Many medical school applicants fear the application process—especially if they feel they didn't get the GPA or MCAT score they think they need to be confident and competitive in applying. However, many of these same aspiring premeds also dedicated a substantial portion of their extracurricular time to medical volunteering or community service.
There are many applicants who may not have the "right" grades but are very committed to medicine. Of course, every premed wants to become (and every patient wants) a "good doctor."
[Learn what to consider when applying to medical school with a low GPA.]
What defines a "good doctor," and how can the admissions process adapt to ensure these applicants are identified and admitted?
Defining what constitutes a "good doctor" can be subjective. But medical organizations have become more aware of the importance of personal qualities, and not just grades, in assessing an applicant's potential.
In 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA) conducted a survey of 131 U.S. medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which found the following:
• Sixty-five percent of medical schools named at least one personal quality desired of applicants, including motivation, maturity, compassion, leadership, and integrity.
• A majority of schools (60 percent) used the personal statement to evaluate whether applicants possessed these qualities.
• Of those that assessed behavioral competencies, only 35 percent of medical schools relied solely on the interview to conduct an assessment.
Researchers both in the United States and the United Kingdom have been examining not only the personal qualities interviewers should screen for, but also the personal qualities that may be the most important in a successful applicant and a "good doctor." Unfortunately, the studies largely concluded that more information was needed in this regard.
Though the Multiple Mini-Interview format is gaining momentum and has been either piloted or adopted by certain schools, it remains to be seen how effective it might be in the long term—though it appears preliminary data is promising.
What can applicants do to bolster their applications?
• Write a strong personal statement: Many applicants fall into a trap of thinking this is an afterthought; however, the personal statement is much more important in the admissions process. Personal statements that are creative or show candor are more memorable to busy admissions committee members.
• Letters of recommendations: Encourage those writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf to not only discuss your strengths as a student or relevant experience and accomplishments, but to also mention what personal qualities you possess that they believe will make you a good doctor.
• Mock interviews: Medicine is a scientific field—but sometimes the science-based treatments you recommend to a patient may not be followed if you don't have a good doctor-patient alliance. Sometimes applicants with even the best of intentions are not aware of how they present themselves in an interview setting.
You can shine during the interview by being personable and likeable not only to your interviewers, but also the staff that help you throughout your interview day. You don't want an off-the-cuff remark to derail your chances of getting admitted.
With the AMA decision, there is momentum toward incorporating (and evaluating) more personal factors than in the past. Depending on your situation, the admissions scales could tip either way. Staying on top of trends in medical school admissions is important in helping you prepare for this difficult process.
Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How to Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.