As a premedical advisor and medical school admissions consultant I encourage prospective medical students to read books that will expand their view of the medical profession. Reading literature allows us to better understand the human condition which, in turn, makes doctors better practitioners. In addition, during medical school interviews applicants are sometimes asked about books they have read about the medical profession; interviewers want to know whether the applicant has been curious enough to read about his or her chosen profession.

The books I have selected cover different aspects of the medical profession, from practicing medicine to understanding global health challenges to navigating the complexities of cultural competency. I have compiled a list of helpful books for premed and med students. Out of that list of 38 books, I have chosen 10 as essential reading material:

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  3. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  4. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  5. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
  6. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures by Geri-Ann Galanti
  7. Strong at the Broken Places by Richard Cohen
  8. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  9. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
  10. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Continue reading

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Gaining admission to medical school in the United States is challenging for non-US citizens, as described in another blog post. Not all schools admit international applicants. As of this writing, these MD schools admit non-citizens:

Boston University School of Medicine

Brown (Alpert School of Medicine)

Case Western School of Medicine

Columbia (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons)

Duke School of Medicine

Emory School of Medicine

Dartmouth (Geisel School of Medicine)

Georgetown School of Medicine

Harvard Medical School

Howard University College of Medicine

Jefferson (Sidney Kimmel Medical College)

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Morehouse School of Medicine

Mt. Sinai (Icahn School of Medicine)

Northwestern (Feinberg School of Medicine)

Penn State College of Medicine

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

St. Louis University School of Medicine

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stony Brook (Renaissance School of Medicine) 

SUNY Upstate

Tufts University School of Medicine

Tulane University School of Medicine

U of California, Davis School of Medicine

UCLA (Geffen School of Medicine)

UCSD School of Medicine

U of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

U of Colorado School of Medicine

U of Connecticut School of Medicine

U of Hawaii School of Medicine

U of Illinois College of Medicine

U of Louisville School of Medicine

U of North Carolina School of Medicine

U of Pennsylvania (Perelman School of Medicine)

U of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

U of Southern California (Keck School of Medicine)

U of Utah School of Medicine

U of Virginia School of Medicine

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Washington University School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine

West Virginia University School of Medicine

Yale School of Medicine

I have extensive experience guiding international applicants through the application process to US medical schools.  Please send me an email at if you have questions about your particular situation.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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The CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is a test that is increasingly being used in the medical school admissions process. It is an online exam that assesses an applicant’s situational judgment in various scenarios. According to the organization that administers the CASPer, it “increases fairness in applicant evaluation by providing admissions and selection committees with a reliable measure of traits like professionalism, ethics, communication, and empathy.” For more information about why admissions committees find it helpful, read this blog post from the company that administers the CASPer.

Here is the most recent list of MD schools requiring CASPer as part of the admissions process. Please check the CASPer website frequently, as the list of schools changes:


Central Michigan


East Tennessee State (Quillen)

Florida Atlantic



Indiana University

Kaiser Permanente

Medical College of Georgia (Augusta)

Medical College of Wisconsin



Michigan State

New York Medical College

New York University

Northeast Ohio

Rosalind Franklin

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson

SUNY Upstate

Stony Brook (Renaissance)

Temple (Katz)

Texas A&M

Texas Tech


U of Colorado

U of Illinois

U of Miami (Miller)

U of Michigan

U of Mississippi

U of Nevada, Reno

U of North Carolina

U of North Dakota

U of Rochester

U of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

U of Texas, San Antonio (Long)

U of Vermont (Larner)

U of Washington

Virginia Commonwealth

West Virginia U

To get ready for the CASPer, read about the format of the exam and what to expect. Here are tips to help you prepare for the exam, provided by Altus, the company that administers the test. A webinar for those taking the CASPer was held in June 2018. Samples of CASPer scenarios are provided here.  To discuss how best to prepare for the CASPer please contact me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Post updated May 22, 2019

Post updated June 7, 2019

Post updated June 14, 2019

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Secondary applications arrive fast and furious soon after the primary AMCAS application is transmitted to the medical schools. It’s important to return secondary applications quickly since an application is not considered complete until the secondary has been received. The suggested time window for returning a secondary application is within two weeks of receiving it. Do the math—if an applicant applies to 20 schools, that’s 20 applications to complete within two weeks, all with several essays to write. Let’s say the average secondary application has three to four essays–that’s 60-80 essays. Writing that many essays in a short period of time obviously creates a tremendous amount of work.

