In this episode, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of Admissions at Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine discusses ChatGPT in the admissions process, gives advice for reapplicants, and explains how med school applicants should choose where to apply. [SHOW SUMMARY]
Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine provides an innovative, patient-centered curriculum with multiple specialties and multiple opportunities for clinical exposure. Sound appealing? Read on because today I am speaking with the Assistant Dean of Admissions at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.
An interview with Dr. Joel Maurer, the Assistant Dean for Admissions at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology. [Show Notes]
Welcome to the 522nd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Are you ready to apply to your dream Medical Schools? Are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s Med School Admissions Quiz can give you a quick reality check. You’ll not only get an assessment, but tips on how to improve your chances of acceptance. Plus, it’s all free.
Our guest today is Dr. Joel Maurer, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, and an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at MSUCHM, or College of Human Medicine.
Dr. Maurer, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk. [1:34]
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
I’m delighted to speak with you today. Can you give an overview of MSU’s MD program focusing on its more distinctive elements and specifically the shared discovery curriculum? [1:38]
There’s a lot going on there and I’ll do my best to sort of give you a quick overview. College of Human Medicine is an allopathic medical school, so it grants the MD degree. It was founded in the mid ’60s as a response from the people of the state of Michigan to create a brand new medical school that would initially have its primary focus on primary care physician development. The needs of the state at that time were very much in the line of primary care, frontline care. As the college grew and matured, the needs of the state became more encompassing. And so it is a medical school, that although primary care remains a critical component of what they hope to make contributions to, it’s a school that appreciates the need of physicians across the wide spectrum of healthcare. The other thing of note, historically: it was the very first four-year MD granting medical school that used the community-based model as its foundation.
And so Michigan State has always had a long history of looking at pedagogical approaches and teaching, and how to teach people to teach others. And at that time, they had an opportunity to create a medical school that looked at how everyone else was doing it and trying to figure out, “Is there a way that we can do it differently and maybe better?” One of the key tenets is that it always wanted its students to learn medicine out on the front line where it was happening. And so in order to do that, they decided that maybe it was best in those formative clinical years, years three and four, to put its students more out on the frontline all across the state of Michigan in order to see medicine happening as symptoms were coming forth and not a preexisting diagnosis. And so it’s been a medical school that felt that it was always important to have strategic community partners spread throughout the state, such that the first two years of medical school could be conducted on Michigan State Home Campus.
But then years three and four, let’s have our students learn in our existing community. So as such, we’ve never had our own tertiary based hospital. We’ve never had the Michigan State University hospitals and clinics. It’s always been a school that wanted to create strategic relationships with the people and the communities across the state of Michigan, so that’s been its foundational format. The thing I think that’s interesting, or moving on a little bit to what we call our Shared Discovery Curriculum, that came about as, again, Michigan State always looks at, “How are they doing things, how can we do them better, maybe differently in a way that others aren’t doing it?” And it came up with an idea based in the education literature of, “How could we reorganize our curriculum, particularly as it relates to years one and two in such a way that it helps our students start to think about, and think like a doctor starting on day one and less so waiting until year three.
And so in doing a bunch of research on how young adult learners learn best, those behind the development of this curriculum said, “Well, what if we were to present a curriculum that’s actually based on patient symptoms?” Again, harkening back to the foundations of our medical school, “Let’s put our students out on the front line where symptoms are happening and not necessarily a diagnosis. Can we do the same thing starting in year one and two?” And so what our curriculum developers did is they tried to figure out, or they looked at the top 100 or so reasons why patients seek healthcare, and what they decided is that, “Well, is there a way that we can use these top reasons to form a week’s worth or a couple of weeks worth of curriculum?” So for example, maybe in the first year, the student will have a week that’s called fever.
So we’re going to learn the anatomy behind fever. We’re going to learn the physiology, the cell biology, initiate some of the disease pathology, the immunology, how vaccines are involved in all of that. And we present it with more of a clinical lens so that when a student hears fever, they’re starting to think about all of those things as maybe as a physician out in the real world, you may not have a diagnosis, but we’re going to start to get them to think about the basic sciences and the disease sciences and the social sciences and humanities behind fever and build upon that. So that’s the interesting, unique thing about our shared discovery curriculum, it’s not systems based.
