Wondering if you’re a good fit for the Geisinger Commonwealth SOM? [Show Summary]
Dr. Michelle Schmude, Associate Dean of Admissions at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, shares everything that’s new in the program, including a revised curriculum and a unique opportunity that allows students to graduate debt free.
Interview with Dr. Michelle Schmude, Associate Dean of Admissions at Geisinger Commonwealth SOM [Show Notes]
Welcome to the 482nd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for tuning in. Do you know how to get accepted to medical school? Well, Dr. Suzi Schweikert does, and she shares her knowledge and insight in Accepted’s free guide, Med School Admissions: What You Need to Know to Get Accepted. Download your free copy at accepted.com/482download.
Today’s guest, Dr. Michelle Schmude, has spent her career in higher ed administration and med school admissions. After earning her BA in History and Business, she went on to earn an MBA and then a Doctorate in Education from Wilkes University. Since 1996, she has worked in admissions, first as Dean of Full-Time Admissions at Point Park University, then at Kings College, and since 2015, as Director and then as Associate Dean of Admissions, Enrollment Management and Financial Aid at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. She’s also an Associate Professor of Medical Education at Geisinger. Now that you know a little bit about Dr. Schmude, let’s find out about Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and its admissions policies.
Can you give us an overview of the Geisinger Commonwealth Med School program focusing on its more distinctive elements? [1:57]
Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine offers the MD degree, which is the Doctorate of Medicine, and we are an allopathic medical school. We are located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and we were founded in 2008 as the Commonwealth Medical College, which transformed into Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in 2017.
Right now, we enroll 115 students in each medical school class. Our MD curriculum is known as the Total Health Curriculum, and it is divided into three phases. The first phase prepares our students in terms of the principles of medical sciences and practices. The second phase would be our core clinical immersion. And the last phase is our career differentiation and exploration, which prepares students for the transition to residency.
Also, highlighted within our MD curriculum and our Total Health curriculum, we have six longitudinal themes, where our students are immersed in Health Equity and Justice, Personal and Professional Development, Health System Citizenship, Primary Care, Community Immersion, and Population Health. These themes are interwoven throughout the four years of our medical school program in both our basic sciences as well as our clinical sciences.
Are the themes something that a student chooses to focus on or does everybody cover all six themes through the three stages? [3:44]
That’s a great question. All of our students participate in the six themes. Additionally, our students participate in active learning sessions. In our medical school curriculum, along with the six themes, we do not have any lectures. So our students prepare ahead of time and they come to class as active participants in their learning experiences. They’ll engage in small groups, workshops, reflection, and case-based learning. They also engage in early clinical experiences, and those experiences do have the six themes woven throughout.
It sounds like it’s very much of a flipped classroom kind of experience. [4:39]
It absolutely is a flipped classroom.
We assume our students come to class prepared because they are provided with all of the materials ahead of time. They have that knowledge and they are able to engage in these active learning experiences to help further their understanding and application of the course content.
The world has changed a little bit since you and I spoke about three years ago. How has Geisinger changed? [5:18]
Well, we’ve changed a lot. A couple of things I’ve actually already highlighted for you, like our Total Health Curriculum. We debuted that curriculum for the MD class of 2025 so we kicked off last year. I would say that is a major change and a great way to educate our medical students.
Next would be our new Medical School Dean, Dr. Julie Byerley. Dr. Steven Scheinman retired on December 31st, 2021 and after a national search, Dr. Julie Byerley came to Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and began her tenure on January 1st, 2022. Dr. Byerley previously worked at the University of North Carolina Medical School. She’ll have her official inauguration early in September of this year. We’re very excited to have Dr. Byerley with us. She’s a national expert and a wonderful individual to lead our institution.
Another update for you since the last time we spoke is we just opened a new regional campus. During Phase 1 of the curriculum, all of our students are at our Scranton location engaging in those educational activities. During Phase 2 and Phase 3, they are at their regional campus. We have six regional campuses and our newest regional campus is in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. We’re really excited about the opportunities at this new regional campus that our students will have in terms of clinical immersion experiences and their preparation for residency.
Wow. There’s a lot going on and you didn’t mention COVID once. [7:34]
I think we’re all done with COVID. What I will say is that there have been many, many silver linings. I think that COVID really pushed the medical school community to think differently about admissions and how we interview our students. It forced us, very quickly, to go to a virtual interview model that, quite frankly, I think many were resistant to.
