Please join me as I speak with Dr. Michael Ellison, Associate Dean for Admissions at Chicago Medical School at the Rosalind Franklin University. Dr. Ellison shares his insights on what makes Chicago Medical School unique, how to impress its admissions committee, and what all this information means for you as an applicant.
Thanks for joining me for this, the 544th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. I’d like to highlight for today’s listeners a wonderful resource when you’re invited to a medical school interview, and that is Accepted’s free download, The Ultimate Guide to Medical School Interview Success. In the guide, you will learn how to prepare for interviews (including those difficult questions), how to make sure your body language matches your intent, and proper interview follow-up. Download your complimentary copy today!
Now, let’s move into today’s interview. With a focus on interprofessionalism, the Chicago Medical School is one of five graduate schools in healthcare at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago.
I’m delighted to have as a return guest on Admissions Straight Talk, Dr. Michael Ellison, Associate Dean for Admissions at Chicago Medical School. Dr. Ellison earned his doctorate in educational leadership from Roosevelt University of Chicago. He has worked in higher education, and specifically in medical school admissions and administration, for decades.
Dr. Ellison, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk. Thank you so much for joining me today. [1:53]
Linda, it’s my pleasure to be with you again, and thank you for asking me to come back.
My pleasure. Can you give us an overview of the Chicago Medical School program focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:02]
Sure. I think the university itself is really focused and dedicated on improving healthcare outcomes for the patients that our future providers will provide. And in doing so, interprofessionalism is really a strong tenant for the university and for the medical school, and other programs as well. You mentioned about five colleges. Now, we have a sixth college, which is the College of Nursing, that have some entry-level programs for those who are seeking advanced degrees, and it is now an additional tool in our toolkit to help with interprofessionalism. And so you’ll see, again, students from the medical school taking courses with students from other health science programs, whether it be podiatry, pharmacy, physician assistant, path assistant, and then nursing.
And so when I talk to students, they certainly talk about their level of excitement of sitting in a class with a classmate who is in a different program and kind of learning from them and how they will be looking at the patient that will be a little different from the way that the medical physician will be looking at the patient and they feel that it’s very helpful for them. We are certainly moving into a society that it is… we’re more team-based and team-approached.
And so I think incorporating that into our learning structure, our learning environment is most helpful for our students. And so we continue to work on this interprofessionaism. Our students also work in the sim lab with students from other programs as well, so not only do they get to learn theory, collaboratively, they also get to do practical kinds of opportunities as well in terms of our simulation lab.
What’s new since we last spoke in 2021? Hopefully, the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, which was not the case then. [4:08]
Well, again, I just mentioned the new College of Nursing that is on board, so that is something that is new. The medical school itself is always reinventing itself in terms of how we can better service our students, and so we’ve made a lot of changes in our student affairs staffing. We brought on additional staff to help advise our medical students through all four years of their medical school experience.
We have learning communities at Chicago Medical School for the medical students that began their first year of med school, and they continue all the way through their fourth year, which gives them a smaller community to get to know. Because having 200 students in a class is pretty large, but having a smaller community that you really get to know well, we think it’s very helpful for students and getting them to feel connected to one another and connected to the medical school and university at large. Those are probably the things that are the newest things that are happening on campus.
In terms of what you want to see in applicants, is research a nice to have or really important for applicants when applying to Chicago Medical? [5:26]
So I think what we really want to see is individuals who truly have the motivation and desire to be a good physician, and that comes in a lot of different packages. So it may come in a package where a person has had a lot of experience with research. It may be an individual who has a lot of experience working in direct patient care. It could be someone who has been a community volunteer, an advocate, an individual who has done a lot with working with children or individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds or vulnerable populations.
We’re looking for candidates who truly want to do this. That they’re not looking at medicine as a nine-to-five kind of job or career. They’re looking at it in the sense of providing holistic medicine to the patient population they’re serving. Meaning that a physician has to also be resourceful in helping their patients with all the other needs that they may need, whether they need to see an optometrist or whether they need to see a social worker because they have some other challenges in their lives that may impact their ability for better care.
So it’s kind of hard to pinpoint one particular skill or characteristic that we’re looking for other than someone who is empathetic, want to be in the profession, willing to work long hours, willing to have good listening skills, and compassionate and thoughtful and someone who is willing to be a lifelong learner. So those… that’s what we’re looking for. Not much. Just a few things.
