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.


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If you're like most students planning to apply to medical school, you have a pre-med advisor or committee to help guide you through the maze of conflicting requirements and expectations that is medical school admissions.  But what if you're one of the unlucky ones who doesn't?  Or what if you simply can't get your advisor on the phone?  That's where we come in. 

This case study looks at three schools (HMS, Johns Hopkins and Tufts) requirements, pointing out where they are similar in where they are different. The results may surprise you -- read on.

Basic prerequisites. All three schools expect that you hold a BS or BA. All three of the schools emphasize that they don't care what your major was, as long as you fulfill the prerequisites. All three schools strongly prefer students to have completed their undergraduate work in the United States, although Harvard will consider foreign students if they have completed at least one year of American University work. Johns Hopkins specifically states that they will consider community college credit, although they encourage students to take advanced courses and related subjects once they get into a four-year school. The other two schools do not state this. Harvard expresses a strong preference for interdisciplinary courses, probably because they have so many prerequisites that it would be almost impossible to achieve them all otherwise.

Standardized Tests: All three schools require the MCAT, and for foreigners, the TOEFL as well.
Biology.  All three schools require one year of biology. None of the schools will accept AP credit to fulfill this requirement. Both Harvard and Tufts say that biochemistry is now required.

Chemistry. Johns Hopkins requires one and a half years. Both Harvard and Tufts require two. All of the schools require organic chemistry. Johns Hopkins and Tufts clearly place a strong emphasis on laboratory work. Interestingly, Harvard specifically deemphasizes laboratory work, saying they would rather see you put your time into other activities.  They do, however, add that active, sustained participation in faculty-mentored laboratory research experiences is encouraged and can be used to meet requirements for the acquisition of laboratory skills.

Humanities.  These are the requirements that vary most widely between schools.  Harvard expects 16 hours, Johns Hopkins 24 hours, and Tufts simply states that a competency in spoken and written English is required, with no specifics on courses.

Math.  All three schools expect competency in calculus, but all three schools allow it to be achieved via AP credit. All three schools also recommend or require statistics, and will not accept AP credit.
Foreign Language. Both Harvard and Johns Hopkins strongly recommend that the student achieve basic conversational skills in a foreign language.

Extras.  Johns Hopkins places an emphasis on teamwork, and states that a significant experience requiring teamwork is expected in the course of the applicant’s academic and/or extracurricular activities and should be documented in the application.

Have some questions about your target school?  Contact us -- we can help.


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Photo by Amy, Article by Ben Feuer
 

The dreaded MCAT test; six hours of academic torture, followed by six weeks of equally torturous waiting. So just how concerned should you be about earning a top score on your MCAT? We would be happy to explain.

Every student applying to allopathic (MD) medical school must take the MCAT. Unlike with business school and certain other types of degrees, there is no substitute test that can be used in place of it. Generally speaking, it is wiser to only take the test once, since all scores must be submitted to the school. There are obviously exceptions.

Since medical school applications have risen in recent years, the MCAT has become more important because it is the most efficient way for schools to weed out large numbers of candidates. 

Here are some of the basic facts you need to know about the MCAT, and how important it really is.

All allopathic (MD) medical schools have MCAT cutoffs, but where that cutoff lies varies by school and by year.

For all intents and purposes an MCAT score below 25 will make it almost impossible for you to gain admission to allopathic (MD) medical schools. You will still be competitive for osteopathic medical schools, podiatry schools and Caribbean medical schools.

For some of the more prestigious medical schools in the country, the minimum MCAT score is around 30 to 32 - below which you will not make it past any screening for interviews, regardless of how strong the rest of your application is.

This is the conventional wisdom, although the medical school establishment is working to counteract it. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the AAMC polled students to determine what their GPAs and MCAT scores were, then compared that to whether they were accepted to medical school.  One important caveat here; the study evaluated whether the students were accepted to ANY school, not to their first choice school. The data showed that approximately eight percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.80 to 4.00 and MCAT total scores ranging from 39 to 45 were rejected by all of the medical schools to which they applied. In contrast, about 18 percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.20 to 3.39 and MCAT scores ranging from 24 to 26 were accepted by at least one school.

The MCAT matters more for getting an interview than it does for getting admitted.

In 2007, Kaplan test prep reported that in a survey sent to all allopathic medical schools (about 125 at the time) and admissions officers from 83 schools responded. 77% of the responding schools reported that GPA was the first or second factor considered in applications.

75% of the responding schools reported that MCAT was the first or second factor considered in applications. This implies that about 75% of the MD schools consider GPA and MCAT to the first two factors considered in an application.  Letters of recommendation and community service round out the top five most important factors in determining admission.

Yet, the five most important pieces of data for making offers of acceptance are, in order:

1) Interview recommendation

2) Letters of recommendation

3) Science and math GPA (BCPM)

4) Medical community service

5) Cumulative GPA

Clearly, once you pass a certain threshold, the numbers become less important and other factors are weighed more highly.  In the words of one Dean of admissions at a top 10 school, "As much as we hate to turn away that 40/4.0 student in terms of our average numbers, if (s)he is an arrogant jerk they are gonna have to go somewhere else. We use the interview to screen out the arrogant jerks."

The advantages of a high MCAT score tail off after a certain point.

In 2012, a score of 25.2 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 31.6, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 38, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile.

Obviously, even top schools cannot fill their ranks exclusively with 99th percentile MCAT students. Nor would they want to; diversity is an important factor in every school’s admissions policy. In fact, if you do have exceptionally high numbers, it is important to project humility and concern for others even more strongly than an average or above average student, to offset the impression of arrogance. Might not seem fair, but it is reality. Ultra smart students face a certain amount of prejudice, partly due to jealousy, and partly due to the fact that a lot of really smart people are arrogant.

A high MCAT score can compensate for a low GPA, or vice versa.

The GPA reflects how seriously an applicant has taken his or her undergraduate studies. A high GPA is a reflection of strong study habits.  Obviously, not all GPAs are created equal. Medical schools love to see high science GPA’s, in particular.

Generally, anything above a 3.5 GPA is considered very good and very competitive. Jumping from a 3.0 GPA to a 3.5 GPA will make a huge difference in someone's application, whereas jumping from a 3.5 GPA to a 4.0 will not be quite as dramatic (although it is obviously an advantage to have a 4.0 versus a 3.5 GPA) -- unless that candidate has a low MCAT score. Then, that extra boost to GPA can really matter a lot.

Conclusions

So, do you need a 35 or not?  That depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to get into a top school, you will need at least a 33 or 34 to clear their cutoffs.  From that point on, the other factors in your application will begin to matter more and more. If you just want to get into a medical school period, then you should make sure to study enough beat the 50% mark and focus more on other factors that are easier to control, such as recommendations and community service.  If you cannot clear a 24, then you should probably choose a different type of school; there are many types of medical schools that are not as concerned with MCAT scores.

SUPPLEMENTARY SOURCES INCLUDE:

https://www.aamc.org/download/261106/data/aibvol11_no6.pdf

https://benchprep.com/mcat/prep/what-is-a-good-mcat-score

https://ulife.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/blog/2012/01/09/is-it-all-about-my-grades-and-mcat-score/

http://www.startmedicine.com/app/gpamcat.asp