Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Rosemary Voegtli

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘practice’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a student’s ambitions as a doctor or plans for a future medical practice. Some of the prompts emphasize certain disciplines, others emphasize time-frames (10-15 years after graduation, for example), and other ask about the student’s degree of interest in research.

 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment. 

 

The ultimate goal of our institution is to produce a population of physicians with a collective desire to improve health of all segments of our society through the outstanding patient care, research and education. In this context, where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? Your answer need not be restricted to one category. If your plans require that you complete a dual degree program, please elaborate here. 

 

What medical specialty are you thinking about pursuing at this point?

 

Please describe the basic and/or clinical research fields that you think you might like to explore and/or develop expertise in during your MSTP training. To the extent that you have defined potential specific future clinical interests, please describe the type(s) of medicine that you might be interested in pursuing once you have completed the MSTP.

 

How will the University of Connecticut School of Medicine best serve your needs of becoming a physician or physician scientist?

 

What are your aspirations for your medical practice? Fast-forward to 15 years in the

future: where do you imagine yourself? 

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The practice essay is a factual essay, so brainstorming should be centered around the specifics of the type of career the applicant wants to pursue.

 

Always answer this type of question narrowly. In other words, if a school doesn’t ask you what specialty you are interested in pursuing, don’t tell them. Answer only the questions you are asked by each school, as each wants to know a different set of things.

 

Although this type of essay is primarily about simple, direct factual answers to questions, it’s still important to have reasons and stories behind your choices. For instance, suppose you wanted to pursue a blend of research and clinical – why is it important to you to pursue both?  Or, say you wanted to start a practice in a small town – why would you prefer that to a big city?  By telling schools your reasoning, you invite them to engage with (and support) your way of thinking.

 

Remember that you are answering a question about the distant future, so it’s more important to have a clear emotional plan in your mind – the types of people you want to help, and why – than it is to have a perfected road map, which would have to change anyway.

 

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Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.


Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Robyn Jay

When we work with medical school students, one of the most common questions we hear is about AMCAS Activities versus Secondary Essays. Applying to medical school is a ton of work, and a lot of that work can seem redundant. Many candidates worry that they are talking about the same topics on their secondary essays and their AMCAS Activities, particularly the ‘most meaningful’ activities.

An understandable concern – here’s how to deal with it.

AMCAS ACTIVITIES TEMPLATE – This document should read like a resume on steroids. Students should be including extended descriptions of every activity that is important to them, taking full advantage of the available character count to show what is distinctive, and meaningful, about each position. The focus is more on facts, but not exclusively – particularly for the most meaningful activities, a couple of leadership anecdotes to show how the student is taking full advantage of the opportunities the position offers can add a special spice to the document. But for the most part, this work should be bread and butter, covering a lot of ground, giving technical/medical detail where appropriate, and differentiating the student from the pack.

SECONDARY ESSAYS – These are all about reading the prompt, considering the context and the available word count, and crafting something tailor-made to fit. In other words, if the AMCAS Template is Forever 21, the Secondary Essays are 5th Avenue Boutiques. Students should aim at a smaller, more targeted audience, should focus on storytelling over fact-listing, should avoid diving into dull, technical detail, and should limit themselves to discussing specific, focused aspects of a commitment rather than the entire scope of it. For example, in a secondary ‘challenge’ essay (talking about a challenge they have overcome), they might talk about the three-month period when they were treasurer of their local chapter of a volunteer group giving free medical education to the needy, rather than focusing on the entire 2-year scope of their commitment to the organization. They would talk about the names of their supervisors and how they convinced them to change policy, rather than discussing the position in abstract terms. And they would focus on results, subjective psychology (how do they feel about what they did?) and details rather than broad strokes.

So you see, they’re actually two very different things. In the vast majority of cases, it’s possible to write about a single activity in the AMCAS template as well as one or even two essays, depending on the scope of the commitment. But you don’t want to write all your essays about the same topic – after all, there’s more to you than just one thing!

Got more questions – we’d be happy to answer them.