Medical Chat — May 9, 2000

Medical Chat — May 9, 2000

Please feel free to let us know if you would like to be informed of future chats by sending e-mail to We would also be interested in knowing if you would prefer a different format or different topics.

Chat Transcript:
Med School Admissions with Dr. Cynthia Lewis

Dr. Cynthia Lewis, founder of Lewis & Associates, a medical school admissions consultancy, joined us on May 9, 2000 for a fascinating discussion of medical school admissions. The editors and guests who participated gained a great deal from the discussion.

Unfortunately, our chat hosting service had some technical difficulties, and the transcript was lost. What follows are questions that Linda Abraham,'s president, had sent Dr. Lewis before the chat and the answers that Dr. Lewis prepared in response. There was much more give-and-take during the chat, but unfortunately it was not captured. We intend to have transcripts from future chats, but this regretable incident just highlights the advantages of actually attending the chats: the ability to ask your own questions and learn from those of other participants, and minimal dependence on the chat transcript

For information on future chats, please visit our Chat Schedule.

What criteria should applicants use when deciding which medical schools to apply to?

The criteria should be internal and not external — that is what is most important to you should be used: curriculum, special programs available like an MPH or MBA, location, academic support, financial support, ...

Which is more important in the admissions process: the MCAT or the GPA?

Most schools allow that you may have started slow or had a difficult transition from high school, so some latitude is allowed for the first year GPA. But, science GPA and MCAT scores are very important. Many schools consider the VR score and the science GPA as most important.

Which schools weigh the MCAT more heavily?

Examples include Washington U, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UC San Francisco, Vanderbilt, UC San Diego, Yale, UC David, Duke

Which weigh the GPA more heavily?

Examples include U Colorado, Oregon, St. Louis U, U Washington, Baylor, U Virginia

Is not having research experience fatal to one's application, especially if one is clinically oriented?

Absolutely not. Medical schools WANT to know that you have a clear understanding of the profession that you have entered — thus, clinical experience is crucial, but research is only one way you can show your interest in problem solving.

What about clinical volunteer work?

As I said, this is absolutely crucial. If you haven't spent quality time in a clinical setting with doctors and patients, you cannot understand the demands and fulfillment doctors experience.

You mentioned to me that next year the AAMC will require an additional essay about medical students' goals. Do you recommend mentioning goals in the AMCAS essay and if so, how much specificity do you think the schools want?

Yes, for the first time for the Class of 2002, an additional essay will be on the AMCAS: "What do you see yourself doing in 5 to 10 years?" or something close to this. I advise having thought carefully about your interests (thus, having clinical experience should give you some interests). If you just know you like variety with patient care, family practice may be a good choice, others may have a real focus already, e.g. surgery or ER or ... Or you may wish to work in specific community, for a particular kind of medical setting — e.g. rural — or do an MPH and develop medic al public health programs ... This is the place to discuss this.

Is it enough to say one wants to go into primary care or specialize, or is the applicant expected to know which specialty?

Medical schools understand that at least 50% of students change their minds about residency type during their medical school experience, but if you do NOT have anything to discuss it can mean you really have NO interests... or have not gotten a clear enough view of the career to be able to select an area of interest. And, that is NOT good.

What is the role of secondary essays in the application process?

Secondary application essays are used both by schools who send secondaries to all applicants and those with pre-screening, so it is important to know which is which. Many (but not all) private schools send secondaries to most applicants). Secondaries are used to really home into the areas which interest each school, for example: the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences has an essay asking to explain motivation for military medicine and familiarity with the military. If you read the mission statement of each school, this will give you a clue as to what they are most interested in.

If applicants have a lot of diverse experience, what do you suggest they include in the personal comments section.

It is important that applicants discuss their clinical experience, their reasons for wanting to be a physician (telling stories to illustrate their motivation), and beyond that, there is only room for one or possibly 2 or 3 of their most important experiences which may be about research, community service or leadership ...

How can applicants compensate for low grades? At what point do they need to start compensating?

Not all applicants are created equal... if you are disadvantaged in some way-financial, social, educational, ethnicity in some states ... And, if you are applying in your state or residence, you may be given more latitude in your GPA or for a poor performance during a particular time in your college career-than those without disadvantage or who are non-residents. If your science and overall GPA are below 3.4 (allopathic) or 3.3 (osteopathic) without disadvantage ... your MCAT scores need to show your academic strength there.

How important is the undergrad institution that applicants attend? Does someone from less prestigious schools who has good grades, a 30+ MCAT, and volunteer experiences have a chance?

Undergrad institution IS taken into consideration by many medical schools-but if your academic credentials are strong and the rest of your application is complete, your chances are excellent-for example, I advised students as the Pre-professional Health Advisor at San Diego State University (a large, diverse, public institution) for over 11 years and have had 23 advisees accepted to Harvard medical and dental schools ...