It breaks down the traditional ivory towers, so there is no Anatomy class, there is no Physiology class. It’s all blended together, and each semester is one giant 16 credit course. So that’s the unique thing about that. I would say the other thing that’s an interesting element or a distinctive element about our curriculum is that its assessments are based on progress testing. I think medical schools have a history of using more traditional assessment models where every month you’re going to have a high stakes exam and you have to be able to pick the right answer at a high enough level to pass.
That’s not how it works at the College of Human Medicine. Every semester, regardless if you are a first year, first semester student or an out the door second semester, fourth year student, everybody sits down and takes the same exam. Well, it’s not quite that. So first and second year students will take a standardized exam that is representative of the step one licensing exam. Years three and four, they will take an exam that is representative of their step two licensing exam, so there are some subtle differences. But say if you’re a first-semester first-year student, you’re going to sit down and you’re going to take a standardized exam that covers all the material that is in theory testable on a step one licensing exam. And students who are used to being test crushers now find that they scored a 40 on an exam.
But they haven’t been educated on all the topics, right? [8:55]
Right. So they score 40 on that initial exam and that’s some culture shock to them, whereas the rest of us behind the scenes are going, “Woo-hoo. All right, you only got another 40 or 50 points to go, so you’re already 40 points there, so good job,” but that takes some adjustment. And the thing about what progress testing does is that it eliminates the binge learning. Traditional assessment strategies, students cram. They cram and cram and cram, they take their exam, they’re exhausted, they go party afterwards, they forget it until they have to relearn it again. In a progress testing environment, there is no cramming. You can’t cram for these exams. You have to develop learning strategies that promote retention and long-term learning in order to continue to build on what we’re trying to do in the first two years and beyond, so there’s a lot going on there in answering that first question. But I think there’s so many things that are unique about us from a pedagogical lens that I think that it was worth spending just a few moments highlighting a couple of those.
I appreciate it. I appreciate it because you gave the reasoning behind it as well as examples, so that was a great answer. Thank you very much.
You mentioned the community-based medicine and how important that is to MSU, and there are seven regional campuses, and are they offering- [10:14]
Now, we recently added a second campus in southeast Michigan in the Detroit area, so we now have two Detroit based campuses.
Does that mean that students pick a regional campus and they focus on that one, or do they hop around from different campuses to have different experiences, or does it depend on the student’s preferences? [10:45]
Yeah. I mean, in the end it’s assigned as a home-based campus for them. So in the second year of medical school, for the majority of our students, they have an opportunity to vet all these different campuses and what are their strengths? What are their environments? What’s the learning environment? And they go through a process that ultimately it’s the college’s responsibility to assign them to a campus, but we do bend over backwards to try to listen to the student, what are their preferences, give them opportunities to end up hopefully in that first choice campus where they hope to be. But the idea is that in year three and four, say you get assigned to the Flint Campus, the idea is that you’ll consider Flint as your home base campus for the next two years.
If there are clinical experiences as a student that you want, that Flint isn’t the best place to achieve them, we do create opportunities within our multi-campus system for students to get those experiences. But the thing that’s common and that we have to be able to demonstrate to maintain our accreditation is that regardless of whether or not you are doing year three and four in Lansing or Marquette, or Midland or Detroit, there is a baseline curriculum that each one of those campuses have to meet in order to assure a standardization of educational experience for all students regardless of what campus they’re assigned.
Let’s turn to the application since the people we’re addressing here really are applicants. I do think it’s important that they know what’s special about the school before they apply. So again, I really appreciate you going into that. But in terms of, obviously they provide a primary application, does MSU screen before sending out secondaries? [12:35]
We actually don’t.
So it’s automatic. [12:56]
It is automatic, and our logic behind it is that we believe that the common application doesn’t allow a student to tell us their whole story, and we’re a school that really takes the mission of our college really seriously. It’s a mission that focuses on promoting dignity and respect of all people and responding to the needs of the medically underserved. And I think that we can get some insights to that on a common application, but the secondary application really helps us look for those applicants in which we feel that our mission and their values are a good alignment with each other in a way that screening on the front end probably doesn’t help us out.
Are you looking for ties to Michigan? Are you looking for experiences serving the underserved or working in different communities? [13:48]
Yeah. I mean, as a state-supported medical school, so much of our educational funding does come from public resources, and so we do give significant preference to applicants who are from the state of Michigan. In any given year, that number will run anywhere from 80 to 85% of our income costs.
