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Ask the Dean: Premed Questions Answered

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

10 Premed Questions Answered: GPA Repair, Personal Statement Tips, and More

This week, we take questions about community college postbacs, shadowing vs clinical experience, writing your personal statement, international clinical experience, how med schools view your GPA, and more!

For an app that is changing the landscape for premed students, check out Mappd at http://mappd.com!​ 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. MAPPD AMAZON STORE: https://www.amazon.com/shop/mappdapp

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

[7:23] Mappd as a Mobile App

Q: Will Mappd become a mobile app available on Android and iOS?

A: For now, we are not pursuing an app for many reasons. First, an app doesn't add any features that can't be done right now. But the biggest reason is it would double or triple our development costs, which are at six figures at this point. 

Developing a mobile app for Android or iOS would be a constant battle. All phones are updating all the time. Since iPhones update every year, the iOS is updated every year, while Android phones have hundreds of different versions. 

We want to make sure that Mappd would be useful for everyone, and provide the highest quality experience at the lowest possible price. If we find a reason to do it, we will do it.

[9:45] Taking Prereqs at a Community College

Q: How will a community college post-baccalaureate be viewed by med schools?

A: Assuming that the student did well, going to a community college for postbac prereqs is not going to be seen as a negative. Also, the MCAT score will have an effect. But it's not just as simple as whether going to community college is good or bad. 

It's also about the big picture. And if you don't need to prove your academic readiness, then it's probably not going tohurt you.

[13:04] Get Good GPA before applying

Q: Am I ready to apply to med school, or should I wait until my GPA improves?

A: You probably should wait to apply. Many students make the mistake of applying and just send an update of their new GPA to the med school later. "It doesn't work that way." What matters are your inputs during application that the schools will use to evaluate you as a candidate. Also, consider the importance of having your senior year grades under your belt before applying. 

“Considering the thousands of documents sent every year to applications services, many schools won't bother with updates.”

[18:30] Importance of Shadowing

Q: How important is shadowing if I already have tons of clinical hours?

A:  Shadowing would be beneficial, depending on where you took clinical work and what kind of exposure you had. But shadowing and clinical experience are two different things. Either way, you gain different thoughts and broaden your ideas from shadowing and clinical experience so one does not outweigh the other.

“Shadowing and clinical experience are two different things, which is why they're listed separately in the application.” 

[21:21] ”Seed” for Personal Statement

Q: What if I'm struggling to find the "seed" for my personal statement?

A: Look back to the first time you realized that the medical field is interesting. Whether it's your interest in Nursing PA, Veterinary Medicine, or other healthcare fields, that is where you'll find your seed. 

Most of us have multiple healthcare experiences, but there's that one experience you find the most interesting. Even if that was a long time ago and you don't remember, try asking your family as to when you talked about wanting to be a physician. Let that bring out your memories and thoughts.

Try to reflect on when this interest started and where the initial impulse was. After you figure that out, tell your specific story about what's bringing you towards human medicine.

“Finding the seed can be a real struggle… you may not even find the seed at all.”

All that being said, you don’t necessarily have to have a seed. It could be that you just always talked about being a physician so the initial impulse can be elusive. Still, it's important to recognize that just the process of searching itself can be incredibly meaningful to you. It's like looking for an old CD and, in the process, you enjoy uncovering plenty of other stuff. 

[26:41] Writing a Personal Statement

Q: Should I use a standard format in my personal statement, that is the intro, body, and conclusion, or can I play around with the writing?

A: The student has to be comfortable with how they're going to translate their personal statement into a narrative. Many students over the years have played around with a variety of ways of doing so. 

“There are some wrong ways of writing a personal statement, but there's not necessarily just one right way.”

However, don't be "too creative." In some personal statements, the telling of the story gets in the way of the meaning. And it becomes difficult to figure out what they're trying to convey. 

Early on in the screening process, reviewers would evaluate applications in a quick, routine manner, and ask: "What does this personal statement say?" 

So if your personal statement gets too convoluted or excessively creative, like an over-the-top 3,000-word poem, it becomes difficult to get a sense of what you're talking about.

Some creativity can be good, but it has to fit your personality and your story. Keep in mind that you are writing this for someone who doesn't know you and is trying to understand your story. But don't try to be different for the sake of being different.

You can incorporate some creative writing styles and techniques that may work well in your personal statement, but try to get some feedback. An advisor at school is a good person to ask because they're interested in helping you get in, and they're not as worried about hurting your feelings. 

"Get your essay feedback from people who respect you more than they love you." 

