Application Cycle Overview

“I have two daughters, and we live here in Manhattan, and having gone through the Manhattan kindergarten application process, nothing will ever rival the stress of that.”

– Tina Fey

 

Multi-Year Preparation Overview

Applying to any school but most especially graduate medical programs is an extremely long-term commitment that requires a thoughtful, gradual plan of attack, ideally over several years. White Coat Checklist has attempted to outline key waypoints during this extended process for both candidates and their families to optimize chances for success. While this is certainly not a promise for acceptance or a guarantee against denial of admission, we believe over time that candidates who meet or exceed these criteria are best positioned for competitive medical school application consideration and eventual professional successes thereafter.

White Coat Checklist strongly opposes combined programs which accept applications for BS/MD candidates at the young age of 17 or 18 with a timeline of required, inflexible events and a preparation plan beginning in junior high school at the latest. In our opinion, this application option occurs too early in a candidate’s lifetime development process to be prepared to commit to an informed decision regarding the life-long expectations of working as a physician. That being said, White Coat Checklist is certainly open to working with such candidates upon request; we also believe that our web site can help such candidates fully appreciate the challenges that lie ahead for all future health care professionals regardless of their chronological age at admission into medical school. We do agree that the potential for a medical school career path down the line should certainly inform choice of undergraduate programs to the extent appropriate without the expectation of an immediate medical school offer.

 

 

 

Undergrads in their first two years of a Bachelor’s program should prioritize flexibility of academics and experience during these formative years. In some cases candidates only automatically focus on a subset of concerns and thereby miss out on opportunities for formative learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Advice regarding a few key areas of focus is given below:

Choice of Major: Many undergraduates can confuse the required coursework for a pre-medical candidate with choice of degree. If you’re going to seriously compete for medical school the required coursework (including everyone’s favorite, Organic Chemistry) does not change. Therefore, take a moment to consider other major choices beyond Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Psychology. Even a minor can prove useful in distinguishing yourself from the main pool of candidates, especially if a particular pursuit might enhance your candidacy for 21st century healthcare such as Computer Science, Mathematics, or Ethics which may be available from your undergraduate institution. You’ll be exposed to the core clinical science coursework regardless of major, as will all of the other candidates who are also focused on medical school programs but without necessarily the same degree of holistic curriculum exposure. Planning to include other tracks of learning will also keep you engaged in the classroom over time, since you have years ahead of you to engage in bench laboratory research projects and similar endeavors. Choice of major is a key decision best made early in a four-year program of study.

Volunteering: Healthcare meccas like Boston can be overwhelming with the choices available for volunteering in a patient care capacity. Although the time involved can be considerable when including travel time to and from a hospital in addition to hours of scheduled service, the investment is taken seriously by medical school interviewers, as White Coat Checklist confirmed during a recent exclusive confidential conversation. One important strategic aspect for this particularly concerns students who are children of a physician or physicians, in some cases going back several generations. These students can be particularly challenged to articulate a personal reason for going into medicine, and to prove to interviewers that they are personally serious about this possibly life-long commitment. Given these constraints, White Coat Checklist strongly advises every applicant to choose their first volunteering environment where they have no ‘inside track’ in terms of existing family relationships or potential favoritism. Serving six months to a year with no expectations for special treatment will provide a valuable baseline experience for future volunteerism, and serve as a highly useful piece of evidence during medical school interviews to prove personal sincerity. It’s also true that following a successful period of volunteer service a parent or family friend is much more credible in terms of recommending you for a ‘special assignment’ posting at a more familiar medical institution to further enhance your resume. Selectively prioritizing opportunities with long-term potential for leadership roles will be key. 

Clinical Research: Serious pre-medical programs are often attached to colleges and universities with significant research budgets and grant-based funding available. In these cases paid research opportunities may be available on-campus through work-study or otherwise for students who have demonstrated both ability and thoughtfulness in terms of their classroom engagement. Meaningful professorial interaction, even if via email for large lecture environments, can help create a budding professional relationship between a pre-med candidate and a professor with potential strategic benefits for valuable work experience, part-time income, and eventual letters of recommendation. The same is equally true for off-campus research opportunities that may present themselves, especially in terms of summer internships at clinical research centers across the nation.