That’s for a class of 190 every year. Having said that, I would say that my experience for our out-of-state applicants is that ties to the state of Michigan may not really be as important. I think our mission, that piece in which we walk the walk and the application is consistent with a desire to serve underserved communities and address significant healthcare disparities in our society really is the piece that sets that applicant pool apart. And the truth of the matter, that’s an important piece for our in-state applicant pool as well. There’s lots of applicants from the state of Michigan who are excellent looking future physicians on paper, but if we don’t feel like we’ve got a connection with them, and particularly with our mission, it’s an application that probably isn’t going to go very far, so we really take that mission seriously.
MSU had five, very interesting, thought-provoking questions in its secondary. I like them. Are you planning to keep the same questions this year? [15:22]
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that there will probably not be a lot of changes. I think one of the things that we might consider, we do have a question that is directly related to our recent pandemic. I think that in talking with our admissions committee, I think it’s possible that one might become an optional question as opposed to one that we want everyone to answer. This much I will say, in reviewing with the committee, there’s one that asks applicants to think about 10 personal characteristics and then talk about three of them. It’s interesting. I think for most of our committee, they felt that one wasn’t as helpful as the other ones. And so it is possible we will either drop that or replace it with a different one, or maybe modify one of them so that it gets down to three questions plus one optional.
I think in a perfect world, I’d like to see it go that way just because I know we ask so much of our applicants to share and jump hoops and that sort of thing. I think anytime that we have an opportunity to make our secondary application more efficient, we will. But short of that, I don’t think the questions are going to change significantly this year, so if any of you out there want to take a look at it and start practicing some responses from written responses, I’d say go ahead and go for it.
We’ll actually have links in the show notes to them. Getting back to the application, are you concerned at all about the impact of ChatGPT and the essay component of the application? [17:04]
Yeah. I am. Everybody is. And everybody, I don’t mean that all inclusively, but I do think that the vast majority of us who are in admissions are really concerned about that, and how are we going to address that down the road? I think in the short term, we don’t have a lot of quick answers. I think some of us are likely going to have our applicants on an honor code system, at least check off an attestation statement that says that the content and the writing of a written response to anything within our application, whether or not it’s the secondary or a part of the common application, that these are your own words and that they were not created by someone else or another entity. I don’t know that universally we’ve got the bandwidth to enforce that or to follow up on that, but this is an issue of professionalism. Becoming a future healthcare provider is a professional career that requires certain behaviors from those who ultimately want to go out and serve and care for others.
And so I would say in the short term, I don’t think we have a good solution or a good way to address it. I know that there are some that are leaning towards the possibility of abandoning a written response secondary and have it be a video response secondary. I don’t think that that still is the solution to a ChatGPT mainly because we all know that our questions do get out there. They get disseminated whether we want them or not, they’re going to get out there. And so I think the difference is, if they’re using ChatGPT in a video-based response to a secondary, can they pull it off with the camera on without people being suspicious that they have either rehearsed and memorized that answer, or that their eyes are moving and gazing to a right response for reading back to us? So I suspect it may move in that direction, and I think it would be unwise of applicants to apply those sorts of methodologies to try to game this piece of the application.
I, like almost every person on the planet, has played with it a little bit, and I took an MBA essay question and threw some information in and saw what came up. It was not terribly impressive. It was very superficial, cliche-filled, banal, and wouldn’t have been interesting… And I didn’t do this, but if I had provided more substance, could it have put together an essay? I didn’t try that, but the first attempt was nothing that would scare me because it was extremely superficial. It would not have impressed any admissions committee member that I’ve talked to. [20:02]
Yeah. Well, I think you touch on something that’s interesting and important because I think the piece that we worry about in the admissions world is that those applicants who come from resource-rich backgrounds will likely, if they use ChatGPT, will likely be able to pull it off. And those who come from resource-stressed backgrounds may not have the mentoring and the resources themselves, and if they try to do it like you just said that you did with just a little bit of information, it’ll be a relatively unimpressive response.
And so I think we worry that yet again, it will be an example in which it will create an inequity within our applicant pool, particularly for schools like ours that… And we didn’t touch on this, but with regards to our admissions diversity statement, we do give some preference to applicants who come from disadvantaged backgrounds in our process. And so we worry that, again, this’ll be a tool and an instrument in which those who have a lot of resources will be able to use it and use it effectively and be able to use it in a way that is believable than those who are less resourced, if they choose to use it may not help them.