What's important is you get feedback in a constructive way. Apart from trying to stand out, avoid selling yourself and saying what you think is important. Just tell your story.

[34:56] Clinical Experience Abroad

Q: Does clinical experience outside of the United States count, like a summer internship abroad?

A: The healthcare systems of foreign countries are different from that of the United States, so one's limited clinical experience in another country won't say anything about what a physician's life in the US is like.

While your foreign experience can be fascinating, what you make of it is going to depend on what you gained from such an experience and what it meant to you. While it does count, but it will not suffice in terms of understanding what healthcare in the United States is. 

The vast majority of students who attend American medical schools are going to practice in the United States. 

“Having experience in the American healthcare system – the good, the bad, the ugly weighs more. 

[37:22] Advice for Premed with Low GPA

Q: I have a low GPA with an upward trend in my senior year, and I'm thinking of doing a postbac as well as the med side program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. What are your thoughts on the program and how should I start reinventing myself? 

A: This is essentially a Texas question. UNTHSC in Fort Worth has a special master's program mainly for GPA correction. If you plan to go to medical school in Texas, then it's a good opportunity to reinvent yourself, since it's a large program that has 250 to 300 students. 

The med science program at UNTHSC is a good strong program, but it will depend on how well you do in the process. With a low GPA, you need to do really well with little wiggle room. 

Your MCAT score will be important, and in the process, they're going to help you with that. Also, these specialist programs have many ways to help you craft and package your application, and that can be a real benefit. So go for it. 

As to pursuing an undergraduate postbac program, Texas has a variety of unstructured programs where you work with an advisor to put together a package that's going to address your needs.

[42:04] Ample Clinical Experience is Important 

Q: My clinical work got canceled due to COVID. The only clinical experience I have is from being a caregiver to my mother for years. Should I delay my application?

A: Probably. Your lack of clinical experience outside of caring for your mom is a cause of worry. You need a certain number of clinical experience hours before you should think about applying. It's important so you will be sure that this is what you want to do and go through. Perhaps you should wait a year and get plenty of clinical experience hours under your belt, then apply.

[45:28] How Med Schools View Applicant’s Major

Q: I graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and completed 25-semester science units at a community college to bump my GPA. Do admissions committees of med schools give a little more leeway to engineering majors?

A: Medical school admissions committees recognize that not all majors are the same. Some majors are inherently more difficult than other majors. And some have different grading scales, depending on the realities of that major or the realities of that particular institution. So there's a bit of leeway given for applicants of some majors or from certain universities. 

“There's no formula or system to alter the GPA based on what major you had or what school you went to.”

On most campuses, engineering majors are considered the toughest majors. But it's a guarantee that med school is going to be tougher than your engineering major.

You need to match the community college work that you've done with some upper-level biological sciences courses at a four-year institution. This will show the admissions committee that the community college work you've done is real. 

Your MCAT score is going to be important to the admissions committee as well. It must show you have a high level of ability to absorb information, you can utilize what you've learned effectively, and that you possess critical thinking. And so, to just say that you’re an engineering major isn’t going to fly. 

[51:38] Too Involved in Premed Clubs

Q: I've been a leader of my premed org and I really enjoy mentoring premeds on the right journey. However, my own GPA has taken a hit, so I have to spend extra years to recover academically. If I'm too involved in my premed club, will med schools view it badly and question my dedication to medicine?

A: Every time there is a problem with academics, then there has to be a deep re-examination of what you are doing. Think about where you’re spending your time and what your priorities are. Reflect on why you weren’t able to balance the two.

Take note that medical schools have student organizations, as well, so what's going to stop you from joining? 

“One of the biggest mistakes that new college students make is taking on too much and not adjusting to being a good college student first.”

The effort you put into student organizations is a good thing, but not when the wheels fall off academically. It’s a common mistake for students to take on too much on their plate that their academics suffer. As a result, they end up needing to dig themselves out of a GPA hole. 

In your case, if you are committed to going to medical school, a postbac program or a special master's program is going to be necessary. 

If mentoring other people is your passion and that's what you want, you shouldn't worry about what it looks like to schools. Talk about that and lean on that. Don't think it's going to hinder you from getting into school just because you assumed they’d say you should go and be a teacher instead. 

It sounds that you are a good candidate for academic medicine, which is what it's all about: mentoring, teaching, and helping students along the way. This may lead you down an entirely different road, but you need to examine whether you're really into mentoring and consider academic medicine as a career. 

Links:

Mappd

Mappd.tv 


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