Four years of hard work lead up to the medical school application process. Applying for medical school can be, as one would assume, a strenuous and long process.
The steps to applying to med school include gathering recommendation letters, filling out applications, interviews, taking the MCAT and sometimes an additional test called the CASPer test. Not to mention, setting up physician shadowing opportunities early on in your undergrad career, so you have that all under your belt when it comes time for the application process.
The University offers many resources for pre-health students. The Health Professions Organization (HPO) sponsors weekly events during the year to help pre-health students navigate through the process, such as mentor hours to assist students with study strategies, finding summer programs, reviewing personal statements and understanding the application process.
Dr. Mary Engel, who is director of Pre-Medical and Pre-Health Professions Advising, expanded on what HPO offers as well as other resources pre-health students have access to at the University.
“Among the resources available to pre-health students are dozens of programs sponsored each year by the HPO, volunteer opportunities in the Leahy Community Health and Family Center and an annual retreat with students and medical alumni focused on Medicine as Service. The Medical Alumni Council sponsors two events on campus each year and, every other year, students will have a chance to participate alongside professional alumni in a MAC-sponsored Medical Education Symposium,” Dr. Engel said.
We spoke with two Scranton students who have been admitted to multiple med schools to discuss the process itself and any words of wisdom they have to offer. Below, find their answers to some common questions about applying to medical school.
What is the hardest part (or parts) of the process?
Katie Donnelly: I personally struggled studying for the MCAT. It takes a lot of daily work, and you have to constantly keep yourself motivated. You have to persevere through bad practice test scores and days you don’t feel like studying. You just really have to work up the confidence to know you can tackle an exam of this caliber. I definitely felt really relieved when it was all over!
Kate Musto: The process itself can be demoralizing because you work so hard for four years and medical schools can just never respond and never formally reject you. The spring semester of junior year is the most mentally challenging because you have to balance biochem and physics with MCAT prep and writing application essays. It takes a lot of organization to stay on top of the process while also giving yourself time to have fun and enjoy college.
How did you prepare for interviews?
Katie Donnelly: I would research the school’s mission statement, research and service opportunities, or other aspects that interested me and I may want to bring up in my interview. I would be very familiar with my resume and try to have different examples of questions. If someone asked a time you experienced a new environment and a time in which you failed, I wouldn’t use the same example for both. Also, if you’re applying to a DO school, you should definitely have an idea of the distinguishing factors of an osteopathic doctor and what Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy is.
Kate Musto: The best prep for interviews is the on-campus HPEC interview because they will critique what you need to work on right after the interview (and they are very honest). There are also questions you can Google online to prepare such as “Why do you want to be a physician?” “What is your favorite community service project and how will it help you in your career?” and other generic questions. In my opinion, you should have answers to the basic questions so that you don’t blank on interview day due to nerves. A question I received at every interview was “What do you do for fun?” so making sure you pursue your passions outside of school will help you in the interview process.
What types of work or service did you do that you included in your application/resume?
Katie Donnelly: There are a couple of categories of stuff that are great to have on your application/resume. That includes clinical exposure, academic achievements, research, community service, teaching experience, leadership experience and other extracurricular activities that make you unique. For clinical exposure, I wrote about the three different medical practices that I had shadowed extensively. For academic achievement, I wrote about my experience in SJLA and joining multiple honors programs. For research, I wrote about working with a faculty member on campus. For community service, I wrote about the service trips I have attended and also my weekly volunteer hours at the Leahy Clinic. For teaching experience, I wrote about being a TA, a tutor and working my breaks as a teacher’s assistant at a language development preschool. For leadership, I wrote about being a peer facilitator, a club officer in multiple clubs and training to be an RA. For extracurricular, I wrote about my involvement with a cappella, the philosophy club and HPO.
Kate Musto: I volunteered weekly at the Leahy Clinic and Food Pantry since my first year of college. This was a great experience because it opened up my eyes to the issues with access to medical care in my home community. I also am involved with the Center for Service and Social Justice Domestic Outreach Service Program, which also exposed me to different needs within our country. Lastly, through my American Sign Language classes, I get to volunteer with students from the Scranton School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing through outreach events. Community service is so important. Medicine is a service field so it is important to make sure you love service before you commit to a career in medicine. I recommend finding a long-term service commitment freshman year and sticking with it.
What did you learn through the process?
Katie Donnelly: I learned to not compare myself to others. I think everyone has to work on the timeline and apply to the amount/types of schools that make the most sense for them personally. Every person is on their own journey with this process, and while it helps to get feedback and vent with others going through the process, it doesn’t help to try and mirror others’ actions. I also learned that having a support system is so crucial. My mom was my rock through this whole endeavor. She helped me by proofreading my essays, reminding me of things I forgot to put on my resume and was always there to cheer me up and comfort me. Without her, I wouldn’t be as successful or happy now.
Kate Musto: It is a long, draining process but when you get your first acceptance letter to medical school it all is worth it. I learned that you really have to want to be a doctor or else it is not worth all the sacrifices you have to make in college for it. Also, don’t sign up for stuff just because you think medical schools want to see it. All of my friends are completely different, and we have received interviews at many of the same schools. Med schools want to diversify their classes, so just be yourself!
Overall, what is the biggest piece(s) of advice you can offer about the process?
Katie Donnelly: Get things in early! Timing matters more than you think, and it will be a confidence boost if you can get interviews early rather than wait. I also think that it helps a lot to have friends who are going through what you’re going through. It helps to talk things out sometimes with someone who truly gets it. Also, be proud of yourself at every step of the way. This process is not for the faint of heart; you put in so much work along the way from freshman year to now, and you should be proud of all you’ve done no matter how many acceptances there are. You’re a hard worker and will soon enough have the career of your dreams!
Also, I prepped for the MCAT by studying a different portion of the exam on a certain day of the week. I would consistently take a practice exam on the same day I was planning on taking my actual exam, Friday. I kept a running Google Doc with concepts that I consistently struggled with. I made index cards and Quizlets and took those on walks in order to just get a change of scenery. I would try and draw on whiteboards as often as possible because I am a very visual learner.
Kate Musto: Build a support system of other pre-meds! Your other friends won’t understand why you can’t go out every weekend when it is MCAT study time. It is refreshing to talk to other people who get you. Also, schedule meetings with Dr. Engel at least once a semester. She was my biggest support system on campus and made sure I was prepared at every stage of my journey.