Right. It’s a valid concern. Moving on to the application process, which is a different element of it, what is the role of the situational judgment test, whether it’s the CASPER or PREview in your evaluation process? You didn’t like that question. [22:16]
No, it’s challenging. A few years ago, we started requiring Casper mainly because we felt that there was some validity to the results, at least on the front end. I think we still struggle to figure out and understand, are there long-term predictive results from situational judgment tests? And so we initiated it using it mainly on the front end just to try to see, would this help us if we’ve got 9,000 applicants and we can get it narrowed down to 3000 for 550 interviews, could CASPER help us figure out which of those 3000 to bring in for those interviews? I think for us it’s been hard to use it in that capacity. I think it’s helpful on the screening side.
Our committee has been really reluctant to look at it super closely, again for those same reasons, what data do we have that shows that someone who does well on a situational judgment test stays out of professionalism problems with state licensing boards down the road and that sort of thing? Or advances through a four-year curriculum on time, or that they don’t have professionalism issues in medical school. I think we’re still struggling to try to find that answer. I think the other thing why I am internally tormented by it is that this year, there’s also a second one.
There’s PREview. [24:14]
Yep. So it’s called PREview. And this year we’re the only medical school, to the best of my knowledge, that if we were going to require an SJT, we allowed either/or.
Okay. And the reason being is that, again, it’s an equity issue. If I’m going to take the heat for requiring a student to take another exam and pay a hundred dollars to do it, I certainly don’t want to be the one that says, “Well, you only can take Casper,” when I know I’ve got a colleague down the road or in another state that says, “Well, we’re only a PREview school, and so if you want to apply to us, you’ve got to take it too.”
And so I wasn’t going to play that game, and I told both parties, I said, “If I’m going to continue to use SJT, I’m not going to dictate which one to take.” Now here, the thing that we’re going to be looking at this year, and in fact I just got my IRB approval today, which I’m really excited about. We’re going to look internally at our applicant pool with regards to CASPER, if they took CASPER only, if they took PREview only, and if they took both. And because I think the thing that I’m starting to see a little bit anecdotally is that I’m not seeing a lot… If they took both, I’m not always seeing a consistent correlation of the results, and that bothers me and that concerns me because if you do bad on one, but well on the other, what does that mean?
You’re measuring different things. [24:14]
Well, exactly. And I think both parties would say they’re measuring different things, but the problem is people are using this in the mindset of, “Well, isn’t it supposed to give me some baseline understanding of the professionalism and the character that already exists that we would want in the future?” At least in a medical student, a future care provider. And so the fact that I’m starting to see some inconsistencies with these two tests, it really bothers me that we now have a system in which if someone does poorly on one, what does that really mean? It may not mean anything. I think we think that if they take both and they do well on both, they probably mean something. If they take both and they bomb both of them, it probably means something, but I’m seeing enough of some discordance between the two that it makes me really uncomfortable maybe about using SJT down the road. So right now, we’re still going to require it for this upcoming cycle, but I would say stay tuned.
That was a fascinating answer. I interviewed Dr. Kelly Dore from Casper a few weeks ago, and it was a fascinating interview. The whole subject is fascinating.
I understand the concept of, you want to see if the test is predictive of good judgment. You want to see if it’s predictive of professionalism or the ability to be a good doctor, but I don’t think the test has been devised yet that really can predict who’s going to be a good doctor. [27:04]
No, it doesn’t. And like all standardized tests, they all have the same problems. Inherently, people who come from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds tend not to do as well on standardized tests, and the same data comes forth in situational judgment. There are some small cohorts within those communities that do better based on really strict criteria, but what I’m discovering is that, yet again, it is a standardized test in which those who are resource blessed do have a better chance of doing well than those who aren’t, so it really bothers me.
One thing I asked her about at the interview, and I’m still questioning in my own mind is, how can you objectively measure something that’s as subjective as judgment? [28:20]
And I don’t pretend that I have a great answer for that either, but I will say in defense of both of these, I mean, these two instruments have been at least extensively studied with regards to internal consistency on how they’re scored. And so however they are training their scorers from one person to the next, and the next, there’s at least a level of validity in the exam in how it’s being scored. I think in the end the question is, how well is it giving its information that’s going to be predictive of an outcome down the road that is meaningful?
What is a common mistake that you see applicants make in either the primary or secondary? [29:20]
No, it’s too many to… No, I shouldn’t say it like that. But there are some common mistakes. So for example, for reapplicants, I think one of the common mistakes that they’ll make is recycling a personal statement.
