Even though medical school is still a long time away, there are several things that you should be doing at the beginning of your education to ensure your success later on. Get off to a good start by doing the following during your freshman year:
Establish good study habits.
Your grades will be one of the most important factors in determining your acceptance to medical school. The only way to earn good grades is to establish good study habits, right from the beginning. If you need some help, contact the Academic Support Center or find a tutor.
Develop a close relationship with your academic advisor.
Your academic advisor is one of your best resources on campus; he or she can help you to outline your academic curriculum, can make course recommendations, can point you to important campus resources and can act as your guide throughout your education at the University of Pittsburgh. Because your advisor is so important, it is crucial that you get to know this person! Be sure to keep regular advising appointments, and feel free to turn to your advisor when you have questions.
Get involved in campus organizations.
Although medical schools first look for applicants with good grades, they also want to see that candidates are well-rounded. Getting involved with campus organizations and activities is a great way to round out your education, get leadership experience and meet new people. Contact the Student Life office for a complete listing of campus organizations.
Enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
Your undergraduate education should not just be preparation for graduate school – be sure to take advantage of all of the learning opportunities available to you, even those that are not related to medicine. Because you will use almost half of your credits to fulfill general education requirements, you have lots of room to take courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Work with your academic advisor to plan your class schedules around your interests, as well as your requirements. Also, get in touch with the Study Abroad and Semester at Sea offices to explore opportunities to give your education an international perspective.
Get to know your professors.
Your professors are outstanding resources for information in their chosen fields. Many of them are doing cutting-edge research and have years of experience working in the sciences or humanities. Take the time to get to know your professors – stop by their office hours or talk to them after class. Developing a relationship with your professors is also important because you will need them to write letters of evaluation for you when you are applying to the Pre-professional Health Committee; you will get a much better letter from a faculty member who knows you personally and is enthusiastic about your application than a professor that barely remembers you and can only write about your grade in his/her class.
Participate in pre-med workshops.
The Health Professions Counselor offers several workshops each term for students who are interested in a career in medicine. There are always a few that are designed especially for freshmen, so be sure to attend one of these workshops if you get a chance.
Begin to take courses in the required sciences.
Because you will need to complete all of your required math and sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and calculus) before the end of your junior year, it is important to start to take these courses in your first year. It is especially important to begin the course sequence in chemistry, as you will need to complete a minimum of 2 terms of general chemistry and 2 terms of organic chemistry before applying to any medical school.
Please remember that your performance in these courses is VERY IMPORTANT, and will play a significant role in your acceptance to medical school. It is also important to do well in these courses the FIRST time you take them, as medical schools average all of your grades in these courses, not just your most recent grades.
The poor sophomore – no longer a new student, and not quite an applicant, the sophomore is often overlooked in the world of pre-med advising. Well, not anymore! Sophomores, this section is for you!
All kidding aside, there are some important things you should be doing during your sophomore year. In addition to continuing to take courses in the required sciences and earning good grades, this is the year when you should begin to VOLUNTEER. It is through volunteering that you demonstrate to the medical schools that you have a realistic idea of what medicine is (and is not); volunteering also allows you to become familiar with the hospital environment and to develop your communication skills with patients. Because the University of Pittsburgh is close to so many hospitals, opportunities abound and are easily accessible. Most hospitals will allow you to choose the unit in which you volunteer – you may want to spend some time in the Emergency Room or the Operating Room, in addition to working in one of the general Medical-Surgical units.
Regardless of where you choose to volunteer, be sure that you spend some quality time interacting with patients. This will not only give you the opportunity to develop your communication skills, but will also give you exposure to a variety of diseases and disorders. There is not a “required” number of hours that you must spend volunteering, but it’s a good idea to spend at least 3 to 4 hours per week for a couple of years in the hospital.
In addition to volunteer work, you may also want to gain some experience by participating in RESEARCH. Although designing and implementing your own research project is a very valuable experience, you will probably need to start out by working in someone else’s lab. This is where it’s helpful to know your faculty – many professors are not only teachers, but also researchers and have their own labs where they are carrying out their own projects. Talk to your professors to see if they need help in their labs – many of them do, and some of their student positions are paid. If you have a special research interest in the health sciences, you may also want to log on to www.health.pitt.edu – the webpage for all of the schools of the health sciences here at Pitt. This page has a great search engine that will allow you to search for faculty by department or by area of interest.