The secondary applications are as important as the primary application; they should be completed carefully and with great care. To streamline the process. many applicants pre-write secondary applications, putting the finishing touches on them when the secondaries are actually released. Bear in mind, as well, that secondary application prompts can change from year to year—so sometimes prewriting a secondary can result in wasted time if an applicant writes an essay that is no longer relevant. But on the whole, secondary prompts do not change from year to year; most usually stay the same.

There are several ways to approach pre-writing secondaries:

  • Look for common themes amongst secondary applications and focus on fleshing out ideas for those topics and prewriting a paragraph or two on each. You can then focus those essays for particular schools, tailoring them to the exact prompt, when you receive secondaries. Common themes can be found in my blog post on common secondary prompts.
  • Do a quick Google search for secondary application prompts and you will easily find them for particular schools. Start writing.
  • Be mindful that some essays can be recycled from one school to another but ONLY WITH GREAT CARE. Always read the prompt for each school carefully—and tailor your response specifically for that school, answering it precisely. Keep in mind each school’s mission and focus is, and tailor your essay accordingly.

If you have questions about secondary applications feel free to reach out to me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted June 6, 2017 and updated in 2019

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An inescapable fact: medical school is expensive. But for talented students, merit scholarships provide a way to go to medical school for free or for significantly less money. Most medical schools do not provide merit scholarships; most financial aid is need-based. But there are some schools which do provide generous merit scholarships to students who stand above the crowd and will—in the school’s estimation—provide enrichment to both the student body and the school itself. Having advised many students in the past who were awarded such scholarships, I have distilled the traits of these extraordinary students into the following list:

Academic excellence:  Without exception, these students had extraordinary academic records and showed a sustained level of outstanding achievement throughout their education. In other words, they had very high GPAs in both science and non-science coursework (3.7+) and good MCAT scores (generally the 95th percentile or above). They usually had been recognized regionally or nationally through election to organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa.

Humanistic qualities:  These candidates showed, through community service and other volunteer experiences, their deep-seated dedication to others; their dedication to humanity and to serving others was palpable and readily evident in their application materials by the activities in which they had engaged.

Outstanding personal traits: Students awarded merit scholarships were kind, caring, humble, and possessed innate leadership qualities. These traits were echoed repeatedly in the letters of evaluation submitted on their behalf; in other words, these traits resonated across a range of involvements and activities and were cited by those who had either supervised or taught the applicants.

A vision for the future: Applicants awarded merit scholarships had prior experience which informed their future goals. In other words, they envisioned what they would accomplish in the medical profession through their previous medical experiences; as a result, they could articulate in their application materials how they might contribute to the profession in the future. Their goals were inspiring for admissions committees to read about; as a result, committees wanted to draw the students to their schools. Offering a merit scholarship helped them achieve the goal of getting these top candidates to enroll. Continue reading

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The Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai has announced a new initiative which will limit its medical students’ debt to $75K.  The Enhanced Scholarship Initiative will begin with the 2019 entering class. Nationally the median medical student debt is $200K. Listen to details about the program in this informative video.  This comes on the heels of NYU‘s big announcement that it will be tuition free beginning this year.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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The American Medical Association started a program in 2013 to move medical education forward. Accelerating Change in Medical Education gives grants to medical schools with innovative programs. The group works collaboratively to foster and share ideas for improving medical education. Recently, five additional schools were added to the group: Stanford, UC-Irvine, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Southern California (Keck), and Virginia Commonwealth. Information on programs the initiative has funded can be found here.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

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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


Mayo (Minnesota campus)

Florida State


Wake Forest





–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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