Using Your Background To Your Advantage

by Allen Chiou Dr. David Svec, Joyce Ho, Manuel Lam, and Dr. David Iberri

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Med School Admissions.

Diversity or Focus?

At Notre Dame, I took on a dual major in economics and premed. The coursework exposed me to a variety of theories and ideas. Before pursuing this challenging pathway, I needed to make certain that I would complete all the science courses that medical schools require. Medical school applications and websites will describe the number and level of courses they demand. But medical schools also want to see diversity in their student body. They want students who can bring new views and ideas to the table. So one must balance, when making course decisions, academic excellence in scientific courses with intellectual diversity. A solid science background helps in preparation for the MCAT but exploration in other fields is crucial in rounding our your education and application.

In medical school, you are presented with a lot of information in a variety of ways. Yes, you’ll get your basic lectures about cell biology, but you will also explore ethics, drug addiction, and the financial issues of healthcare. Schools like to see a bit of academic diversity, as it demonstrates your ability to approach these problems with different eyes.

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Diversity or Focus?

At Notre Dame, I took on a dual major in economics and premed. The coursework exposed me to a variety of theories and ideas. Before pursuing this challenging pathway, I needed to make certain that I would complete all the science courses that medical schools require. Medical school applications and websites will describe the number and level of courses they demand. But medical schools also want to see diversity in their student body. They want students who can bring new views and ideas to the table. So one must balance, when making course decisions, academic excellence in scientific courses with intellectual diversity. A solid science background helps in preparation for the MCAT but exploration in other fields is crucial in rounding our your education and application.

In medical school, you are presented with a lot of information in a variety of ways. Yes, you’ll get your basic lectures about cell biology, but you will also explore ethics, drug addiction, and the financial issues of healthcare. Schools like to see a bit of academic diversity, as it demonstrates your ability to approach these problems with different eyes.

On the other hand, don’t forget the necessity of a strong science background. The first opportunity to test your scientific knowledge will be the MCAT. My dual major may have negatively affected my science scores on the MCAT because I was unable to take the higher level biology or physics classes that could have clarified some concepts useful for the test. However, my outside classes also helped me on other portions of the exam as my background in economics and humanities enhanced critical thinking.

Some other outside coursework can also be useful in your applicaton to med school. For example, say you’re taking a French class or a Spanish class on the side, put it on your application! Being bilingual could help you in your future career as a doctor and med schools notice that.

After Class

At Notre Dame, I had the opportunity to participate in both research and volunteer work. I also started an Economics club. All of these experiences helped me to develop leadership skills and the ability to work in a team, which are crucial if you are going to work in a medical team. Participating in jobs and activities after school are excellent ways to use your time in college to your advantage.

The Importance of Research

In my opinion, research is the most important activity to focus on outside of classes in undergraduate school. Many top-tier schools are looking for applicants with publications, or at least applicants with some demonstrated interest in and dedication to research. Just as important are the relationship you’ll make by doing research. You will get to know a few professors very well and this can be hugely beneficial when you’re looking for recommendations.

Lend a Helping Hand

No less important is focusing on volunteer work while you’re in college. Top med schools are looking to see that you are more than just a well-trained scientist. Medicine is about taking care of people, so they want to have some evidence that you are able to form a caring relationship with another person. This is best demonstrated through community service. And just as with research, doing some volunteer work can help you develop relationships that will be beneficial when you are looking for recommendations.

There are many opportunities for volunteer work at most universities. At Notre Dame, I took the opportunity one summer to spend the summer living in a homeless shelter. At the shelter, I worked with 150 families. I lived with them, taught their children, and helped to ensure that everyone got to their medical appointments. It was an amazing experience, not only for boosting my resume, but for teaching me, first hand, the problems that many face in getting healthcare.

The Importance of Being a Leader

Much like undergraduate admissions, medical schools are looking for leadership abilities. They know that when you become a resident, you must lead a team of doctors on the medical floors and will need to have developed leadership skills. For example, I founded an economics club at Notre Dame. When I later applied to med school, I demonstrated how the leadership skills I possessed helped me to organize this new endeavor. Medical school are definitely looking for leaders so be sure to demonstrate your leadership in your application.

And On to Medical School

After college, I planned on going to medical school so I applied to schools across the country. I recommend applying to multiple schools, as there are many applicants and only a few available spots. Apply to your home state institutions, as some states must take a certain number of their own residents.

I ultimately decided on Case Western Reserve, where I enrolled in a joint MD/MBA program. I was able to complete it in four years but it took a lot of sleepless nights, long weekends, and all of my summers. After medical school I applied for internal medicine and was matched to Stanford.

 
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