Also take some time during your sophomore year to assess where you are in the application process: are you doing everything that you can to make yourself a competitive candidate? How does your QPA look? Do you have a plan that will allow you to complete all of your required sciences by the end of your junior year? Have you been volunteering? Have you been making the most of your educational experience? These are important questions to ask yourself. Also, this may be a good time to make an appointment with the Health Professions Consultant. In your appointment, you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have, and will get a good idea as to what you still have to do to prepare for the application process.
In addition to continuing to fulfill your requirements for graduation, you will need to spend your junior year making sure that you are prepared to apply to medical school. This is your last opportunity to make yourself the best-looking candidate that you can be, so be sure to complete everything on this list by the end of your junior year:
Finish your required courses. Remember that the medical schools will be making a decision based on the grades from the classes that you have completed by the end of this year, so make sure that all of your required courses (science, math and english) are done. It’s also a good idea to have biochemistry and human physiology done by this time, so that you’ll have some background in these subjects before you take the MCAT.
Make sure your volunteer and research experiences are in place. Although you should have done both of these by now, if you have not had a chance to volunteer or have not tried a research experience, this is your last opportunity to do these things before applying. Prepare for and take the MCAT. We’ll talk more about the MCAT later, but preparing for this test is very important and should take up a significant amount of your time and energy this year.
Meet with the Health Professions Consultant. Even if you’ve done so already, it’s a good idea to meet with the Health Professions Consultant during this year, just to make sure that you’ve finished everything that you need to have done. It’s helpful to get some feedback about how you are stacking up against other candidates and about the timeline for the application process. You will also need to see the Health Professions Consultant to get the application materials for the Pre-Professional Health Committee.
Gather your materials for the Pre-Professional Health Committee. Again, we’ll talk more about this in a later section, but you will need to apply for review by the Pre-L\Professional Health Committee during this year. Because all materials are due by the middle of May, you’ll need to spend time during your junior year making sure that your Committee application is complete.
Making sure that all of the items above are finished by the end of your junior year will help to ensure that you won’t encounter any surprises during your review by the Pre-Professional Health Committee or during the actual medical school application process.
Always be nice! It is very important that you are courteous and respectful to everyone you meet, including secretaries and current students. These people often have influence in admissions decisions, so remember to treat everyone with the same respect you would give to the Dean of Admissions.
Keep telephone calls to a minimum. The people in the admissions offices at medical schools are very busy, and may be unable to devote a lot of time (if any) to talking to you on the telephone. If you do call them, ask about their timeline, and do not call back until deadlines have passed. Stick with your assigned interview date. If you are absolutely unable to attend an interview date to which you have been assigned, call the medical school well in advance of the date and ask to have your interview changed. Some schools will be able to accommodate this, others will not. If you can make it, it is best to stick with the date you have been assigned. On the positive side, some schools do allow you to choose your own interview date.
Things you should do to prepare for your interview:
Review your application materials. This includes your AMCAS or AACOMAS application and your supplemental application. Because interviewers may have your file sitting in front of them during your interview, it is likely that you will be asked about your volunteer work, your research experience and your essays. Be prepared for this, and review these things ahead of time. Research the medical school. Before you walk in the door, you should have a good idea about the medical school: its programs, its curriculum, its faculty, its method of instruction and its grading policies. You should also know something about the city in which the school is located. The school’s website is an excellent source of information, so be sure to review it before you leave.
Review studentdoctor.net. Studentdoctor.net is a website specifically for pre-med and medical students; one of the features of this website is that applicants can post information about their medical school interviews, so that others may read their comments. You can search according to school and read everything that has been posted. There’s a standard questionnaire, as well as space for comments. It’s likely that you’ll find information here that you won’t find anywhere else, so it’s worth the time on-line. Do other applicants a favor and post your own comments after you come home, too.
Read. Reading articles and journals about current events and issues in the field of medicine is very important, as someone is probably going to ask you your opinion about some issue during one of your interviews. JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet are good choices; you may also want to pick up The New York Times, Time, Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report every now and then to keep current with world events, as well. Also, the World Health News is a good site to look at and you can register for weekly emails with the current events in the US and around the world. www. worldhealthnews.harvard.edu.
Make travel plans well in advance. Try to make your travel plans as early as possible, to get the best rates on airfare, hotels, etc. Again, when planning your visit, you may want to ask the medical school if they have current students who are willing to host applicants overnight – many schools do this, and it’s a great way to save some money and get the “inside scoop” on the school.
