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Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Medical School Admissions

How will Coronavirus (COVID-19) affect medical school admissions? 

At this point, it’s all conjecture! But COVID-19 is already making its impact on current medical school students and applicants. As schools suspend operations, move to online formats, and work to slow the spread of the pandemic, flexibility will be key.

 

In the short run, the adjustments feel relatively minor:

  • The couple of programs that are still interviewing (Wait. What? For real?) are mostly cancelling in-person interviews in lieu of remote interviews. While that’s a real money and time saver, applicants miss out on the gut-level decision making that a physical visit often provides.
  • Match Day 2020 looks very different than in years past. Many schools put the brakes on the usual gatherings, instead offering “students only” gatherings and more intimate ceremonies, if any at all.
  • “Second Look” weekends have largely been cancelled. A virtual format is a likely alternative.
  • Some MCAT centers (especially in other countries) have cancelled/postponed testing. In the US, MCAT test takers are facing options ranging from wearing disposable gloves to rescheduling without penalty.

But what about the long run? What happens to the next class of medical school applicants? Best case scenario, this all wraps up neatly and the impact is negligible. Worst case scenario? The entire process is turned on its head. A few of our predictions for how things might shake out:

  • If travel remains disrupted, dangerous, or limited, we will see a general shift toward more virtual/online/remote interview options. We’re talking about potentially thousands of dollars of savings here! In fact, lower-income applicants (and all those students pinching pennies) could find it more feasible to afford their medical school dream. But interviews will likely feel a little trickier for those who shine in face-to-face interactions. Also, it may be more difficult to really gauge the pulse of a program through a screen.
  • International applicants could be looking at more hurdles in matriculating this cycle. However, those who persevere may actually see higher acceptance rates than usual.
  • If you are an international student currently studying in the US and you can maintain that status through the whole of the application cycle, you may have an edge over students looking to move from abroad.
  • Domestic applicants may enjoy a slight bump in their odds. International applications will likely drop this cycle, as they do during times of instability.

One final thought: COVID-19 has sharpened the public’s interest in the current state of American medicine. It is possible that we will see some major injections of funding into our healthcare, research, and medical education systems to shore up our crisis readiness. If that happens, your timing may be perfect to apply!

What GPA and MCAT scores get accepted to medical school?

Question: What are my chances of getting into medical school?

When it comes to medical school admissions, are you more than your numbers?

Answer: In 2019-2020, the AAMC reported 53,371 total applicants to US medical schools. Of those, 21,869 matriculated*. That translates to a 41% acceptance rate. Not too shabby, considering medicine is a highly competitive professional path. Granted, these numbers also reflect a certain level of self-selection: most applicants do possess the basic qualifications if they’re willing to put themselves through the hassle and cost of applying. But if you’re a “glass-half-empty” kind of person, you’ve probably already noted that about 60% of applicants do not make it into medical school.

So how can you realistically gauge your odds of getting accepted to medical school? Glad you asked! The AAMC offers a handy grid that spells out past applicants’ odds of acceptance, based on MCAT and GPA: https://www.aamc.org/system/files/2019-11/2019_FACTS_Table_A-23.pdf

Remember, the AAMC employs a holistic approach to applications*. Don’t ever assume that your numbers predetermine your outcome. Underperformers still have a chance and overperformers still get rejected.

Everything in your application matters. An experienced medical school admissions editor can help you put your best foot forward.

*Source: https://www.aamc.org/system/files/2019-11/2019_FACTS_Table_1_0.pdf

*Source: https://www.aamc.org/services/member-capacity-building/holistic-review

ERAS Personal Statement Length

How long should my residency personal statement be?

A residency personal statement should be under 750 words. I shoot for 650-700 with my clients. Yes, ERAS allows a whole lot more. Don’t take the bait. You’ll be a laughingstock if you submit something overly long or ridiculously short.

Here’s the rub: Everyone will tell you that this sucker needs to fit on a single page. BUT, everyone also has a different calculation for what that means.

Let’s face it, the single page rule is a pre-digital dinosaur. Did you know that aspiring residents used to mail handwritten letters to their programs of interest? (For those who complain about customizing residency essays to specific programs, at least you don’t have to worry about your penmanship!)

All this begs the question: How many characters or words are equivalent to one page in ERAS? Well, if you type directly into the form or cut-and-paste from Word, you may get about ~3500 characters or so. Probably too short! You may also notice some funky formatting issues. However, if you follow ERAS’s instructions and type your essay into a plain text editor, then cut and paste that text into the ERAS form field, VOILA! You should have plenty of room for 650 words.

Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like guidance on how to optimize those 650-750 words: marci@essaymd.com

Wishing you happy writing and a perfect residency match!

Marci Martinez

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Can I talk about my family in the personal statement?

