multiple projects alongside your various dealings and experiences. This applies to AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), where you can provide longer descriptions on the topic. Comparatively, the description section of the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) allows only half the length of the AMCAS application.
Q: One of our students asked about getting a letter of recommendation from a DO and was advised to talk to an osteopathic physician about their DO studies to get some perspective. While she has another shadowing, her advisor insists on the DO LOR. Any thoughts on this?
A: You can get some perspective from talking to a DO, that is if you can find one who is willing to sit down with you for hours. But as to the need for a letter of recommendation, there's just a lack of knowledge about the process and requirements when applying for DO schools.
Q: Suppose I get a C in Biochem, would that be better than a Pass/No Pass?
A: Neither is better. Better means getting at least a B. Circumstances vary from student to student. But one must view this from the perspective of admissions committee members, who will have to choose from a pile of 20 applications on their desk. One thing you can do is to bring the matter up with your professor and let him know what's going on. If you haven't talked to your professor about your options, do that.
"Sometimes professors will have options that you don't know about and things that they could do with you so at least have a short conversation and let the professor know what's going on."