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Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

Dr. Scott Wright and Dr. Ryan Gray answer our Mappd Members' Questions

11 Premed Questions Answered: What GPA Do I Need? Can I Work in Med School?

Today, we talk about how Texas medical schools are keeping their students in-state for residency. We also address questions about GPA, upward trend, what’s inside a letter of recommendation, thank-you notes for interviewers, 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.

[4:46] Focus on the Upward Trend

Q: I have a 2.6 GPA and plan on earning all A's from my postbac. It would bump my sciences to a 3.5. It's not too competitive, but it has that upward trend. 

A: 3.5 is not bad and 2.6 is not great. All three of the application services produce a postbac GPA for the medical schools that is distinct from the cumulative or the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, GPAs, and all that stuff. And so, a bump in the sciences to a 3.5 would be great to show that upward trend. Then match that with a strong and competitive MCAT score to boost your chances of getting into medical school.

"Students forget that it's not just the numbers, but it's the story behind."

They don't focus on that final GPA going “good enough,” but on a student that had some adversity, overcame it, and turned it around. And that’s bigger than the final GPA.

One of the things that medical schools look for is resilience, and adaptability in the face of difficulties. It’s important for a student to show throughout their coursework and their growth in a personal way. And in an academic way, that they were figuring it out and using the resources at their institution to help them. 

A postbac experience or graduate school is a good sign. That's very meaningful to an admissions committee member or the entire committee because they see commitment. It’s important because the exact same thing is going to happen once they transition into medical school. 

“It's not necessarily what the student did. But it was what did the student do with the resources that they had.”

[13:27] Keeping Texas Medical Students In-State

Q: Why does Texas have its own application service? Why do they focus so much on in-state? Why does Texas make sure students who train in Texas or another state stay in-state? 

A: States like to think that our tax dollars are helping the medical schools, and most of the medical schools in the state are publicly supported medical schools. So the legislature believes that we should serve citizens of the state of Texas and that's going to affect what students will do after they graduate. This makes sense unless you look at the data, which shows that it's much more important where you do your residency than where you go to medical school.

“Medical schools try to do a reasonably good job of encouraging their students to come back to the site after residency... But the schools can't   force students to do anything.”

Most of the medical schools in Texas stay in the state for residency. The half that goes somewhere else may or may not come back to Texas to actually serve in the state in terms of medical schools. 

There's very little that a school can do to encourage that due residency match rules and regulations and stuff. 

The residency programs and accreditation rules focus on the ability of students to go into specialties that they want to go into. We have a program in Texas called JAMP, that focuses on socioeconomically disadvantaged kids and getting them into medical school. It's a great program, it's been going for about 20 years now. It's only for Texas residents. 

At TMDSAS, they have been trying to figure out how to keep those students who go to Texas medical schools. But it wasn’t just possible to do that.

Ultimately, every state wants to have doctors that serve their state, particularly states that have large rural populations and small town populations. Because there are literally counties in West Texas without any doctors.

Every state wants to keep students in their state to serve their population. But that’s difficult to do with the way things are structured in American medical education right now.

[19:31] Letters of Recommendation

Q: When asking my professors for letters of recommendation, is there anything I should ask them specifically? Is it appropriate to ask them to mention certain things in the letter?

A: Ask the potential letter writer to craft a strong letter of support for you that will help your application. That gives some professors the ability to either happily comply with your request or decline it. If it’s the former, then give them your resume and personal statement and other pertinent things that could help them write a solid letter.

[24:35] Working on GPA 

Q: A Texas resident here, I graduated with a 2.9 science GPA and 3.19 cumulative GPA. I took 6 years to graduate with my B.A. in Anthropology. It took longer than normal due to work injuries and helping my family. No MCAT projected in March 2021. I was recommended by another Texas Addcom member to complete an SMP.  I'm currently doing the program through UNTHSC. For a student in my situation, what kind of GPA and MCAT scores do you want to see? I do have an EMT experience doing 911 and helping migrants on something.