What I have found is that this virtual opportunity has really allowed us to engage with students across the country and from different demographics. It also provided an opportunity for students who might not have been able to purchase a very expensive airline ticket and stay in a hotel to come across the country to interview with us. I think we’re providing more access to students in terms of the opportunity to interview.
That’s a real positive and we’re going to continue to do virtual interviews for this year. I think that we, the medical school admissions community, really need to rethink how our interviews are conducted. Does it really have to be in person? Can we offer some in person, some virtual, and can some be hybrid? I don’t know, but we can work together on that to find a solution that provides the best access to the applicants we would like to meet during the interview process.
We’re going to offer recruitment days to students who we’ve invited to interview, so those students will be able to come on campus on designated days. What we’re really doing is separating out the assessment so that’s the interview and traditional recruitment activities. Students will be able to have a tour of campus, meet with our current students, meet with faculty members, and engage in active learning experiences. I think it’ll be a really wonderful opportunity for our students to come and visit campus throughout at any time during the recruitment process.
What is the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program, and how can it help applicants attend medical school and graduate debt free? [11:08]
Medical school debt is astronomical, and it continues to rise. I know I said that the Total Health Curriculum is a hallmark program. I like to say the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program is our second hallmark program at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. We began working on this program several years ago as we were thinking about reducing medical school debt. According to the AAMC, the average medical student’s debt is $200,000. For our medical students, it’s higher than that, and we really needed to address it. It was a 15 to 18-month process where we put together all different kinds of scenarios to formulate the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program.
Each year, we interview students for the program, and we select 45 students out of our 115 to become part of the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program. The Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program is for students who will commit to one of four specialties. Those specialties include family medicine, internal medicine, medicine-pediatrics, which is a dual board certification, and psychiatry. Students have to be committed to one of those four specialties. In return, we cover tuition and fees for the four years of medical school, and we provide them with a $2,000/month monthly stipend.
Once they finish medical school, they are free to match into any residency. It has to be one of those four specialities, but it could be anywhere in the country. Once they’re finished with their residency, they then must come back to complete their service commitment because this is a service commitment program. They will spend four years at one of our Geisinger facilities as a practicing Geisinger physician in the specialty to which they are board certified.
Do Abigail Geisinger Scholars get a competitive salary during their four years working at a Geisinger facility? [14:25]
Oh, absolutely. There’s no difference.
What I will also say is that there are a lot of additional features and benefits of the program that include mentoring, advising, coaching, additional and earlier clinical experiences within our healthcare arena, mentoring and advising with Geisinger physicians, residents, and then peer-to-peer with current Abigail Geisinger Scholars, along with regional campus placement within one of our four Geisinger campuses. As I mentioned before, we have six campuses. Four of those are within the Geisinger healthcare system. They also have a Senior Seminar Series, where they engage with anyone from a director of a research program all the way up to the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Jaewon Ryu, of the Geisinger Health System.
It’s very immersive. There are various touch points within the program. Again, the mentorship, advising, and coaching is definitely a feature and a benefit that will help our students be successful.
Are the six regional centers located in Northeastern Pennsylvania? [16:03]
Five of the six are, and our sixth campus is in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
What is the secondary application like? [16:25]
The secondary is very, very mission-focused. You want to understand the mission, vision, and values of Geisinger and how you align with them. Another area of the secondary application is a focus on whether or not you’re applying to the Abigail Geisinger Scholars Program. That’s actually your application opportunity to tell us that you want to be a part of this innovative, service commitment program that reduces medical student debt and allows you to graduate debt-free.
They’re all mission-focused so kow our mission.
Geisinger requires the AAMC Professional Readiness Exam, also called PREview. What does it give you that the rest of the application doesn’t provide? Why did you choose it over the CASper? [17:23]
We actually started as a pilot school for the AAMC’s PREview assessment last cycle. That was the first cycle we utilized the assessment information in our holistic review of candidates. It should be noted that it is recommended but not required. In holistic admission, we look at metrics, attributes, and experiences. All of our candidates are unique, and they provide different information to us so that we can get a holistic view of who they are. The PREview assessment is just one piece of information that students can provide to us or not. We look at it as a plus factor. It really helps us to understand their preparedness regarding pre-medical school competencies. It also gives them an opportunity to give us additional information that might not be contained within the application materials that they submit.