 

Our families often inspire our choices.

But is it really appropriate to talk about family in your essay?

Find the scenario below that best applies to your situation:

 

Scenario 1: Some aspect of my family’s history is fascinating and unique.

→ Did your family’s history directly impact your education and/or personal development? → Will this influence the way you someday practice medicine? → If yes, tell an interesting story that summarizes, in a nutshell, what happened and then connect that to a patient care story (or some other “eureka moment”) that helped crystallize your decision to pursue medicine.  → Remember to keep most of the focus on what you learned and how that translates into action.

 

Scenario 2: My family is not particularly unique, but I love them and they inspired me.

→ Did you do something unusual or remarkable as a result of their encouragement? → If so, tell a story; that’s your focus, not your family. You might briefly mention them, but that’s about it.

 

Scenario 3: My family kind of let me down, but I have achieved a lot in spite of them.

→ Did you achieve what should have been impossible, given your circumstances? → If so, describe some of those obstacles (Tell a story!) and how that experience made you stronger. Don’t focus on how others disappointed you; tell your story without blaming or accusing.

 

Scenario 4: My family introduced me to the field of medicine.

→Do you have a parent (or other immediate family member) who is a physician? → You might briefly allude to that, but avoid making it a central focus. For example, you might mention working summers in your mother’s practice. No need to chronicle your parent’s journey to medicine, or education, or life philosophy. This essay is about YOU, not them.

 

Scenario 5: My close family member faced a life-threatening illness.

→ Were you extensively involved in their care or affected by their diagnosis? → Did this forever impact your view of medicine? → Are you comfortable talking about the experience and providing the basic details (type of illness, outcome, etc.). → If yes, then you can mention it. But try not to devote more than one paragraph to the subject, and make sure it connects to the other main points of your essay.

 

Scenario 6: Someone in my family told me I should be a doctor.

 → Don’t mention it! Even though our loved ones influence our decisions, you don’t want to send the message that you are primarily swayed by others’ preferences or pressure.

Med School Application Tip: Outlining the Personal Statement

Working on your personal statement outline? Not sure what to include? Here’s a template to get you started!

In high school and college, we were instructed to formulate a complete outline prior to writing. Solid advice, but sometimes it can leave you feeling a little trapped, especially if you aren’t exactly sure of your main points.

Instead, try this model for “backing in” to your essay. Work through these four main questions, allowing several minutes to write all you can about each. Let your ideas flow fast and freely. No limits!

  • What have I accomplished that I am proud of? This can be ANYTHING! Maybe you’ve won an engineering competition, organized a fundraiser, tutored the neighbor kid through calculus, served in the Armed Forces, learned to play the guitar with one hand, or coached youth sports. It really doesn’t matter what it is, just that you are passionate about it and willing to connect those skills/aptitudes to the medical field.
    1. Once you’ve brainstormed a list, circle the accomplishments that really get you “revved up.” Ideally, you want to focus on things in the personal statement that you will enjoy talking about during interviews.
    2. List a few moments from each of those circled experiences that stand out in your memory.
  • What are my core ideals and personality traits? Write a list of traits, and then circle the qualities that are most important to you. Connect these to your accomplishments. Your ideals and personality traits are usually expressed two ways in the personal statement: through your choice of accomplishments/stories and through your unique writing voice.
  • What kinds of clinical experience do I have? Hopefully, you have volunteered or shadowed or worked in healthcare in some capacity. It’s kind of important! So be sure to reference that in the personal statement, even if you don’t spend lots of time on it. Next, see if you can find some connections between what you’ve seen in a clinical setting and the main topics in #1 and #2.
  • How did I learn these things about myself/medicine? Briefly line out the key moments in your life that shaped you into the person you described above. Arranged chronologically, you have the story of your journey to medicine. Remember, most personal statements are roughly chronological.

If you’ve followed these steps, you’ve basically worked backward into your outline. Now just connect the dots and streamline it into a concise 5300 (or 4500) character document!

Medical School Personal Statement Tip: Should you identify a preferred specialty in your essay?

The short answer: Probably not.

You may know exactly what sort of practice you’ll have someday. Still, resist the urge to announce it in your AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS essay. This is especially true if you favor a very narrow, competitive field.

Why? Because it takes some serious chutzpah to declare that you will be a urologist or dermatologist before you’ve taken a single class. Yes, you might achieve that dream, but your reader will not think highly of your boldness.

Remember your freshman year of college? How many of your peers said they were going to be doctors? How many changed their mind after Organic Chemistry? Same deal with medical school.

But there are exceptions to this rule. If you have great reasons for wanting to pursue a more general path—maybe you want to be a family physician or pediatrician—and you are applying to programs that really prioritize these tracks, then go for it!

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