Keep these things in mind when getting dressed for your interview:
BE CONSERVATIVE!! This cannot be overemphasized! Medical schools are using the interview to assess your judgment – do not use this opportunity to make a wild fashion statement (thereby showing poor judgment). You should look polished, pressed and professional. A word about piercings: if you are female, pierced ears are okay. Everything else is not. If you are male, even ears are not okay. Doctors and medical professors are usually pretty conservative people, which means they will not be impressed by the many holes in your head (or other parts), so take the rings out or cover them up. The same goes for tattoos – be sure they don’t show.
Wear a suit. Both men and women should wear a suit (although women can also wear a nice dress with a coordinating jacket). Suits should be dark and should be wool or a wool blend. Navy blue is the classic choice, but charcoal or black are also acceptable. Be sure your suit fits you well and does not have any holes, frayed cuffs or stains. Men should wear a white shirt and conservative tie. Women should wear a coordinating blouse. Wear dark shoes (black or cordovan for men, black or navy blue for women); make sure your shoes are comfortable, as you will probably do quite a bit of walking. Men should wear dark socks, while women should wear neutral hose.
Keep accessories to a minimum. The only accessory a man should wear to an interview is a watch (well, a wedding ring or class ring is also okay). Men should not wear anything that could be construed as “feminine”. Women have a little more latitude in their choice of accessories, but should still be conservative. A nice scarf is fine; tasteful jewelry is also okay. Don’t wear anything that jingles together or could be considered flashy.
Things to do the day before the interview:
Arrive at your destination. It’s always a good idea to arrive in the city in which the medical school is located a day before your interview. This allows you to find your way around and settle down before you’re actually in the interview. Anything that you can do to keep yourself from feeling stress will be helpful at this point.
Organize everything you need for the next day. Make sure you iron your clothes, put together your briefcase or attaché and have your travel plans to the school worked out before you go to bed. Again, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress if you don’t have to worry about these things the morning of your interview.
Get a good night’s sleep. Although it may be tempting to stay up late (and may be hard to sleep, if you’re nervous), try to get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before your interview. Double check your alarm clock (this is not a good day to oversleep) or schedule a wake-up call if you’re at a hotel.
On the day of the interview:
Get there early. Arriving 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time is a good idea because it allows you to find where you’re going and get settled before your interview actually begins. It also allows a little time for you to get lost and still make it to the interview on time.
What to expect. Each school tends to structure their interviews a little differently, so there is some variety as to what you may encounter. Some schools will feed you first; some schools may start off with a group presentation about their school, their city or financial aid; some schools may take you on a tour; some schools may have you jump right into an interview. Chances are, you’ll experience all of the above before your day is over. As far as the actual interview goes, you will probably sit down with more than one person during your time at the school – these people usually include a faculty person (basic science or clinical) and may include an administrator, an affiliated physician, an admissions staff person or a current medical student. These people may or may not have access to your file (students usually do not) – it depends on the school. Remember that every person you encounter is judging you; not to put on the pressure, but it is critical to treat every person you encounter as though his/her opinion counts.
What you may be asked. Again, this depends on the individual school. Most schools do not believe in doing stress interviews, but they will expect you to answer questions about yourself, your experience and current issues in the medical field. This is where your preparation shows, so be sure to do your homework. Typical questions include:
Tell me about yourself.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
What is the biggest problem facing medicine today?
What do you think about stem cell research (or other hot topic)?
Why do you want to be a doctor?
Why did you choose to apply to this school?
What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?
What are your hobbies?/How do you spend your free time?
Are you thinking of specializing? In what field? Why?
What will you do if you are not accepted?
How do you plan to finance your medical education?
What you should ask. Yes, you should have some questions prepared. Questions about residencies or special programs can be useful, as well as some of the following:
Are there opportunities for students to design, conduct and publish research?
Is there flexibility in the curriculum during the pre-clinical years?
How do your students perform on the national board examinations?
How are students evaluated during the clinical years?
What kind of supportive and counseling services do you have for students?
What types of clinical sites are available? Will I need a car to get to clinical rotations?
Are students involved in volunteer work or community service? It is required?
