The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredits medical schools in the US and Canada. The accreditation process ensures that medical schools meet certain standards set by the LCME. Medical schools are required to “demonstrate that their graduates exhibit general professional competencies that are appropriate for entry to the next stage of their training and that serve as the foundation for lifelong learning and proficient medical care.”

Accreditation is important since most state medical boards require that U.S. medical schools be accredited by the LCME as a condition for licensure of their graduates and US medical students cannot take United States Medical Licensing Examinations unless they are enrolled at an accredited school. Each medical school goes through a review and re-accreditation process periodically. Occasionally schools are put on probation and required to make changes if they want to maintain their accreditation.

Medical school applicants should be cognizant of the schools which are on probation. If they apply to those schools they should find out what the schools are doing to rectify the situation to be taken off probation. As of this writing there is only one medical school on probation.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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Secondary applications arrive fast and furious soon after the primary AMCAS application is transmitted to the medical schools. It’s important to return secondary applications quickly since an application is not considered complete until the secondary has been received. The suggested time window for returning a secondary application is within two weeks of receiving it. Do the math—if an applicant applies to 20 schools, that’s 20 applications to complete within two weeks, all with several essays to write. Let’s say the average secondary application has three to four essays–that’s 60-80 essays. Writing that many essays in a short period of time obviously creates a tremendous amount of work.

The secondary applications are absolutely as important as the primary application, and they should be completed carefully and with great care. To streamline the process many applicants pre-write secondary applications, putting the finishing touches on them when the secondaries are actually released. Bear in mind, as well, that secondary application prompts can change from year to year—so sometimes prewriting a secondary can result in wasted time if an applicant writes an essay that is no longer relevant. But on the whole, secondary prompts do not change from year to year; most usually stay the same.

There are several ways to approach pre-writing secondaries:

  • Look for common themes amongst secondary applications and focus on fleshing out ideas for those topics and prewriting a paragraph or two on each. You can then focus those essays for particular schools, tailoring them to the exact prompt, when you receive secondaries. Common themes can be found in my blog post on common secondary prompts.
  • Do a quick Google search for secondary application prompts and you will easily find them for particular schools. Start writing.
  • Be mindful that some essays can be recycled from one school to another but ONLY WITH GREAT CARE. Always read the prompt for each school carefully—and tailor your response specifically for that school, answering it precisely.

If you have questions about secondary applications feel free to reach out to me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Photo courtesy of the New York Times








Does studying art enhance your observation skills as a physician, thereby allowing you to pick up subtle signs of illness? In recent years, there has been a general acknowledgment that studying art–and fine-tuning the art of seeing–helps medical students hone their skills. More medical schools are incorporating gallery visits and art classes into their curricula in an effort to sharpen students’ observational acuity. Arts Practica was founded by Alexa Miller to help medical professionals gain more skill in what they see. Arts Practica offers training programs, gallery visits, and classes which encourage med students to “learn to see.”  An article in the New York Times describes a forum that took place at the Museum of Modern Art which convened educators and doctors to discuss teaching strategies in programs melding art with medical education. An additional article in the Times describes “What Doctors Can Learn From Looking at Art.”

More medical schools are adding an arts component to their curriculum, and some examples are below:

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One of the components of the AMCAS application is the “Work and Activities” section, in which applicants help medical school admission committees understand how they have chosen to spend their time outside the classroom. There are 15 spaces for activities; each experience must have a short (<700 character) description and applicants also select three of these as their “most meaningful” activities and write longer (<1325 character) essays about them. For more information about the “most meaningful” AMCAS activities please refer to this blog post.

Applicants must make decisions about what to include in the Work and Activities section; whether they should group activities of the same ilk together; and how they should describe each experience.

Should applicants simply report the facts?  Should they provide reflection? How much detail should they include?  For the short descriptions you will be limited by space; there is only so much you can include. Here are some tips for writing the best possible activity descriptions in the AMCAS application: Continue reading

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Every year in the late spring, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) publishes the Medical School Admission Requirements (known as the MSAR—pronounced em-sar). This online tool is the most reliable source of information pertaining to US and Canadian medical schools.  The information is provided directly from the medical schools to the AAMC. As such, it’s the go-to source for comprehensive and accurate information about each medical school. It includes information pertaining to:

  • Curricular structure
  • Interview format for each school
  • Class size
  • Each school’s mission
  • Median GPAs and MCAT scores
  • Premedical requirements
  • Whether schools accept AP credit, community college courses, or online classes
  • Cost
  • Combined degree programs
  • Demographics of students
  • Acceptance information:  size of the applicant pool, ratio of in-state and out-of-state applicants, number of international students
  • Whether schools accept international applicants

The MSAR is the best reference tool for all medical school applicants. Be sure to use the source for the year in which you apply to medical school so you get up-to-date and accurate information. The MSAR recently underwent a complete overhaul and has a new look and even more helpful information and filters for looking up schools that are in an applicant’s GPA and MCAT ranges.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) requires applicants to include descriptions of their activities. You are given space to include 15 experiences. All of the entries require contact and other pertinent information to be included. You must classify the experiences by type, selecting from a drop down list of choices. You are given 700 characters, including spaces, to write a short description of each activity.