A: Strive for a 3.5 GPA to show medical schools that you are academically capable and then match that with a competitive MCAT score. They're looking for something to be able to give them concrete evidence that says you're capable of doing the work at a high level.

“The job of the medical school is to choose students who are going to be a good fit and to finish medical school in time.”

[33:44] When to Reach Out to Schools

Q: Once a student submits an application and their secondary essay, and they don't hear anything from schools, when is it okay to reach out to them?

A: In a normal year, this depends on the deadline of the particular school. In the Texas world, the deadline was the same for all schools, which is on October 1st. In this case, if you haven't heard anything by Thanksgiving, then that's not a good sign. Because most of the schools are going to finish up the interviewing in late December through early January. So the offers are going to go out at the end of January through mid February. 

With the COVID situation, they have moved the deadline back. Most of the schools are going to interview in late January. Everything's been pushed back by largely 2 to 4 weeks into the cycle. 

Again, it all depends on the school's deadline and their timeline in terms of how their interview cycle looks like.

That being said, writing the schools to tell them how much you love them and they’re your top choice would not be effective. The schools have a process where applications go through various reviewers, the interview cycle, and then at some point, to the committee. 

[37:03] Thank You Notes for Interviewers

Q: I had a student I'm working with ask about thank you letters for the interviewers. Do I write a thank you note to an interview? Or do I write a thank you note to the school saying thank you for interviewing me? 

A: You don’t have to. Nor does this increase your chances of getting into medical school. Although it could be one extra point for you if the interviewer appreciates your gesture. However, do it because you’re doing it and not because you feel like you’re supposed to do it.

Should you decide to send your interviewer a thank-you note, try to mention the things you talked about during the interview to make it personal, and hopefully, more effective. Rather than just sending them a simple, generic thank-you for the interview.

[41:33] From Volunteering to a Paid Job

Q: I’ve been volunteering for five years and now being offered a paid position. Is there a difference in the eyes of the admissions committee?

A: There’s no difference whether that’s paid or not. What the admissions committee members look at is the value you got from that experience and how you’re able to translate that into your personal statement or, hopefully, your interview. Other than that, they’d probably think that you got offered a paid job because you showed up on time and you did the hard work. You showed that you cared and you got noticed, regardless of what your volunteer experience was.

[43:26] Medical School as a Full-Time Job

Q: 99% of medical students just can't work. It's just impossible to work during medical school. But some students who have very specific skills, such as programming, may work if their specific skill set allows them to work at different hours. They can work whenever they want to and they're able to do it in little niches of time that they have. Was that your experience in medical school?

A: My experience is do what I say, not what I do. I wasn't as educated about everything that it takes to get into medical school, get through medical school, and match in the specialty of my dreams. I was working during medical school and I came in with a lot of debt, a lot of credit card debt, a lot of consumer debt that needed to be paid all the time, and I didn't have parents who are wealthy that would help me. I worked because I needed to work as a personal trainer. 

“I made mistakes every step of the way, including working during medical school… I made mistakes left and right. But I don't regret them. Because I wouldn't be here today.”

I was able to work one or two hours so I could make good money. That helped, but it's a huge distraction from studying. My logic behind it was it's only two hours, but it's not just two hours. 

Add up the time that I had to stop studying to get ready for a half an hour, driving for half an hour, and doing the work for two hours. Not to mention the lollygagging on the back end for another 15 minutes, going home and driving for a half an hour. Then finally, unwinding for another half an hour. So your two hours of work has now turned into four hours of not studying. 

I worked first year, second year, and even into third year during clinical rotations. Until I got to surgery that I decided to finally stop. But then I also had this hobby of being a computer programmer on the side and I wrote software and ended up selling it later on. 

Personally, I don’t recommend that students go into this thinking they can somehow carve out some time to work part-time. Instead, think about being a medical student as a full-time job.

Links:

Mappd

Mappd.tv 

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