I’m so glad you said that. Go ahead. [29:47]
Yeah. I mean, here’s the thing. Who knows if that personal statement contributed to the outcome or not? But I think in the end, whatever you wrote last time didn’t make a threshold for people to want to look more closely. So if you’re a reapplicant, I would really rethink how you write that personal statement. I think the topics are fair for you to not change around. I mean, if these are seminal life experiences that you’ve had, you don’t want to necessarily change the content, but I think that you might want to re-look at how you put it together so that at least a reader doesn’t go back and check last year or the application two years ago and say, “Oh, they just recycled this.” Because what that does is it says, it does send a message that you’re just going through the motion.
Yeah, you’re recycling. And then granted, I get it. I understand there’s a lot that you’ve got to do to put together an application portfolio, but I would probably err on the side of not recycling an application. I just think it gives an impression and a vibe to the reader that makes you vulnerable, so I think that’s a big piece. Here’s the other thing I would say with regards to re applicants, I think one of the biggest mistakes re applicants make is they don’t solicit feedback. Now, having said, I understand that many in my medical school admissions community don’t provide a feedback service to unsuccessful applicants. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask though because some of us do like College of Human Medicine Admissions, we will, upon request, offer a consultative appointment with an unsuccessful applicant, and it’s done in such a way that we try to help them find the answers themselves.
You don’t say, “You got rejected because of this, but you might ask questions.” [31:53]
We ask questions in a way and create a document, or help them create a document that helps them reflect upon their application, and it depends on how far they get through the cycle. So if someone gives a written application, they don’t get an interview, so we help them go through that to help maybe help identify areas that need further development if they get an interview and they don’t get in, so that can be a little more challenging as well because… Well, here’s what I usually tell these applicants, “If you get an interview, you’re close then.”
I assume about half your interviewees get offers. I’m just guessing from the numbers I saw. [32:33]
Yeah. About half and maybe even a little more than half by the time August rolls around, and so it’s not uncommon for us in the end to have about, if we do 540 or so interviews a year, about 330, we will maybe ultimately get an offer. So I mean, the odds are in your favor, at least at our school, that if you get an interview, you’re at least close. But at the end, the committee looks at everything. They look at the written application, they look at the interviews that you’ve had and things that we’re measuring in the interview, and sometimes in the end, it’s a little bit of all three or all of those things. And so trying to help an applicant better understand the areas that didn’t come forth as strong in the eyes of the committee can be a little challenging without actually spoon feeding them too, but we try hard to not give that kind of information because there is a need for the committee to be able to make some of those really tough decisions without necessarily protecting the way in which they make those decisions.
Just going back to the personal statement comment for reapplicants, the other thing I think that’s bad about just recycling a personal statement is it prohibits you from showing growth during the preceding year. [33:54]
It also sends a message that you’re lazy.
I mean, if you don’t get in and you’re a reapplicant, you want that application next time around to answer the question, “Well, what is different about me this time?”
New and improved. [34:33]
Right. And if you don’t take the time to really point that out, then you increase the chance that it’ll get overlooked. So I would say anything… I will tell you this much, and this is jumping to our secondary, one of the questions that has not changed in eons with us is, “Is there anything more you want the committee to know?” I mean, I think anytime an applicant sees that question asked of them, a couple of things that the light bulb should go off, one is, “This is an opportunity for me to highlight what’s different about me.”
And if they haven’t talked about it elsewhere. [35:10]
They haven’t talked about elsewhere, or if they have, make sure I really want to emphasize this.
And go into more depth. [35:22]
Right. Go into a little bit more depth, or at least make sure you’ve highlighted and say, “I know I talked about this in my personal statement, but I really want it to hit the drive home that this is how I’m a different applicant this time around.” I think the other thing that question lends itself to is, I tell pre-meds all around the state and around the country, admissions committees are like cats and dogs. They like to be petted, they like to be stroked. They like to be told why is it that you love me? And so if you have a question like that, or I would say even anywhere in the secondary, one of the things that you absolutely have to do, and this gets back to what are some of the mistakes that maybe people make universally, so they don’t take the time to share with an admissions office and the committee, why us?
Why are you applying to it? I mean, I think that there’s too much advising out there that it’s based on someone’s academic metrics and they say, “Well, you’re competitive, but there’s a lot of better competitive applicants, unfortunately, because of your grades and your MCAT, and as such, you’re going to have to cast a really huge net.” I think that’s really bad advice. I think what needs to happen is a pre-med applicant needs to look at the package that they have, the portfolio they have, what is important to you?