The “Most Meaningful” Descriptions

In addition, you must select three activities as “most meaningful” and write an additional essay about these experiences. You are given 1325 characters, including spaces, to describe each experience in more detail and include information as to why it was meaningful to you. Quoting directly from AMCAS, “When writing your response, you might want to consider the transformative nature of the experience, the impact you made while engaging in the activity and the personal growth you experienced as a result of your participation.”  Read this carefully because the language here tells you exactly what to think about as you write your descriptions.

Here are some tips to writing the most meaningful AMCAS experience descriptions:

  • Think about why the experience was “transformative.” How did it change you? What did you learn from it? What skills did you acquire that you will bring with you to the medical profession?
  • What impact did you make with this activity?  Did you somehow leave a lasting legacy? Did you come up with new ideas to advance the organization or have an impact on the people you were working with? If so, describe these things.
  • How did the experience change you?  Did the experience help you see a population, a field of discovery, or the world in an entirely new way? Did it stretch you and teach you something you never thought you were capable of? If so, tell why.
  • The key to writing an outstanding entry for your most meaningful experience descriptions is thoughtful reflection.
  • Help medical school admissions committees understand who you are through the descriptions you write. Writing in-depth descriptions as to why an experience meant a great deal to you will help admissions officers understand you better.
  • Don’t try to “game” the system. Be honest in choosing the three experiences that were truly the most meaningful to you. If you do otherwise, admissions officers are likely to see right through it.
  • For the “most meaningful” entries it is common to choose a clinical experience, research experience, and community service experience, although this varies widely from applicant to applicant depending on the array of activities in one’s background.
  • Remember that you will likely get asked about these experiences in an interview; be prepared to talk about them.

Continue reading

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Being on a medical school’s waiting list offers the prospect of an acceptance but it can also be agony waiting for that acceptance to come through. For those who are already accepted at another school the waiting is not nearly as intense—they at least know they are going to medical school. But for those who have yet to be accepted it can be a time of stress as they wait to hear, fingers crossed.

For guidelines and tips on med school waiting lists check out another blog post. For the uninitiated here’s how the med school waitlist process generally works, although policies vary from school to school.

  • Schools fill their classes by March 1st, accepting at least the number of applicants to fill the class—this is required by the AAMC traffic rules.
  • Medical schools create waiting lists throughout the application cycle, with a firm waitlist in place by the spring.
  • Some waitlists are ranked while others are not. Most schools don’t reveal whether their list is ranked; if they are ranked, schools rarely, if ever, reveal an applicant’s ranking.
  • Some schools group those on a the waitlist into categories:  high priority, medium priority, and so forth.
  • April 30th is the date by which all applicants who have been accepted at multiple schools must make a decision about which one school they will attend; they must withdraw offers at all other schools.
  • Leading up to April 30th spaces become available at various medical schools as applicants decline offers. As a result, there is shuffling in med schools’ rosters as the deadline approaches and spaces become available.
  • After April 30th schools know exactly where they stand in regard to filling their class. If they have vacancies they go to the waitlist.
  • If an applicant is given an acceptance after April 30, schools do not have to give him or her much time to make a decision (prior to this date, schools must give applicants two weeks to decide whether to enroll).
  • If you’re on a waitlist, your contact information should be up to date at every medical school where you are waitlisted; the schools will want to contact you quickly should they decide to offer you an acceptance.
  • Most movement from waitlists occurs from late April to mid-June. Occasionally spots open up after this time but the openings become much less frequent.
  • For advice about being accepted to medical school from a waitlist please read my other blog post referenced above.

Please feel free to contact me via email at to discuss your particular situation or to ask questions.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting


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The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) provides a wealth of resources for medical school applicants to help them understand the intricacies of the application. Information regarding the AMCAS application has been released in preparation for the upcoming cycle, which opens in early June for submissions. To be fully prepared applicants should read the AMCAS instruction manual, which contains answers to questions about the application itself. There are also other resources for applicants, such as guides on entering coursework, AP classes, current/future courses, and courses that were taken abroad. There is also information about criminal background checks.

In addition, the Medical School Admission Requirements (widely known as the “MSAR”) is the official source for information about US medical schools, which provide pertinent facts and details for inclusion. Medical school applicants should refer to this source for prerequisite course information, acceptance data, the schools’ curricula, mission, and other data.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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AMCAS opens May 2 for applicants to start entering information; submissions open June 1. AMCAS will not transmit any applications to the medical schools until June 30th. Before the application opens you will hopefully have written your personal statement and activity descriptions. For guidance please refer to my other blog posts on those aspects of the application. As you gear up for the application cycle, here’s a checklist of tasks to complete once you start your AMCAS application: Continue reading

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There are several written parts to the medical school application but the central component—and the one in which applicants have the most open space to convey their past experiences and future goals—is the personal statement. In the AMCAS application the prompt for the personal statement is:

Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” 

Prompts in the other applications (TMDSAS and AACOMAS) are similar. The space allotted in the AMCAS application is 5300 characters, including spaces, which is approximately one single-spaced page. In that short amount of space you must articulate clearly your reasons for wanting a career in medicine. Your medical school personal statement should be a convincing piece of prose: through your writing you need to convey your excitement about your chosen profession, along with evidence that you’ve tested the profession through clinical experiences.

I have read and helped applicants refine their personal statements for almost 25 years. To write the most effective possible statement adhere to these basic principles:

Draw in the reader:  The personal statement should have both immediacy—drawing in the reader instantly—and big-picture goals. It should help the reader understand what you’ve done to learn about the medical profession and convey your broad interests and what you eventually hope to accomplish as a physician.  Continue reading

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