It's important for medical school applicants to understand why integrity is a quality valued by admissions committees, as well as how they can best demonstrate this key characteristic.
By definition, having integrity means demonstrating honesty and truthfulness, and it is part of a complete student. It’s important to know that future physicians are evaluated for integrity when their applications are screened.
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When the screener reviews letters of recommendation, he or she will pay attention to words like "trustworthy" and "honest." It is even better if the recommender provides concrete evidence of such behavior.
I can remember a letter from a coach describing a player who had a significant injury and could no longer play on the team. "Nonetheless," he wrote, "she came to every practice early to coach, mentor, and encourage others on the team to be their best." The team depended on her to bring spirit and inspiration even when she couldn't play.
Another recommendation letter described a student who received a monetary gift for a task that had actually been accomplished by many. She could have kept the entire amount and no one would have known the difference, but rather than keeping the money, she divided it among the others.
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When our admissions team considers the whole package of a student, we are describing an ideal candidate. The student will not only have great academics, but also a wonderful attitude and ethic toward every area in life. Student will take care of others the way they take care of themselves – a key behavior in people with integrity and a key behavior in successful physicians.
Our admissions team also watches carefully for honest behavior. For example, a student who didn't understand his or her research may try to make up an answer when questioned. This approach will not win the respect of the interviewer.
If you are unsure of something during your interview or application process, you are much better off saying, "I don't know, but I will look it up and get back to you." The willingness to follow through and show effort by researching the answer and emailing the interviewer may bring the respect and support desired.
As an applicant, you can describe examples of integrity and honesty in your activities list or in your personal statement. Alternatively, a recommendation letter may offer examples of how you demonstrate these important qualities.
We always advise students to get letters from people who know them really well. A big-name professor who had the applicant in a large lecture class can comment on the student’s academic prowess but is unlikely to know the other qualities of the student.
If you have only letters that describe your academic skills, you will have lost a huge advantage. The application already shows course grades, GPA, and MCAT scores. Be sure your recommendation letters can address the complete person, the trustworthy individual you would want to treat your family in the future.