Program helps aspiring doctors achieve medical school dreams
When a normal medical school application can run anywhere from 10 and 20 pages long, finding a little extra support can make all the difference.
Fortunately, Loyola’s undergraduate students and recent alums can find plenty of help from the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee (PHPAC). As a part of the Career Development Center, the PHPAC works with students and alums throughout the entire application process.
For the 2013 and 2014 cohorts, nearly three-quarters of undergraduate students who completed the PHPAC’s process were accepted to at least one allopathic or osteopathic medical school to date. (This rate includes those who were admitted during their initial application cycle and those who re-applied and were admitted in a subsequent year.) Meanwhile, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the national average of all undergraduate and post-graduate applicants accepted in those years was slightly more than 40 percent.
In addition to workshops on writing personal statements and preparing for interviews, students who enroll are paired with a faculty member to help them with whatever might come up.
Practice makes perfect
“I didn’t really know anyone who was in medical school,” said Ekamjeet Dhillon, a Loyola alum now in his third year at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “I didn’t really have a lot of contacts, so the fact that I was able to work with someone who had worked with so many other individuals was really helpful.”
Dhillon guesses that he and his mentor, Stefan Kanzok, PhD, an associate professor in the biology department, went through five or six versions of his personal statement—taking him from what he calls a jumble of information to an engaging story highlighting his experience.
From there, certain applications can require assembling and writing a list of activities and accomplishments. This can include detailing research done during undergraduate studies, relevant extracurricular activities, and honors and awards.
“They include general things to really let them know that you’re a multifaceted student who has a wide range of experiences—rather than just a good GPA and MCAT,” said Vlad Didorchuk, a biology major who graduated this spring and plans to attend Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine.
Didorchuk and Dhillon found another part of the process particularly useful: the practice interviews.
“You only have about half an hour to an hour to really sell the medical school on who you are and that you’re a great fit for their environment,” Didorchuk said. “The fact that I was able to have those mock interviews with my advisor and other faculty—I thought that was really crucial in order for me to really understand what I was getting into.”
James Johnson, PhD, the chair of Loyola’s Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee—and Didorchuk’s committee advisor—says there is another part of the PHPAC process that is invaluable to applicants. At the end of the academic year, the 25-person committee meets and composes a letter of evaluation for each student based on those meetings with their advisor.
At four- to eight-pages long, the evaluation goes further than a few letters of recommendation and instead is used to create an accurate and credible reflection of the applicant—one that other institutions can trust.
“I think some med schools feel it’s a more reliable evaluation,” Johnson said. “The former dean of Stritch used to talk about another university that had a lot of students applying to medical school. It drove him nuts because every student who came from that school was just the greatest, but they didn’t have a committee process. The applicants just had to find three letters of recommendation. The letters never helped him understand any sort of difference in the applicants—they were just all fantastic.”
With so much pressure on both the personal statement and the interview, Johnson finds that the committee experience gives applicants another resource to go along with their interview and essay.
“Like the interview, it’s an evaluation, but it’s slower,” Johnson said. “You can get to know your advisor over time. It’s not as brief or as intensely pressure packed as an interview.”
“There are many positive outcomes associated with meaningful student–faculty interaction,” he said. “By discussing their aspirations for medicine, students process their goals a bit more. Philosophically, they’ll probably have a better idea of what they want to do, and then pragmatically, they’ll probably be better at it.”