As a medical school admissions consultant, I often am asked by applicants how and when to communicate with medical schools. Medical school applicants should keep schools informed throughout the application process, as events unfold and preferences evolve. If new information develops, applicants should inform the schools through an update letter. In addition, if applicants have been through the interview process and have a clear first choice they may write a letter of intent.

Letters of Interest

What is a letter of interest?  By default, if you’ve applied to a particular school you have an interest in enrolling. But sometimes it is worth communicating your strong interest as the process unfolds. You will gather more information about schools you genuinely like based on your interview experiences.

A letter of interest should come close in content to a letter of intent but stop short of expressing that you would enroll if admitted.  The purpose of the letter is to convey to the school that it is high on your list and that you would be thrilled to enroll.

Tips for a Letter of Interest

First paragraph: Always start any letter to a medical school by thanking the committee for considering your application. Then state the purpose of the letter.

Second paragraph: Get to the heart of the matter by conveying your interest in the school. Be specific; describe aspects of the curriculum and various programs that appeal to you. You should also convey what you would contribute to the school.

Third paragraph: Brief closing, again thanking them for their consideration.

If you have questions about writing letters and when it is appropriate to do so, or if you want help with a letter of interest or intent, please contact me via email at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Posted in 2017 and updated in 2020 and 2021

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Update

 

Medical school applicants often wonder whether they should update schools with new information. This “update letter” can serve as an important vehicle for keeping the medical schools informed as the application process unfolds.

Applicants often wonder what merits sending an update; only significant additions to your application should be reported. The following list includes the chief items of interest for the medical schools.

Honors or Awards:  If an honor or award is achieved since submitting the application the medical schools should be informed.

Publications/Abstracts/Presentations at National Research Conferences: If research has culminated in a new publication, abstract, poster, or presentation this information should be provided to the medical schools.

Changes in Classes:  If courses change and a class which was included in the application is dropped it should be reported to the medical schools, especially if the course is a requirement at a particular school.

New Jobs or New Responsibilities in the Workplace:  If you switch jobs or assume more responsibilities/roles in a job it is worthwhile to update the schools.

New Grades:  If enrolled in courses during the application cycle new grades should be reported to the schools.

Negative Developments: Applicants are also required to report any negative developments that occur after submitting an application. If any kind of disciplinary action is taken or if an applicant is arrested for any reason it must be reported. The rules in the AMCAS application stipulate that any infraction must be reported to the medical schools within 10 days of receiving it.

Only send update letters if there are real updates to report. The update letter differs from the “letter of intent” or “letter of interest” although updates can also be woven into those letters. Please see my other blog posts on letters of intent and/or interest.

It’s imperative that you keep an update letter to one page. Make your letter short and direct, while providing valuable information. You should also use the update letter as a vehicle to convey your reasons for wanting to go to a particular school.

If you’re not sure about the proper format of the letter or the contents that are specific to your situation, please feel free to email me at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted in 2013 and updated in 2014, 2015, 2018, 2020, and 2021.

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The Multiple Mini Interview format is spreading rapidly among US medical schools. Here is a list of schools using MMI in the 2021-2022 application cycle. “Hybrid” means a combination of a traditional interview with MMI stations and sometimes a group exercise:

MD Schools:

  • Albany Medical College
  • California Northstate
  • Central Michigan University
  • Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program
  • Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University
  • Duke University
  • Geisinger Commonwealth
  • Hofstra
  • Kaiser Permanente (hybrid)
  • Medical College of Georgia
  • Michigan State University College of Human Medicine (hybrid)
  • New York Medical College
  • New York University
  • Nova Southeastern (hybrid)
  • Oregon Health and Science University (hybrid)
  • Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • San Juan Bautista (hybrid)
  • Stanford University
  • SUNY Upstate
  • TCU and UNTHS (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • Universidad Central Del Caribe (Puerto Rico)
  • University of Alabama (hybrid)
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California-Davis
  • University of California-Riverside
  • University of California-San Diego
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Colorado (hybrid)
  • University of Massachusetts
  • University of Michigan (hybrid)
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Missouri-Kansas City
  • University of Nevada
  • University of North Carolina (hybrid)
  • University of South Carolina Greenville (hybrid)
  • University of Texas – Austin (hybrid)
  • University of Toledo
  • University of Utah (hybrid)
  • University of Vermont
  • Virginia Commonwealth
  • Virginia Tech (hybrid)
  • Wake Forest
  • Washington State (hybrid)
  • Wayne State (hybrid)
  • Western Michigan University (hybrid)

DO Schools:

  • AT Still
  • Marian
  • Michigan State
  • Pacific Northwest
  • University of North Texas
  • University of the Incarnate Word
  • Western University of Health Sciences (hybrid)

For information about how to best prepare for the MMI, please refer to a previous blog post here or contact me to do a mock MMI session. Good luck!

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted in 2019 and updated in 2020 and 2021.

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Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan School of Medicine

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan School of Medicine

Congratulations—you’ve landed the interview!  What’s the best way to prepare for a medical school interview? You should practice. At the very least, you should review common questions and think about how you would answer them. Then you should PRACTICE answering them and do a mock interview with someone who understands the interview process. You should be comfortable discussing your experiences and your motivation for a career in medicine.

Medical schools offer a range of interview types:  traditional (one on one), group interviews (panels of either applicants or interviewers, and sometimes both), or multiple-mini interviews in which hypothetical scenarios are posed.

Here are the most common questions for the traditional interview. Review these to get a good idea as to the types of questions you might be asked:

  1. Tell me about yourself. (This is often used in the “blind” interview, when the interviewer doesn’t have access to your application.)
  2. Why do you want to be a doctor?  Why not another health profession?
  3. What traits are most important in a good physician?
  4. How do you handle stress?  Tell me about a very stressful time in your life and how you got through it.
  5. Tell me about a time when you struggled to achieve a goal. What did you learn from this experience?
  6. In your healthcare experiences what did you find most and least interesting?  How did these experiences prepare you for a career in medicine?
  7. Why should we admit you, instead of other outstanding applicants, to our incoming class?
  8. Why are you interested in our school?
  9. What do you think your contribution to the medical profession will be?  Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
  10. What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  11. Humility is an important trait for doctors to have; tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it.
  12. What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
  13. Do you consider yourself a leader or follower?
  14. Give an example of when you were in a leadership role and what made you effective in that role.
  15. Teamwork is important in medicine. Tell me about a time when you were disappointed in a teammate and what you did to improve the situation.

There are many more that you will likely encounter but these are the types of questions asked. If you want to do a mock interview please contact me at liza@thompsonadvising.com Good luck!

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted October 10, 2018; updated August 28, 2019 and September 22, 2021

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A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed across the country. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity (“the ability to read their own and others’ emotions”). Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is one school that is doing its part to foster medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes students’ participation in the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post.

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician. An article on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website states that focusing on the humanities helps to develop well-rounded physicians and a new initiative, titled The Fundamental Role of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education (FRAHME), has taken shape.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Posted in 2019 and updated in 2020 and 2021.

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Photo courtesy of umhs-sk.org

Receiving an invitation to interview is an exciting step in the medical school application process. If you’ve been selected to interview it means that the medical school has vetted your application and you have passed the academic threshold for enrollment. Congratulations!

Now the medical school wants to meet you to gather more information through an interview. To prepare fully for the interview you should understand its purpose, which is multifaceted. During the interview the following elements are assessed:

  • Communication skills. Are you comfortable interacting with others, both students and faculty? Would you be a good member of a team and work well with your peers and others?
  • Personal traits and characteristics. Do your interpersonal skills project that you would be comfortable caring for patients? Do you add depth and breadth to a medical school class? Are you mature and able to handle the responsibility of patient care?
  • Experiences and knowledge of the medical profession. Can you speak convincingly about your past experiences and how they have informed your goal of a career in medicine? Do you truly know what you’re getting into?
  • Good fit. Are you a good “fit” for that particular medical school?  Do your goals and personality align with the school’s ethos?

