What Makes A Good Medical School Applicant?

Medical schools are one of the most difficult to get admitted into in North America. A medical degree is highly coveted and comes with many perks, and thus attracts thousands of highly qualified applicants each year. The level of competitiveness makes it excruciatingly important for applicants to demonstrate their character and drive to the admissions committee.

Since these committees have a moral obligation to their societies to select and produce rounded physicians that will then serve their population, it is important to show yourself to be well-rounded in many aspects of life. I have personally heard stories of individuals with excellent academic scores being rejected, as well as individuals who are exemplary leaders in the community.

Therefore, a “jack of all trades” is a very suitable approach for applying to medical school that can demonstrate key characteristics that admission committees look for in future physicians.

1. Academics

Perhaps the most stereotypical feature of a medical student is their academic prowess. Medical schools are getting more competitive than ever, and thus it is almost redundant for me to suggest that getting good grades as well as good MCAT scores is crucial.

Everyone has a different strategy to improving their grades. This could include writing notes, making flashcards, using videos, etc. The most difficult part of this process is perhaps the fact that what works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, try different things and identify what works best. If you feel like your grades are slipping, get help earlier rather than later. Use the resources in your universities, such as tutors or help desks. Ask friends or classmates. Be shameless in getting help.

With all that being said, grades are not the only thing that matter. Grades that are less than ideal should not deter someone from applying to medicine, for it is in no shape or form a good predictor of what kind of doctor you can be. Respect academics, but don’t let yourself be dictated by them.

2. Community Involvement

With the new changes in the medical school application landscape, committees now value community involvement more than ever. In some medical schools such as the University of Saskatchewan, your medical interview where you get the chance to talk about yourself, is weighted equally to your MCAT scores and academic averages combined!

Being involved in the community is a great opportunity for you to develop yourself as an individual, discover things about you that you can’t in the classroom, experience new things and develop a more diverse perspective on life. A volunteer co-ordinator once told me that what people do for others when they don’t have to, good or bad, defines them.

The beauty of it all is that you can pick and choose. It doesn’t matter if you like soccer, dancing, biking, drawing or anything else. Using your passion as a medium to contribute to others, such as coaching or in leadership positions, is not just an excellent thing to talk about in medical interviews but can be so much fun! Contributing to your society, in any shape or form, is a very attractive feature of a medical school applicant.

3. Passion

An ability to show your passion about something that you do is an incredible way of showcasing yourself. You could be passionate about academics, research or even any volunteer work that you do. It is this passion, or lack of, that is perhaps the most noticeable in a medical interview.

What you do is not nearly as important as why you do it. Applicants can often boast about X volunteer hours or an X percentile MCAT score. What admission committees and interviewers are more interested in is why did you chose to do something?

Academic prowess, community involvement, and passion with which you go about doing the first two are the foundation of a strong medical student. It is important to remember that their contribution is not fixed but rather dynamic. If you lack one, you can always supplement it by bolstering the other. Individuals that find the right balance between the three, I believe, make for the more successful medical school applicants.

Simranjeet (Sim) Singh is a second-year medical student at the University of Saskatchewan. He completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in High School and won the 2015 Schulich Leader Scholarship. His academic interests include research in Stroke Management and Medical Education.

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