What are you trying to accomplish in your career? Find those medical schools out there that you think have that similar value system, and instead of applying to 50, you apply to 20, or between 15 and 20. And you say, “I specifically applied to the College of Human Medicine because of these two reasons.” It sends a message to the committee that you have at least done your homework on us, and based on your life experiences that you’ve shared with us, I can see why it is that you’re interested in us, and I think that’s a big mistake that applicants don’t do. They don’t take the time to share, “Why is it that I specifically applied to Northwestern or University of Iowa?” They don’t take the time to do that, and I think that’s a mistake.
Great. Thank you so much. That was wonderful. [37:50]
Yeah. Well, it’s true.
So there’s a side of me that says, if you apply to 20 medical schools and you don’t get in, the likelihood that you would’ve gotten a bite from someone by applying to 40 or 60, I think is pretty small. And so if you’ve done your homework and you’ve selected, “These are the 20 schools that I think I have the best chance of getting in,” and you don’t, then that tells me that there’s something going on in that written application. Or if you did get an interview, something that happened in the interview or in the context of all of that together. And so I just think this idea of casting a huge net is not the best way to approach this. I think pre-med students will be much better off doing their homework leading up to an application cycle, “Which are the 20 schools that I think I have a competing chance with, and that I have something in common with,” and if you tell us that, I bet you might get a few more interviews than what you might have otherwise.
Great advice. Thank you so much. Speaking of the interviews, will your interviews be online next year, do you know? [39:31]
They’ll be virtual? [39:37]
They will stay online, yes. And they will stay that way until either someone above me tells me otherwise, or I come to a different conclusion, but for us, it’s all about an equity issue. So we understand that in the pre-pandemic when we had people travel to East Lansing and Grand Rapids for their interviews, that’s an expense, and that’s an expense that not everyone can prepare for. And I also understand having technological equipment may also be an obstacle for some, but it’s an easier piece, I think, to solve than, “Where am I going to come up with a thousand dollars to fly to East Lansing, Michigan and have two nights in a hotel or a rental car.
It makes sense. [40:27]
For us, it is.
Are you going to make any changes to the format? I know it’s a mixture of traditional one-on-one with MMI? [40:31]
Right now, we don’t anticipate making any changes to that framework. It’ll still be a 30 minute or so interview with a current medical student one-on-one, and then an eight station MMI.
What makes a great interview? [40:50]
I just think if someone is themselves and genuine, then it’s an easy process for people. I think when people try to be something that they’re not, I think that makes it hard. I will tell you, for us, we’re not trying to trip anybody up in any of our interviews. And I’m not saying that we’re looking for extroverts and people that can have an outgoing conversation with people, whether or not it’s over 30 minutes or over eight minutes, but I think, can you develop a rapport with someone and can you respond in a way that genuine reflects the lens in which you view the world around you? And I think that’s what really makes a great interview.
When does MSU typically stop sending out interview invitations? [41:45]
Yeah, great question. We tend to interview well into February, actually. On occasion, we will have a few March dates, but we do try hard to wrap up the general interview season in February. So I would say if the last week of February’s rolled around and you’ve not heard from us, you’re probably not going to get an interview. But I will say this much, we do give everyone the courtesy of a formal notification that if you did not get an interview, your application with us has ended.
No, that’s, I’m sure, appreciated by the applicants. Not knowing is worse than to know. [42:29]
Well, it is. And we try to let people know as those decisions are made. So we’ll have applicants that’ll apply early, and the one thing that I do tell people is that we will not give anyone formal notification of the end of an application at least until mid-October.
So that decision might get made before then, but from a standardization lens, people will not hear any earlier than mid-October.
How do you view prerequisites if they’re taking it at a community college, is that a negative? [43:11]
No. In fact, we actually look positively on that, not for the reason, maybe why you’re asking though. But I think I would say from the lens of higher ed, I mean, everyone’s got a different journey, has a different pathway to an end point. And for some, that means starting off at a two-year degree granting institution, and there’s lots of reasons why that happens. And I think if we’re going to respect the ideology of higher ed and a course of Introductory Biology at a community college versus one from a four-year institution, I think we need to look at that as being valid. Now, in the end, there is also a standardized test that pretty much everyone is making people take.
