COVID-19: Adjusting to the new normal in medical school and residency applications

While we continue to await definitive news on how COVID-19 will impact the 2020 and 2021 application cycles, one thing’s for certain: the process, as we know it, will be very different than years past. Though the AAMC is still hedging its bets with a “wait and see” approach, we can all reasonably assume that many, perhaps most, deadlines and processes will accommodate widespread education, business, and social fallout.

The majority of applicants will face a litany of unprecedented issues:

  • final term grades converted to pass/fail
  • MCAT exams cancelled or postponed
  • volunteer, shadowing, or internship positions cancelled
  • delays in obtaining letters of recommendation
  • delays in obtaining transcripts
  • fallout from job insecurity or being placed on furlough
  • drastic changes in financial status

In short, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Most applicants will face some major complicating factors. The AAMC already realizes it will have to make BIG adjustments. Sit tight, remain calm, and get ready for a fun ride.

Bottom line: if you are adaptable—which you should be if you want to be a great physician—this could be your year. We predict that the total price tag for the application process will be significantly reduced. It is likely that most/all interviews will move to a virtual format, equating to HUGE SAVINGS for applicants. For perhaps the first time ever, you don’t have to be hamstrung by a tight interview travel budget. Broadening your geographical range can be a major asset in the admissions game!

Here are a few tips and resources as you prepare for an adjusted medical school and residency application season:

  • Get started early. Yes, we mean it. Get started early. Use any new gaps in your schedule to not only finish course work, but also get a jump on the application.
  • Source and obtain your references now. University, clinical, and research personnel are facing their own challenges due to the pandemic. The sooner you get your LoR on their radar, the more likely you are to actually collect those letters. Again, use it to your advantage that some people have extra time on their hands.
  • Investigate whether your transcripts may be delayed and how they need to be delivered. Electronic is always preferred, but if your school relies on paper format, you’ll need even more time to procure.
  • Start mapping your revised MCAT plan. The MCAT has been cancelled globally through May 21, 2020. What does your schedule look like after that? Start preparing for potential makeup dates.
  • Write your personal statement. Compose your experiences descriptions. Get some feedback.

2020 hasn’t been the easiest on anyone, but you can make the challenges work in your favor. Applicants who persevere through life disruptions may realize unprecedented advantages. Best of luck!

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

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.

 

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