Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lessons From a Former Premed to Other International Applicants

By Peace Eneh
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, ‘17

Disclaimer: I am using this blog to share what I have learned from applying to medical school in the US. It is very informal and by no means the blueprint. These are just tips that might help. The application experience varies from person to person, and decisions are made on individual basis, so the tips presented here are by no means foolproof. I also have to emphasize here, that most medical schools require that the premed coursework be completed at an American undergraduate institution, and very few medical schools will accept coursework completed in Canada.

Choosing an Undergraduate Institution
There are a few things to consider if you have the privilege of being accepted to more than one US undergraduate programs. Some undergraduate institutions have better systems in place to help their students complete the premed coursework and to obtain the relevant experiences required by medical schools. The institutions also have varying levels of involvement in the whole medical school application process so it is a good thing to think about these when making your decision. Here are some questions that would be good to ask:

  • What is the structure of the premed coursework? 
  • Does the institution have a premed advising committee? 
  • What opportunities does the school provide for premeds to get relevant experiences in the field of medicine (volunteering, job shadowing, relationship with hospitals in the area and opportunities for research)? 
  • How involved is the premed committee/faculty in the whole applications process: Do they write letters of recommendations? Do they review applications and keep track of MCAT scores, etc? Are they knowledgeable about the unique challenges that international students face with med school applications? 
  • Does the school provide career advising services? How proactive are these career advising services in helping students search for job opportunities/internships that will add to their relevant medical experiences? Are they knowledgeable about the unique challenges/restrictions that international students face in obtaining employment in the US? 
Experiences that Matter
In addition to completing all the premed coursework, medical schools also want to see that you have done other things outside of academics. In other words they want to see that you are a well rounded student and not just a book worm. Having a 4.0 GPA with no other experiences will absolutely not get you into a medical school. Here is a list from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC, the official website for everything medical school related) for the types of experience that they looking for in the applicants:
  • Artistic endeavors
  • Community Service/Volunteer Medical/Clinical
  • Community Service/Volunteer Not Medical/Clinical
  • Conferences Attended
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Hobbies
  • Honors/Awards/Recognitions
  • Intercollegiate Activities
  • Leadership
  • Military Service
  • Paid Employment Medical/Clinical
  • Paid Employment Not Medical/Clinical
  • Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
  • Presentations/Posters
  • Publications
  • Research/Lab
  • Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant
  • Global health experiences also* 
My advice, find 2 or 3 experiences that fit into the categories above and excel at them, because they will be a way for you to show that you are interested in the medical field and show that you have explored this interest and still very much committed to this field. Medical schools are not only interested in why you want to become a physician, they also want to see what ways you have tested out your passion and how deeply you have explored your interest. Extracurricular activities such as volunteering in hospitals, shadowing physicians, research, global experience, hospital employment/familiarity with hospital work space are at the top of the list of ways to explore and show your passion for the field.

However, do not overcommit. Avoid the urge to be involved in too many things at the same time because you will fall into the trap of spreading yourself too thin. I believe that medical schools also want to see a certain level of mastery in whatever you are committed to. Identify your passion (an area of medicine that you are really interested in) and look for experiences that will help you explore that topic. You could do research, an internship, an independent study, attend conferences, publish and other types of recognition all around this topic of interest. This will help boost your application, especially if you can tie it all in into your personal statement. For instance, the theme throughout my application was global health, which is a big passion of mine. I wrote about my trip to Bangladesh and how my undergrad research was on a topic that has a global impact. Also, I shared about how my background as an international student has influenced my decision to pursue a career in medicine with a focus on improving healthcare globally. The international focus was very clear throughout my application, and I believe it made my story memorable. You definitely need something that will make you stand out from the thousands of applications that each school receives every year. So I will emphasize this again: Find something that you are good at or that interests you in the medical field and be the best at. This will make you stand out. It also gives your application a focal point. be continued in the next post

Peace Eneh is a Nigerian, currently studying medicine at Dartmouth College in the United States. She was a member of the U.S. Embassy Abuja EducationUSA advising center program where she received tutorials and counseling prior to her premed undergraduate studies at Concordia College. It’s quite difficult for international students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents to gain admission into medical schools in the U.S. Peace however is one of a few who have successfully done so and we asked her to share with us her thoughts and experience.


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  2. excellent write up..kip d advice coming.
    wishing u success too miss Peace E.

  3. Great informative site. I'm really impressed after reading this blog post. I really appreciate the time and effort you spend
    to share this with us! I do hope to read more updates from you.