Shadowing: Typically more difficult to find as a standalone experience, shadowing active physicians is often incorporated into some volunteer and/or clinical research opportunities. White Coat Checklist recommends a goal of 100 total physician shadowing hours in preparation for a competitive medical school application. Ideally, this should incorporate both primary care (internal medicine, family practice) experiences as well as specialty care (surgery, oncology, cardiology) exposure. 

Certification: This category can go well beyond the obvious First Aid/CPR. Pre-medical candidates who are truly driven to engage and excel in patient care should endeavor to achieve at least one serious clinical credential such as EMT-Basic or Wilderness First Responder status. Combining this status with actual work experiences as an EMT or other clinical support professional goes a long way toward proving that clinical competency can be achieved and maintained through continuing education. This lifelong learning process closely aligns with the expectations for physicians especially those who achieve board certification in one or more clinical specialties. The costs involved with these certifications can admittedly be challenging, especially for students with limited family financial contributions toward their higher education expenses.

 

 

 

Based on a successful, ongoing two-year stint as a future-healthcare-provider-in-training, candidates should be beginning to achieve a critical mass of professional, academic, and social life experiences which inform the final months of a bachelor degree program. Finding the right connections at this point can dramatically improve your odds of success, or otherwise limit your opportunities if not undertaken with patience and fortitude.

Mentor: Perhaps the single greatest asset at this point in the medical school application process can be someone you trust to understand your priorities without any other kind of pre-existing relationship. Someone who’s not a potential competitor for medical school, or otherwise in a position of biased perspective such as a family member. Critical discussions surrounding trending healthcare topics (as provided on the WCC web site here) can provide the insights necessary to engage in thoughtful strategic planning  and thus round out a full roster of events and experiences. With his or her help, you are making sure that the next two years are deliberately different from the preceding years in terms of additional medical exposure and progressively increasing responsibilities.

Internship and Volunteer Advancement: Moving beyond entry-level assignments, pre-medical candidates should begin to consider positions of greater perspective and visibility. For example, moving beyond direct hospital departments into internships within a hospital administrative leadership context (or corporate leadership context, if part of a larger health care enterprise) can help cement one’s status as an active healthcare professional. The same is true of volunteer responsibilities over time ultimately resulting in increased responsibilities and institutional exposure. One singular type of opportunity suitable as a capstone activity would be serious involvement in Timmy Global Health or a similar organization. 

Research Authorship: Securing ancillary author status in the context of peer-reviewed publications is highly esteemed by many medical school programs, and logically follows from a hardworking researcher’s progressive advancement in a clinical research environment.

Shadowing: Typically more difficult to find as a standalone experience, shadowing active physicians is often incorporated into some volunteer and/or clinical research opportunities. White Coat Checklist recommends a goal of 100 total physician shadowing hours in preparation for a competitive medical school application. Ideally, this should incorporate both primary care (internal medicine, family practice) experiences as well as specialty care (surgery, oncology, cardiology) exposure. 

Grading Benchmarks: White Coat Checklist has worked successfully with first-time medical school candidates with a science GPA as low as 3.1, per our Testimonials Page. We recommend targeting cumulative and science GPAs of approximately 3.6 as a feasible baseline for a competitive medical school application within reasonable striking distance of cum laude status at many competitive undergraduate institutions. You should be proud if you have attained an even higher academic standing, but if you are sitting on a 3.9 GPA and have never really spent much time in a hospital as a volunteer or otherwise sought clinical support certification opportunities you should seriously consider sacrificing some of that single-minded concentration to broaden your perspective accordingly prior to your graduation ceremony.

 

 

 

The average age of candidates at admission to medical school continues to creep upward over time as the total applicant pool continues to become more competitive. White Coat Checklist candidates continue to excel well below the national average age of 24, based on our recommended model for student holistic engagement. We are eager to work with students of all ages but prior backgrounds that differ from our recommended model of comprehensive extracurricular activities can certainly be difficult to overcome.