Remember that the interview is what really makes or breaks your acceptance to medical school – if you’re there they know you can handle the academic coursework, now they want to discover what kind of a person you are, and what kind of a doctor you’ll be. Preparing for the interview is just as important as getting good grades and doing well on the MCAT, so be sure to spend some time practicing your interviewing skills.
Pre-Professional Health Committee
The Pre-professional Health Committee (PHC) is a group of faculty from the University of Pittsburgh that will evaluate your credentials for medical school (with the exception of your MCAT scores) in the same way that they will be evaluated by a medical school admissions committee; the PHC then writes a composite evaluation (sometimes referred to as a “Committee letter”) that you can have Career Services send to medical schools in support of your application. Medical schools prefer (and some require) that you have a composite evaluation as a part of your application, so it’s important to participate in this process. You should apply for evaluation by the PHC in your application year.
The PHC meets only during the summer months, so all of your materials for Committee must be submitted by the middle of May (typically May 15th). This is a firm deadline, and there are no excuses that are good enough to allow you to submit your PHC application packet after the deadline. The Committee will evaluate your application over the summer, and makes every effort to have all composite evaluation letters finished by the end of August.
In order to be evaluated by the PHC, you will need to provide the following:
A PRE-PROFESSIONAL HEALTH COMMITTEE APPLICATION FORM. The application form is available from the Health Professions Counselor. You will be asked to provide academic and biographical information, as well as information about volunteer and research experiences on the application.
A PERSONAL STATEMENT. Your personal statement should be 1 to 2 pages in length and should outline your motivation for pursuing a career in medicine.
OFFICIAL COLLEGE TRANSCRIPTS. You will need to provide official transcripts for every college/university that you have attended since high school.
5 LETTERS OF EVALUATION. Science faculty should provide at least 3 of the 5 required letters of evaluation. Each letter of evaluation should be sent directly to Career Services, and should have an “Evaluation for Graduate Study in the Health Professions” form attached.
A $35 CREDENTIAL SERVICE FEE. This fee covers the cost of establishing a credential file with Career Services, as well as the printing and mailing costs for 10 packets.
AGAIN, ALL MATERIALS FOR YOUR PRE-PROFESSIONAL HEALTH COMMITTEE FILE ARE DUE IN CAREER SERVICES BY THE MIDDLE OF MAY.
After the PHC has evaluated your application materials, it will create a composite letter for you. The PHC ranks you as a candidate for medical school, using the following scale:
Well Below Average
Because of confidentiality laws, if you have waived your right to read your individual letters of evaluation, you will also not be allowed to read your composite evaluation. However, you are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor to discuss your Committee letter. You will be told your rank and will be given the general “gist” of the letter. After this point, you can request that your composite evaluation (in addition to your individual letters of recommendation) be sent to the schools to which you have applied. You must complete the "Composite Evaluation Packet Release" form and submit it to Career Services before your letters can be sent. If the schools to which you are applying ask that your AMCAS ID number or your Social Security Number appear on your letters, you are responsible for providing Career Services with labels containing this information – Career Services staff will affix these labels to each of your letters as they are sent. Please allow 3 to 5 business days for your letters to be sent after your request. Career Services is very conscientious about sending letter packets, and encloses a postcard with each packet that the medical schools are asked to complete and return, documenting the receipt of your letters.
Your Application YearOnce you have finished your coursework, volunteered in the hospital, worked in a research lab, taken the MCAT and been reviewed by the Pre-professional Health Committee, you are ready to apply to medical school. Finally! Well, not really -- the application process is a very time, energy and money consuming process, but well worth it if you are accepted. Remember that the application process begins over a year before you actually start medical school, so following this timeline is crucial. Here are the steps that you will need to take to apply:
MAY - JUNE - JULY
Apply for admission through the medical school application services.
AMCAS - American Medical College Application Service This is the service you use for allopathic schools of medicine. www.aamc.org
AACOMAS - American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service This is the service you use for osteopathic schools of medicine. www.aacom.org
Both of these services allow you to submit one application, one set of transcripts and one set of MCAT scores to apply to participating schools. These applications are both available on-line and will require you to complete information on your academic background, volunteer work, research experience, extracurricular activities and work history, and will ask you to write a personal statement. Each application service also comes with its own set of application fees, so be prepared to submit a check at the same time you submit your applications. Obviously, these are not forms that you complete in a couple of minutes – it often takes applicants several days to complete all of the sections on the applications. Be sure to check the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements) for allopathic schools that do not participate in AMCAS. If you plan to apply to a non-AMCAS school, you will need to contact the medical school directly for an application. All osteopathic schools participate in AACOMAS. Each medical school has its own AMCAS or AACOMAS application deadline – be sure to adhere to these dates.