But I will say this much, if someone applies to us and they’ve had a circuitous pathway to a final degree, and it’s taken them seven years to get there because they did three years of community college while working full-time, and then another three years of at a four-year granting institution because they had to work part-time in order to get through that, and they have a MCAT score that indicates that they should be successful, then we’re cool with it. We like it. And again, I think it falls within our mission. We understand that people that come from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than others to return to those communities in which they grew up in and had disadvantaged commonality, and those are often healthcare resource challenged communities. And so some of our institutional relationships within the state of Michigan actually are formally with community colleges.
How do you view shadowing and virtual shadowing? [45:27]
I mean, I don’t think that they’re necessarily the same, but obviously in this most recent pandemic, people had to resort to doing very creative things. I’m hopeful that we’re starting to move out of a pandemic society to one that’s at least under control endemically, and so I’m hopeful that future applicants resort, I don’t want to say resort back, but at least return to an idea and the mindset that an actual in-person live experience is probably more insightful than one that is captured on a two-dimensional video screen. Because with shadowing, you’re hanging out with a healthcare provider, but you’re also given the opportunity to look around.
You look at waiting rooms, look at the staff, what are the roles that they play? You’re not going to see that from a virtual shadowing experience, and so I guess, it would also be remiss if I didn’t say shadowing is just one way in which you can get clinical experience. And I think there are a lot of other ways in which you can get meaningful clinical experiences. But do I think that the two of them are the same? I don’t. I think if your last resort is still shadowing, do it, but I think you’re going to, at least from this point moving forward, I think you’re going to have a hard time convincing an admissions committee that you’ve had the kind of meaningful clinical experiences, that they were all done online.
I’ve talked to some admissions professionals, committee members, and they basically say, “Shadowing is really something I want to see in an application.” And other admissions committee members say, “I’d much rather see you doing something as opposed to just watching. It’s passive.” Where do you stand on that? [47:11]
Well, we like both. Having said, I mean, I think that there is a sense that shadowing tends to be, more often than not, opportunities that are offered to people that have connections. It’s become much more challenging and hard for people, even with connections to get shadowing experiences, mainly because of HIPAA and some of the hoops that people that aren’t employed in an office or a healthcare environment have to negotiate with regards to those regulations. I think more often than not, our committee, I would say, tends to really appreciate more hands-on things. So things like nurses aides, EMT, volunteering in an emergency room.
I love when I see someone who’s got scribing. I mean, that tells me that not only do they have a good feel for what’s going on in a doctor-patient engagement, but if you can do that and get paid to do it at the same time, why wouldn’t you do that? I mean, I understand there’s this sense of volunteering and giving and that sort of thing, but I think our take on it is, where we really see value in volunteering is, are you willing to volunteer in a non-clinical environment? Because that actually tells us something about what might actually be going on in your heart. Anyone can volunteer in a medical field, I don’t want to say anyone, but volunteering in a clinically related environment, it’s a little self-serving because people know that, “I’ve got to get the clinical experiences under my belt, so I’m going to volunteer doing this.”
And again, I don’t want to badmouth that much at all, but I think that if all of your volunteering is clinically related and there isn’t that same sense of giving in a nonclinical related environment, it does give the impression that, you only have the volunteer as long as it meets their long-term goal or long-term need. And so my take on it is, I think my committee just would much rather see, “Do you have enough clinical experiences under your belt to at least have some reasonable idea of what you’re getting yourself into, whether or not it’s paid or volunteer.” But for that volunteer piece, man, if you can show that you’ve volunteered Habitat for Humanity at the local soup kitchen or an underserved healthcare facility, or you scoop the snow from the next door neighbor who is 80 years old and can’t afford to pay someone to do it, I mean, those are the sorts of things that I think really speak loudly about someone’s character that committees want to see.
Here’s a listener question, it was once sent to me a few months ago. In addition to being an Admissions Dean, you’re also a physician. So if you are a pre-med student, traditional or otherwise, planning to apply in 2024, 2025, what is the one thing you would want yourself to be doing to prepare yourself for medical school? What would you tell your younger self today? [50:30]
I think the younger self is, “Just really be sure that this is what you want to do.”
Really be sure because if it’s not, it can be a challenge to really find your niche in the healthcare world, and I’ll give you an example.