The medical interview is also used as a recruitment tool; it’s a chance for the school to showcase its offerings and to entice you to enroll if admitted. Also remember that the interview is your chance to decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

While the prospect of a medical school interview is incredibly exciting for medical school applicants, it can also induce fear. Rest assured that the vast majority of medical school interviews are not stressful. Think of the interview as an opportunity to have a conversation with someone who is interested in learning more about you, your background, and your motivation for a career in medicine. Continue reading

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books

As a premedical advisor and medical school admissions consultant, I encourage prospective medical students to read books that will expand their view of the medical profession. Reading literature allows us to better understand the human condition which, in turn, makes doctors better practitioners. In addition, during medical school interviews applicants are sometimes asked about books they have read about the medical profession; interviewers want to know whether the applicant has been curious enough to read about his or her chosen profession.

The books I have selected cover different aspects of the medical profession, from practicing medicine to understanding global health challenges to navigating the complexities of cultural competency. I have compiled a list of helpful books for premed and med students. Out of that list of 38 books, I have chosen 10 as essential reading material:

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  3. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  4. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  5. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
  6. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures by Geri-Ann Galanti
  7. Strong at the Broken Places by Richard Cohen
  8. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  9. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
  10. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Take a look at the full list and let me know if there are others you would suggest including.
Goodreads also has a list of Best Books for Medical Students. In addition, the Daily Beast has an excellent article about books written by doctors.  A medical student at Stanford has also recommended specific books for medical students. STAT has come out with a list of 39 health and science books. Continue reading

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The National Health Service Corps provides scholarship opportunities for health professions students. Students taking the scholarships must pursue a primary care field (defined by the NHSC as Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, Geriatrics, or Psychiatry). Funding opportunities exist through scholarships for medical school and a loan repayment program, called the Students to Service Program, which is available after physicians have completed their residencies and are in practice. Doctors and a dentist provide advice as to helpful electives to pursue in order to prepare for serving in the NHSC, via an informative video. Each of these practitioners is in a different setting, and they share helpful advice about the best possible preparation.

A recent $800 million infusion of funds into the NHSC program will hopefully expand its reach and make primary care physicians more readily available.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Posted in 2014 and updated in 2021

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CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is an online exam that is used by some medical schools in the admissions process. It assesses an applicant’s situational judgment in various scenarios.

New this year are two additional components of CASPer, now known as the “CASPer Suite.” This includes Snapshot, a video interview (one way–there is no person interviewing you) consisting of three questions. In addition, an inventory of your preferences in a medical school is called Duet.

Most medical schools do NOT require CASPer and of those which do require it, most do not require Duet or Snapshot. This information is still fluid, in terms of which schools want applicants to complete the entire suite.

Here is the most recent list of MD schools requiring CASPer. Check with individual schools regarding their requirements of Snapshot and Duet. If a school has made it clear that it does not require Snapshot/Duet, it has an asterisk beside it. Continue reading

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Secondary applications arrive soon after the primary application is transmitted to the medical schools. It is important to return secondary applications quickly; 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. Medical school applicants rarely anticipate the amount of work that secondary applications entail.

To streamline the process, many applicants pre-write secondary essays, 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.

The secondary applications are as important as the primary application; they should be completed carefully and with great care. 

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 attention. Always read the prompt for each school carefully—and tailor your response specifically for that school, answering it precisely. Keep in mind each school’s mission and focus, and tailor your essay accordingly.

If you have questions about secondary applications feel free to reach out to me via email at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted 2017 and updated in 2019 and 2021

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