Medical School Profile: USC Keck School of Medicine

Students at Keck praise the breadth of clinical experience and faculty support at the school.

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At the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, students appreciate their close connection to faculty.
At the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, students appreciate their close connection to faculty.

Submitting a successful medical school application isn't easy, but it can often be just as difficult to decide where to apply and where to attend once one has been accepted. Much of what is presented during medical school visits or interviews is, understandably, geared toward student recruitment, so many applicants often wonder what it's really like to attend a certain medical school.

This week, we're profiling the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. With teaching and clinical sites east of downtown Los Angeles and other parts of the city, Keck students get exposure to some of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse patient populations in the country.

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Students and alumni emphasize some key strong points:

1. Breadth of clinical experience: Students at Keck report that they tend to be happy with their medical school experience overall. Many students say one of the school's strongest selling points is the diversity of clinical training sites, from its primary teaching hospital, the Los Angeles County–USC Medical Center (County/USC), to the private Keck Medical Center and Huntington Hospital.

"I always wanted to work with an underserved community and [County/USC] is one of those remarkable places where you see some of the rarest cases," says Suzanne Shimoyama, a fourth-year medical student. 

As a large hospital with 600 beds, the center can often become busy, which often makes medical students integral, if not vital, members of the physician teams. "Looking back, I felt as though I was more prepared clinically than my classmates from other schools because of the clinical caseload and the autonomy they give to medical students," says Eric Chaghouri, a first year resident at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, Calif.

That autonomy and responsibility can sometimes be difficult for medical students to handle, but many say that they are usually grateful in the end. The clinical experiences at County/USC, which handles some very disadvantaged patients, "pushes us to advocate for our patients, with limited resources," adds Chaghouri. "It's gratifying that despite their circumstances, they always seem to appreciate their time with us."

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2. Support from faculty and administrators: Many Keck students and alumni often remark on the support and mentorship they receive. "I really felt that USC was like a family," Chaghouri says. "The school takes an active interest in student education through helping us prepare for our exams, clinical skills, and applying to residency."

Both students and alumni note that the support they felt from Keck faculty extended beyond exams and residency. "Whatever your interests are, you can always find a mentor to encourage you," Shimoyama says. "The faculty is very accessible and receptive."

Although Shimoyama felt like a statistic, rather than an individual, at the public university she attended as an undergraduate, she feels differently about Keck. "At USC, everyone seems to take pride in what they do and go above and beyond to help students," she says.

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3. Incorporation of student feedback: Students at USC praise both the faculty's active solicitation of feedback from students, as well as its implementation. University staff incorporate student feedback on "every component of our medical school experience and make it better," says Shimoyama.

Integrating student feedback also results in broadening clinical experiences beyond Los Angeles. Between the first and second years, as well as during the fourth year of medical school, students have many opportunities to work overseas, according to Shimoyama. "Most of my class is involved in a lot of volunteer work, and a lot of people do medical mission work abroad," she says.

Choosing a medical school can be very difficult. Getting firsthand experiences, along with other information, can help you make the most informed decision.

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.