It looks at the pre-medical school competencies. It takes a look at teamwork, social skills, and capacity for improvement, resiliency, reliability, and ethics. Those are competencies we want our incoming medical students to have. It’s a social contract with medicine and with society. We believe this is a positive for our students, and this will be the second year that the PREview assessment is recommended by Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
Last year, we were one of six pilot institutions asked to participate with the AAMC. There are five MD schools and one DO school. This year, they’re expanding it a little bit. I haven’t received the final number of schools, but we are participating again as a pilot school.
Are the secondaries automatic at Geisinger? [21:53]
What happens to an application after you get the secondary and the PREview score? [21:58]
Once a student provides all of their application materials to us, they’re considered a completed application, and it is the responsibility of the Admissions Committee to review those applicants. A member of the Admissions Committee reads an applicant. All of us are engaged in that process and trained to determine whether a candidate will be offered an interview or whether they will not be offered an interview based on the holistic review of their application materials. We’re looking at the metrics, attributes, and experiences and how they align with the mission of the institution. That’s why I highlighted that when we were talking about the secondary application before.
What mistakes do you see applicants commonly making? [23:07]
I see a few. A lot of times I’ll see a personal statement riddled with spelling or grammatical errors. That’s a quick way to get you out. Some other mistakes are really understanding the mission or researching your institution and writing a plain secondary and submitting it. After you read 50,000 to 75,000 secondaries, you get to know which ones actually understand and embrace and have researched your mission as opposed to those who haven’t. Definitely know the mission and understand the school, especially if you’re applying there, and especially those that are mission based.
Some other ones are applying when you’re just not ready or you don’t have a competitive application. I think students need to really reflect and say before they submit, “Is this the best possible application that I can submit for consideration?” If the answer is no, maybe you need to consider going into the next cycle and thinking about ways that you can improve.
When you talk about a competitive application, are you talking about the qualifications? Are you talking about the presentation of the qualifications? Or are you talking about both? [24:36]
I’m talking about both. Do you have experiences that align with medicine? Are you rushed in your application? Did you prepare appropriately for the MCAT? Are your grades the best that they can be? Ask yourself, “Is this really my best application?” You need to look in the mirror and say yes or no to yourself and be honest. If the answer is no, identify areas that you can improve upon and fix them. It’s about being reflective and thinking about how competitive you are and whether you have the experiences that align with medicine.
What is the virtual interview like at Geisinger Commonwealth? [26:45]
Great question. Not only did we deploy the PREview assessment last year, but we also deployed the Multiple Mini Interviews in the same cycle.
We transitioned from a traditional interview to a Multiple Mini Interview, and we debuted the Multiple Mini Interview in September of 2021, which is the beginning of our interview season. This application cycle will be our second, and again, it will be virtual. I talked to you about the opportunities for our students to come on campus and attend the recruitment days for those students who we’ve offered an interview to. The stations in our MMI assess those core competencies for entering medical students that I talked about in the PREview assessment. Our stations are based on those pre-medical school competencies like ethics, teamwork, cultural competency, resiliency, reliability, so on and so forth.
Are the MMIs with actors or faculty or current students? [28:05]
No actors, but we have community members, faculty members, students, and everyone within our clinical arena helping us. Students do not know the affiliation of their interviewer because they shouldn’t. And our interviewer shouldn’t know them because it introduces bias, and there’s really no relevance. You’re assessing a competency and if you’re trained in the appropriate way, anyone can assess that competency. We have a very robust training program for all of our interviewers.
Each and every person has a standard prompt with standard questions. I say, “Hello, my name is Michelle Schmude. I’m an interviewer at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, and I’m here to assess you on the cultural competency.” And then, I go into my questions that are standard, and I don’t deviate from them. That ensures that it’s fair and equitable across all interviewees.
Are they given hypothetical situations and asked how they would handle them? [29:17]
Yes. There are prompts for each of the stations and then you engage in a conversation with your interviewer about those respective prompts or scenarios.
When do your interview invitations stop going out? [30:06]
We begin to send our invitations out in mid-August, and they go all the way through mid-February to late February.
Do you want students you admit to have both research experience and clinical exposure? Is that important to you? Or is it more of a nice to have? [30:47]
Clinical exposure is a must. You need to be in the clinical arena so that you can understand and appreciate what’s happening within that environment. Research is a wonderful experience to have, and we value that, although we would never say that if a student has the metric attributes and experiences that align with our mission, and we thought that they were a good fit, but didn’t have research that we wouldn’t consider them for an interview.