And this is me sharing a bit of my life. So I went to medical school, I got my degree at the University of Nebraska Medical Center back in 1993. I’m not sure that I had really vetted that career well enough beforehand to really have an idea of what I was asking myself to do, and it’s not that I think I necessarily picked the wrong career, but I’m not sure that I had a full appreciation of the life commitment that it takes to be a healthcare provider in a way that makes an impact in the world around you. Initially, I went into family medicine. I thought that that was where I had the best connection and personality fit and that sort of thing.
And about a year into my first year of residency, I started to question my decision. I wasn’t happy. There were things that I didn’t necessarily make the connection that I’d have to do a lot of in family medicine when my experience as a med student was, “I hate doing that stuff.” And so it was like, “Why didn’t I make that connection? I should have,” but I always knew I had to draw to delivering babies and going to the operating room. Unfortunately, the experiences that I had as a medical student didn’t necessarily reinforce my desire to pick that career, but it took family medicine for me to see people that had chosen those careers that were fulfilled. They were happy, they loved what they were doing. And I went, “Oh, you mean if I was to be an OB/GYN doc, then there’s a chance I could actually be really happy doing that?”
I think as a med student, I didn’t recognize how much I really had an affinity for that material, and I thought it was really fascinating. But I had some pretty toxic experiences as it related to some of those things, and it just wasn’t on my radar. But I tested it out again as a family medicine resident, and so about halfway through my family medicine residency, I made the decision to change specialties. But I talked with my program director and said, “I’m not leaving. I’m going to finish this out,” which I did. And so in my third year of residency, I reapplied for the match and was fortunate enough to rematch into an OB/GYN residency.
So I graduated from my family medicine program on a Friday night, I loaded the car and drove to Columbia, Missouri where I started my four-year OB/GYN residency. So I think part of that talking to your younger self is, make sure that this is really the right career and make sure that you pick a specialty, or an area within medicine that you’re going to get excited to get up and go to work every day, and that’s what that did for me in the end. And those are the lessons that I learned, that it may be hard to find the right space for you to make a contribution in healthcare, but take the time to do it. Be really thoughtful about it. Ask yourself why are you ruling some things out and other things in, and are you doing it for the right reasons?
What would you have liked me to ask you? [54:46]
Oh, are you going to ask me about SCOTUS?
Oh, yeah. Because you covered ChatGPT which is also a big topic in the admissions community.
Right now, the admissions community is on pins and needles about the anticipated Supreme Court ruling that is going to be released probably late May or sometime in June that has to do with affirmative action in admissions across the country. And I would say, and I’m saying that actually from a lens in which in Michigan, we’re a non-affirmative action state. We’re one of the nine that are non-affirmative action states. But even then, I think the potential exists that this ruling could even delineate and be more specific to what kinds of information are available to admissions, whether or not it’s part of a formal process or not, is that information going to be available on the front end, and two committees to make decisions? And I think the admissions communities, not only in medicine, but across the whole gamut of higher education are a bit on pins and needles right now about how this is all going to play out.
Will you be able to collect certain information? [56:21]
Here’s the thing, I think you’ll be able to collect it. You just won’t be able to see it until they matriculate.
Or you won’t be able to see it until the committee or whatever the process in place offers an acceptance, or the opposite if you offer a rejection, will you be able to see that information then? And I think that that has the admissions world really concerned because I do think that there are compelling arguments that justify the value of diversity within a student body that you just can’t incorporate in the same level in a curriculum. And the values of that I think are so beneficial to society in the long run that the idea that we will no longer be able to see that information and to help have that information at least be available to apply context to the story that someone is telling. Now, having said that, there’s also the side that will be First Amendment Free Speech Rights, and so will a student or an applicant with certain marginalized identities still be able to share that?
I am hopeful that that is the case. So I think my message to all of you pre-meds out there is, pay close attention to this. If on a common application you are allowed to share personal identities as it relates to demographic information, I would still encourage you to fill it out. And if you also identify in a community in which you believe society has discriminated against historically and ongoingly, figure out a way to share that if the SCOTUS decision allows you to do so. I think if you don’t, you’re making a big mistake.
Again, excellent advice.
Dr. Maurer, I think we’re almost out of time, maybe even over time. I want to thank you so much for joining me and sharing your expertise. You’ve been really generous and your answers have been phenomenal. Is there a URL that you’d like to share for Michigan State Universities Human College of Medicine? [58:26]
If anybody has questions or wants to learn more about MSU’s College of Human Medicine, just go to mdadmissions.msu.edu.
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