A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed across the country. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity (“the ability to read their own and others’ emotions”). Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is one school that is doing its part to foster medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes students’ participation in the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post.

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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As a medical school admissions consultant, I am often asked, “Should I take a gap year before I apply to medical school?”  The answer depends, of course, on an individual’s circumstances, background, experiences, GPA, and MCAT score, among other things.  I have found that most undergraduates are in a hurry to get to medical school; they have a set timeline in their head for medical school enrollment and they are eager to stick to it.

But it can be quite challenging to amass the clinical, research, leadership, and community service experiences that build a strong application by the end of the junior year of college, the “traditional” timeline for applying. Students inevitably feel a little rushed in their preparation if they apply then; by this time they must have explored medicine from a variety of angles, achieved very strong grades, taken the MCAT and proven they are ready for the rigor of medical school and that they know—fully—what the medical profession entails.

Some applicants may benefit from more time to do the following:

  • Gain experiences
  • Prepare for and take the MCAT or improve a score
  • Fit in premedical requirements, depending on the major and curriculum of the school
  • Build a strong GPA

Information from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that from 2016-2018 the highest proportion of medical school matriculants were aged 23-25. There is additional data from the AAMC here. This shows that taking time between college and enrolling in medical school has become the norm. Students may benefit greatly from a hiatus in academics, and they can build depth/maturity in their application during a gap year. These applicants are productively engaged in a full-time job related to medicine, which adds tremendously to an application; it shows that you can be responsible and that you are learning more about the medical profession. In addition, the gap year job is something that can be discussed during interviews. In almost every case—as long as you are engaged in a productive endeavor—a gap year improves an application.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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Which medical schools are the hardest to get into?  I’ll bet it’s not what you think. Of course, this raw data does not take into account the caliber of the applicant pool. There was an article in US News and World Report regarding the medical schools which have the lowest acceptance rates. Here are the top 10 in order of most competitive, according to US News:

University of Arizona–Tucson

UCLA

Mayo (Minnesota campus)

Florida State

Stanford

Wake Forest

Howard

Georgetown

Brown

Cooper

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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An editorial in AAMC news advocates including more topics related to the health of LGBTQ patients.  It cites a study, now dated, that surveys the LBGTQ-related content in medical education curricula. A study in 2012, published in the Ochsner Journal, looked at integrating such content into a medical education. A video from the Association of American Medical Colleges describes the initiatives being taken to produce a curriculum to respond to the needs of LGBTQ patients; a recent article written by a medical student states that the content related to LGBTQ-related health issues/concerns is inadequate. Slate also reported on this issue. Finally, NPR did a story on medical students’ push to incorporate more LGBTQ training so that they will be adequately prepared in the future to address health disparities.

Medical schools are making an effort to address any inadequacies in their curricula. Some examples are at Stanford, Brown, the University of Vermont, the University of Louisville, Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT is challenging for many students. Even those who have immersed themselves in the humanities may find this portion of the test more difficult than they anticipate. Even for the most confident and facile readers the CARS section can pose hurdles; the passages can be dense. The Khan Academy provides a quick video overview of the CARS section of the MCAT. All premed students—whether those with science or humanities backgrounds—should prepare for CARS by becoming familiar with both its format and the types of questions posed.

For some students, CARS is especially challenging. It is also the section of the test which is hardest to improve; improving content knowledge on the other sections of the MCAT usually equates with score improvement. Since the CARS section has no real content, gains are harder to realize.

I have specific techniques that help students increase their score on the CARS section of the MCAT. There is one strategy, in particular, that helps students improve—and it is relatively easy to do. But it requires diligence and discipline, with steady reading done on a daily basis. To improve your CARS score try the following strategy:

1. Over a span of at least several months (two at a minimum) read the OpEd pages of major newspapers daily. OpEds are found on the back page of the major news section of newspapers and represent the opinion of writers not affiliated with that particular paper (usually). An example is the OpEd page of the New York Times. The Washington Post’s OpEd page is here and the Los Angeles Times is here. These can easily be accessed online at no cost.

2. Choose at least one OpEd to read each day and become accustomed to the writing style (usually dense prose). If possible, read two or more. Read these articles every day for at least a week.

3. After the first week or two, begin to set a time limit for the articles you read. The time limit might vary according to the length of the piece. The point is to speed up your reading and stress yourself slightly so that you’re forced to read fast. Become accustomed to this more fast-paced style of reading for at least several weeks. Continue to read OpEds every day. Continue reading

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Yale medical school has announced that it plans to reduce student debt by 50%; the goal is for students to graduate with <$60,000 in debt, well below the average nationally ($196K in 2018).  The Association of American Medical Colleges has a plethora of information about medical school affordability and aid.  With the recent announcement by NYU medical school to go tuition free many medical schools are scrambling to reduce student debt; Yale is the latest school to announce news about financial aid incentives.

Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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NYU has announced that it will open a new medical school on Long Island and will begin accepting applications in the 2019-2020 cycle. It will be a three-year program—with no tuition—and will focus on training primary care practitioners. The program received preliminary accreditation from the LCME. Matriculating students will also have a conditional acceptance to a residency program at Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York, where the school is located. Only 24 students will be admitted to the first class, with a maximum of 40 in subsequent classes.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, California is opening a new medical school in 2020; they will begin accepting applications in the 2019-2020 cycle. They announced recently that they will waive tuition for the first five classes; this will undoubtedly create a surge in applications. Information about the admissions process for the first class of 48 students can be found here. The school has preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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There are several written parts to the medical school application but the central component—and the one in which applicants have the most open space to convey their past experiences and future goals—is the personal statement. In the AMCAS application the prompt for the personal statement is:

Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” 

Prompts in the other applications (TMDSAS and AACOMAS) are similar. The space allotted in the AMCAS application is 5300 characters, including spaces, which is approximately one single-spaced page. In that short amount of space you must articulate clearly your reasons for wanting a career in medicine. Your medical school personal statement should be a convincing piece of prose: through your writing you need to convey your excitement about your chosen profession, along with evidence that you’ve tested the profession through clinical experiences.

I have read and helped applicants refine their personal statements for 25 years. To write the most effective possible statement adhere to these basic principles:

Draw in the reader:  The personal statement should have both immediacy—drawing in the reader instantly—and big-picture goals. It should help the reader understand what you’ve done to learn about the medical profession and convey your broad interests and what you eventually hope to accomplish as a physician.  Continue reading

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The Association of American Medical Colleges is hosting a virtual medical school fair on Feb. 21st from 11am – 8pm EST. Click the above link to register. Enjoy!

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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