Post-Bacc: A surprising number of candidates who place below the first third of the total medical school applicant pool can be very focused on this optional intermediary step, especially if they have already concluded one cycle of medical school applications without receiving the ever-elusive offer of admission. If you received one or more interview invitations within the past cycle, then seeking out a post baccalaureate program without reviewing with your target medical schools for specific feedback could very well prove to be a total waste of time. Medical schools only interview candidates they are prepared to offer admission to, which could well mean that your GPA was already ‘good enough.’ In such cases you might be much better off (and far less in debt) by honing your focus on your writing and interviewing skills in preparation for a more satisfactory experience next year. It’s also worth noting that gaps in volunteering and clinical care experience cannot be addressed through a post-bacc setting without the same types of extracurricular engagement that should ideally have occurred during the undergraduate years. Finally, many post-bacc programs can only offer every class of enrollees an inside track for a handful of slots at one partner medical school – a relatively limited value proposition considering the rather large up-front financial investment required. A handful of such programs are very highly regarded: White Coat Checklist strongly recommends Temple University School of Medicine’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program, among others. 

Research: Many highly capable recent pre-med grads undertake lab manager or senior clinical researcher responsibilities at a leading laboratory or clinical research center while preparing to undergo the medical school application process. This has the added benefits of additional research experience and a steady income to defray living expenses that might otherwise require living with family or other potentially unattractive trade-offs.

Patient Care: One aspect of potential employment that is blossoming for recent pre-medical graduates at the present time is scribing. Medical scribes are assigned to follow a particular patient or patients and document every aspect of patient interaction into the medical record so the physician can fully focus time and attention on the patient rather than a computer or tablet for actual documentation. This kind of opportunity, while obviously somewhat selective in terms of candidate selection, can be a valuable learning environment outside of clinical research with key life lessons to take into the medical school application process with similar benefits in terms of employment income.

Volunteer: One singular type of opportunity suitable as a post-BA/BS capstone activity would be serious involvement in Timmy Global Health or a similar credible organization. Medical school admissions committees have been often hesitant in the past about the numerous ethical issues involved in faith-based or other third-party missions to emerging countries, especially projects of short duration. Pressing needs often exist domestically within U.S. communities; candidates should be focused on providing value to patients, and not merely physician shadowing abroad as pseudo-medical tourists. 

 

 

 

In some cases people recognize a call to medicine later in life, well beyond the mid-twenties time frame that encompasses the vast majority of each medical school’s incoming class. While undertaking this experience can feel very much like being a fish out of water, non-traditional candidates bring a unique value proposition which cannot be lightly discounted by any potential candidate otherwise aiming to secure an offer for admission.

Industry Expertise: The strengths of a non-traditional candidate, namely, a decade or more of expertise outside the direct clinical care environment, can also be seen as a limitation in terms of appreciating the complexities of the healthcare space and being fully prepared to undertake such a momentous challenge. Fortunately for these candidates, they tend to have the leadership experiences from elsewhere such as military service to fully exhibit the expected character attributes for success in medicine. Resources like White Coat Checklist help overcome the perceived disadvantage of being unaware of emerging healthcare trends and recent actions by thought leaders to create strategic value for their patients in the clinical care setting. White Coat Checklist’s optional 1:1 Advising and Remote Editing services also can help candidates capture the right tone in their essays and ensure that their interviews ring true with lifetime healthcare professionals carefully scrutinizing their list for finalist candidate selection.

 

 

 

No persons have more influence and less authority regarding a candidate’s medical school admissions process than his or her parents. Parental support is often key for candidates to perform well both inside and outside of the classroom, but in some cases further direct input into the application process can produce diminishing returns. In the case of parents who are themselves practicing physicians, they can play an enormous role in opening up opportunities for their children to explore health care from the inside out. Likewise, such parents need to temper their awareness of healthcare ‘today’ with consideration for what healthcare will look like a decade or more from now when their children will be fully responsible for their own patient panels; thus, they should encourage their children to be more active in learning well beyond the family home. A similar information imbalance can also exist in the case of parents with limited professional experience in the medical field and/or with limited resources available to support what can be an expensive and long-term clinical education process. We hope you feel comfortable regardless of your personal familiarity with the medical profession in trusting White Coat Checklist to offer a full spectrum of valuable advice and supportive resources at a reasonable cost while also making sure your child is reaping the learning benefits of a worthwhile investment in self-improvement.  