You’re looking at the healthcare arena, and of course, exposure is extremely important. I’m going to add that I think community service is extremely important. That’s indicative of the medical school profession. You’re in service of others. How do you demonstrate that you serve others? Community service is a great way to do that, and for us, that’s part and parcel of the mission of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
How do you winnow down all of the applications you receive? [32:33]
I’m going to go back to the mission of the institution. As I said, each application that is completed is reviewed by a member of an Admissions Committee. We look at metrics, attributes, and experiences. Then we look at the alignment with the mission of the institution. While some may have a great IQ, meaning the metrics, they might not have the attributes or the experiences that align with the mission of the institution.
By looking at the candidates and really being mission-focused in our selection, we’re able to get it down to 928 students, which was the class of 2025. It’s based on a holistic review and alignment with the mission of our institution, which I keep going back to. It’s very important to us. Our school was founded on a specific mission and so we look for that in our candidates.
What is your mission? [33:47]
We look to train future scientists and physicians who are patient-centered, meaning they’re empathetic, compassionate, kind, and caring. Sometimes we like to refer to this as person-centered. We look to educate individuals who will be positive and proactive members within the interprofessional healthcare team so they have effective communication skills, they can work well with others, and they can utilize evidence-based research to further research initiatives and to help their patients.
Last but not least, we focus on students who are community-minded and serve the community. Again, that’s why I highlighted before some activities such as community service activities. It’s very important for Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine to understand the community needs and to then look at social determinants of health, help individuals within our community, and bring to light those social determinants and how on the healthcare side, we can address those areas. If you’re not in the community, that’s a little hard to do.
You can say you did something, but show me how you did it. What did you learn from it? That’s a little bit different than saying that you did or embraced something. You can see that in the writing and unfortunately, that would be an example of an applicant who we believe would not resonate with the mission when they say they did it, but there’s no evidence of it.
You can see the box checkers right away. But I ask students, “What are you passionate about? Who do you want to serve? How have you demonstrated that? Do you have longitudinal commitments, where you’ve done it over a period of time, and you’ve grown substantially with your interactions with individuals, with people from diverse backgrounds in your leadership capacity.” You can really tease that out in an application.
How do you view letters of intent or correspondence from waitlisted applicants? I noticed there was a limit of two updates. What about updates before being waitlisted? [37:58]
We have a limit of two. The reason we do this is for students to really think about the meaningful activities and the meaningful information they’d want us to know. Updating us weekly on what you did might not be as impactful as looking at a more longitudinal time period of growth. We believe that two updates really help us to understand the applicant better, and it provides them with the opportunity to provide meaningful information to us, as opposed to 20 letters that just say, “I continue to express my interest,” because you can get those. While I’m glad, and I appreciate that, I want them to stay interested. I want to know what else they’ve done lately. What do they continue to do to grow?
This one is a listener question: “If you were a premed student, traditional or otherwise, planning to apply in 2023, what is one thing you would be doing to prepare yourself now for medical school?” [39:11]
I have about 20 things I would say.
Are you taking the appropriate undergraduate classes to make yourself competitive? I’m separating this into metrics right now, and then I’ll go into the experiences. How are you preparing for the MCAT? Don’t rush it. There’s time.
The next piece is really reflecting on experiences that you would like to engage in, and then how they align with the field of medicine. Really become a member of that community in which you’re engaging in that experience. That shows depth and it shows longitudinal commitment. Students have to have an IQ, but they have to have the EQ, or emotional intelligence, and that comes with experiences. Think about your experiences and which ones you have a passion for and how they align with medicine.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [40:56]
All I would say is that Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine really looks holistically at an applicant because we want to find those individuals who meet the mission of the institution and will serve in the Geisinger communities, meaning our regional footprint.
Where can listeners learn more about Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine? [42:28]
Students interested in learning more about Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine can visit our website at www.geisinger.edu/gcsom.
- Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine
- Med School Admissions: What you Need to Know to Get Accepted
- Accepted’s Medical School Admissions Consulting
- How to Get Accepted to the University of Colorado School of Medicine
- An Interview With the Temple Katz School of Medicine Admissions Dean
- NYMC: How to Get In
- How to Write Essays That Will Get You Into Medical School