Although most medical schools do not have AMCAS or AACOMAS application deadlines until October or November (at the earliest), it is best to have your application completed by the end of June. First, this allows you to fully focus on your classes when the fall semester begins. Second, it is much better to be reviewed earlier, rather than later, by medical school admissions committees, since many schools have already started to interview and admit candidates by the application deadline.
Most students choose to apply to about 10 different schools, although you may want to apply to a few more or a few less. Be sure to research the schools to which you are applying by reviewing the MSAR or the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book; visiting the schools’ websites is also a good idea. You should consider a number of factors when choosing medical schools, including programs, affiliated hospitals, location, cost and the residency match rates and programs. This information is typically available in the school’s admissions literature or on their website. Unfortunately, the admissions offices at almost all medical schools will not have time to spend with you before you apply, so it may be difficult to visit (or even to speak to someone on the phone), but there may be a general tour available that you can take.
JULY – AUGUST – SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER – NOVEMBER - DECEMBER
Complete secondary applications.
Once you have submitted your AMCAS or AACOMAS applications, the medical schools will review your information, and, if they are still interested in you as a candidate, they will ask you to complete secondary applications. You will need to complete these application forms and return them by their deadlines. Unfortunately, secondary applications also come with secondary application fees, so, again, be prepared to send checks along with your application forms. When you are sending your secondary applications, you will also need to contact the Career Services Credential Service to have your composite evaluation letter packets sent to the medical schools. You are responsible for providing Career Services with a typed list of the medical schools and addresses to which you want to have your packets sent. Your packets will not be sent until you have paid the Credential Service fees and have submitted a signed “Composite Evaluation Packet Release” form.
SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER – NOVEMBER – DECEMBER – JANUARY – FEBRUARY - MARCH
If you are still a viable candidate, medical schools will invite you to interview after they have reviewed your secondary applications and letters of evaluation. Interviews usually take place at the medical schools and you are expected to cover the costs of travel, lodging and meals while you are there (although some schools will provide breakfast or lunch on the day of the interview). Many schools will arrange for you to stay with a current medical student if you request to do so. You may also want to request to meet minority students and/or faculty if you are a minority student. We’ll talk about the interview in more detail in the next section.
ANY TIME AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW
Receive letter informing you of your status: accepted, wait-listed, rejected. After you have interviewed, you should receive a letter letting you know if you have been accepted, wait-listed or rejected by the medical school. Some schools write letters on a rolling basis, while others wait until their interviews are completed to send letters. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from the school right after your interview, especially if you interview early – it may be one of the schools that waits to write letters.
If you have been rejected, it’s very normal to feel disappointed, but try not to let it get you down too much. You may want to schedule an appointment with the Health Professions Counselor to talk about your next step – either planning to apply in the next application cycle, or making another career choice altogether.
If you have been wait-listed, you will likely not hear about admission or rejection until May or June. Although some schools will answer questions about your rank on the wait-list, many do not, so making repeated calls to the schools will probably not be very productive. The best thing that you can do in this situation is be patient and hope for the best, although you may want to write a letter to the school, indicating your enthusiasm and interest in attending there. If you do receive and accept an offer of admission from another medical school, you will need to contact the school at which you have been wait-listed to inform them of your admission to another school.
If you receive an offer of admission, you will need to decide if you want to attend that particular medical school. Your decision may be based on a number of factors, including the school’s programs, location, facilities, available housing, cost and financial aid package. When making a decision, consider all of these factors (making pros and cons lists can help), but don’t discount your gut feelings about the school. If something inside is telling you that you won’t be happy at a school, don’t go there! On the flip side, if you fall in love with a particular school, it’s probably the right choice for you. Your intuition knows more than you think, so trust it when making your decision. Usually, you will be given a few weeks to accept or decline; once you have decided, you are responsible for informing the school of your decision. The AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) and the AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) expect applicants to only hold one acceptance at a time, so that the medical schools may fill the seats that have been declined. The AAMC doesn't become too picky about his issue, though, until May 15th – after that date, schools may begin to revoke your offers of admission if you are still holding multiple acceptances.