Priorities: Stressing a balance of breadth and depth in learning is key for your child to have the best shot at matriculating into medical school. In some cases you may be required to go against your own inclinations regarding the importance of grades (as emphasized to some candidates directly above) and encourage more time outside of the classroom for increased hands-on learning opportunities. Perhaps the most important thing you can ask your child on an ongoing basis: ‘Pick one thing that you learned about in the last month that has changed your understanding of medicine/health care, and tell me why.’ This keeps you engaged in their learning process from a non-authoritarian perspective and allows you to assess how well your aspiring physician-in-training is doing at explaining their gained knowledge to persons outside of their direct learning environment in terms the general public can understand. Such communication challenges can be expected to become an ever more important aspect of the medical school candidate selection process over time.

One-Time Events: With so many demands on your child’s time during a demanding pre-medical program, you might feel that your child is best served by concentrating on the academics. ‘Learning comes first’ goes the argument, ‘and these ongoing extracurricular activities don’t even come close in terms of level of importance.’ It’s not uncommon for some medical school applicants to only focus on one-time annual events such as medical cause fundraisers that can be anticipated well in advance and only consume a few pre-planned weeks of obligations during a calendar year. While this might seem to be a prudent course of action, even the best computer programmers do not limit their activities to the occasional hack-a-thon. Instead, they often found their own startup companies to learn on the job by doing, and sometimes failing. These life lessons, especially as narrative material for admissions essays and interviews, should not be devalued to a level below academics. White Coat Checklist’s ability to help first-time medical school candidates even with a 3.1 cumulative GPA (per our Testimonials page) secure offers of admission go a long way towards proving the positive potential of a long-term, coherent health care work portfolio. In one extreme case, a WCC potential candidate had resorted to describing experiences of his mother providing health care in rural China as a primary care physician before he was even born within his personal statement as evidence of his commitment to healthcare. Such inappropriate communication (describing one-time events that didn’t even happen in his own lifetime) during the medical school application process because of insufficient real-life experience and its subsequent negative impact on the medical school candidacy process cannot be underestimated in terms of risk. Even candidates with highly competitive GPAs and MCAT score can often find it difficult to secure even one offer of admission without a strong resume and supporting back story.

Limits: The single best course of action that you can take as the parent of an aspiring medical school applicant is to encourage your son or daughter to identify a trusted mentor to give them confidential feedback to them regarding their ongoing progress down this professional path. It’s very important that that mentor relationship be confidential, especially since a mentor is often a welcome relief from the social pressures and even unconscious expectations of friends and family. Assigning a parent to such a role inclusive of breadwinner and family authority figure status is extremely difficult if not impossible. According to the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA), you don’t even have the right to see a transcript if your own child does not give written permission to the university administration. Maintaining an open door policy focused on your child’s ongoing self-improvement with a supportive mindset is the best way to stay informed of potential issues and being in a position to offer effective assistance early on. Making sure that progressive steps are being taken independently of your own efforts (such as starting out as a volunteer at a hospital where you as a parent have no influence) goes a long way toward validating your child’s life choices during the medical school candidacy process and reinforces their effective independence when you do reach out to any professional contacts to assist them further.

Warning Signs: A pre-medical program is one of the most intensive, stressful, and difficult programs of undergraduate study to complete, especially fresh out of high school. When encountering academic issues in the classroom, it’s important to be mindful of maintaining adequate progress and using available resources (professors, on-campus learning centers and tutors, counselors) from the beginning which can require a degree of self-knowledge and open-mindedness which can be difficult for many young adults to exhibit on their own. Strong mentoring relationships and real-life learning opportunities are essential to provide a straightforward baseline comparison of what a student is currently doing relative to their peers and even more importantly what is expected of them down the line. As one extreme example, White Coat Checklist has encountered a third-year medical school candidate who faints at the sight of blood – clearly such a basic lack of qualification went undetected for years. Ultimately, these kinds of logical disconnects at the point of actual patient rotations can cost failed candidates hundreds of thousands of dollars ultimately invested for education with no practical benefit afterward. Considering parallel career opportunities (psychology, nursing, medical assistant, etc.) is also extremely worthwhile to clearly define why these options are unsuitable during the medical school application process, and also to potentially re-evaluate them down the line should offers of admission not be forthcoming in a worst-case scenario. 

 

 

Medical School Specialization and Meyers-Briggs

White Coat Checklist has studied the issue of medical school admissions from a variety of perspectives, to give each candidate interested in our assistance the best possible opportunity for success. For example, numerous longitudinal studies have indicated strong correlations between the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator®  (sometimes referred to as the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test) and likely selection for specific disciplines of medical practice. The MBTI is a handy measure to assess multiple personality traits: Introverted vs. Extroverted, Sensing vs. Intuition, Feeling vs. Thinking, and Perception vs. Judging.

Introversion vs. Extroversion [I vs. E]

Both traits are evaluated from a social context. Do you draw your strengths primarily from a rich inner life, enjoying conversational exchanges of greater depth and complexity, or instead rely on external stimuli and experiences for a baseline (which implies a broader range of multi-tasking potential)?

Sensing vs. Intuition [S vs. N]

Do you relish the immediacy and intimacy of sensory input information – that which your five senses can make immediately available to you? Such persons can be more matter-of-fact and grounded, while those relying on intuition collect such facts seeking to identify underlying abstract concepts: relative strengths, tangential possibilities, potential relationships, and missed opportunities. Intuitives are more likely to hypothesize, less likely to rely on past experience – the potential higher rewards as a trade-off for increased risk.

Thinking vs. Feeling [T vs. F]

Decision-making process preference is a cornerstone of personality trait. Thinkers value logical decisions based on objective criteria (to the extent that any individual can be considered so) with predictable outcomes. Feelers are less dispassionate, embracing the emotional considerations of others as part of their decision process (which can make them both more empathetic, and potentially less decisive).

Perception vs. Judging [P vs. J]

Every person ultimately has to structure an engagement mechanism with the outside world, the rules by which we govern our lives. Perceivers tend to live a life with open boundaries, embracing a broad spectrum of values and experiences. This permits a flexible approach to task management and problem-solving, making them excellent adapters but less so at meeting specific deadlines. Judgers, in contrast, welcome a sense of order and rigorous planning – typically in conjunction with a strong work ethic and an expedited decision-making process. In some cases judgers can be too constrained in perspective and become close-minded rather than focused.

It is important to note that the four dichotomies permit a total of 16 different personality types (2^4), none of which is “better” than any of the others – this assessment is intended simply to allow individuals to better understand their natural tendencies for interpersonal engagement. These preferences are almost never exclusionary – rather, a person will typically have both dominant and auxiliary traits or in some cases a near balance between two traits. Keep in mind that a personality type is not in any sense a life sentence or a prophecy of the future; rather, the intended context is an opportunity for self-discovery and reflection.

The WCC Executive Director’s Meyers-Briggs result is Introverted-Intuitive-Thinking- Judging (INTJ for short) which lumps him in with ~3% of the overall population. As you can see from the linked table in the prior sentence, the national population breaks down much more evenly on some metrics than others.

Enter your four-letter MBPT result below to see most likely medical specialties:

 

If you don’t know your MBPI test result yet, there are several kinds of online resources including both questionnaires and extended self-inventories that will allow you to figure it out in a few minutes, or at least come up with an educated guess. Just be sure to keep in mind that peer review and insight are equally if not more valuable compared to any external metric. There’s little point in trying to game an outcome with such resources, so have fun and see if you learn something as regards yourself, and your future clinical colleagues!

White Coat Checklist’s Member Resources section includes the free AppTrackR medical school dashboard to allow applicants to track their target schools in real-time, question prompts for composing a compelling personal statement, and real-life secondaries essays to learn from the mistakes of prior applicants who have successfully matriculated. Members are also eligible to Contact WCC to ask questions or request 1:1 Advising or Remote Editing Sessions for individual targeted support. 

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