Is there any kind of clinical exposure that you prefer to see? And specifically, how do you look at shadowing or virtual shadowing? [7:18]
So when COVID hit us, we had to all pivot, and we were… unfortunately, many students were unable to actually get into organizations to do any shadowing or community service or volunteerism. Now that things are a little better, students have greater opportunities to get these experiences. We prefer that students have more of those clinical experiences that give them direct patient contact.
Shadowing is nice. You kind of get to see what a physician or a health provider does. You may be able to ask them questions about their lifestyle in those professions. But we really want someone to truly understand what is it going to be like to be a physician. What is it going to be like to work with people who are sick? We know that people, when they’re sick, they’re not always at their best. They don’t always feel well to speak to you in a very calm way.
So you got to be able to understand that when people are ill or frightened or scared because they don’t know what’s going on with them, that they may not be the most pleasant people. So having had some experience, whether it is working at a hospital or clinic, a nursing home, facility for individuals who may have mental health issues, it’s just a way of really helping the student to realize, “This is truly what I want to do.” And not invest four years in medical school and four years of medical school tuition to realize the time of graduation, “This is not what I want to do.”
Does Chicago Medical screen before sending out secondaries? [9:21]
No, thank you for the question. We do not. At this point, we send every student who completes an AMCAS application and indicate that they’re interested in Chicago Medical School secondary application.
So there’s no screening. What do you hope to learn from the secondary that you don’t learn from the primary? [9:43]
Well, the primary application provides a lot of information, but none of it is specific to the medical school that the applicant is applying to. And so we want to learn a little bit more about the applicant in terms of how do they see themselves fitting into our learning environment. What do they plan to do between the application period and the time that they hope to matriculate to medical school?
What have they learned about themselves in the last two, three years of their educational experience? And then how have they overcome any hardships or challenges or unexpected things that may have happened in life? One of the core competencies that AAMC shares with students about what makes a good physician is adaptability and flexibility. So we want to see if you have been able to adapt and if you are flexible, and if you are one of those individuals that realize that even as much as you plan, not every day will go as you plan.
Are you concerned at all about use of ChatGPT among applicants writing either the primary or secondary applications? [10:57]
Thank you for that question as well. I’ve certainly had conversations with other colleagues about it.
I only get nervous if people use the technology for the wrong reasons. I think technology is perfect when we use it for the right reasons. It’s bad when bad actors are using it and do things that are detrimental to our work and to society. I’m hoping that students will be honest with their work. That they will truly write their own personal statements to tell their story. We have to, I guess, be on the honor system that people are going to do the right thing. It is certainly a characteristic of a future physician or current physician is that they’re going to be truthful and honest and ethical.
And certainly, if you were using the ChatGPT to write your personal statement in its entirety, then you’re not being ethical because that’s someone else’s work. And so I would hope that maybe you’ll use it to maybe bounce a few ideas, but you really should write your statement that reflects your story, your journey. And again, keeping in mind that a physician holds the highest seat of ethical behavior than most other professions other than teachers as well, teachers and healthcare providers. We really count on you to be ethical and to do the right things.
Chicago Medical also uses the PREview exam from AAMC. What does that exam add to your insight into the applicant? And I believe you switched from CASPer? So the second question is, what does PREview offer that CASPer doesn’t offer? [12:44]
We did switch from CASPer to the PREview exam. We don’t require the PREview exam at this point. We’re using it currently for research purposes to see if it does add any value to our assessment of the candidate. The purpose of the PREview exam, as well as CASPer, is to kind of help medical schools to determine the characteristics that a student may bring to the class in terms of their ability to problem solve, to work collaboratively, to be a team player, and those sorts of things and to be ethical. So again, we’re always looking at tools that will help us better identify those students, those candidates who will align more with our institution.
So that’s one of the reasons we switched to PREview, and we’re using it again in a research capacity at this point in time to see if it gives us any additional data that would help us better select students who align with our mission, vision, and values. We moved a little bit away from CASPer because CASPer was truly initially designed for businesses and not necessarily for education. And we don’t know if it gave us the data that we thought we needed to help make decisions on who would be better aligned with our mission. So we’re going to try PREview and we’ll see what happens.
Per the MSAR, Chicago Medical received a total of, I think, 11,382 applications. [14:28]
That was the previous year.
That was the previous cycle. [14:39]
So this current cycle we received nearly 10,000 applications.
That’s still a lot of applications. [14:43]
A lot of applications for 200 seats.
And I assume you interviewed around 800 again. [14:48]
We interviewed a little less than 800 this past cycle. We interviewed about 750.
How do you get from 10,000 to 750? [14:57]
It’s hard work, Linda.
I’m sure it is.
My hair it turns grayer every day, every cycle. It is a very challenging task for any of the medical schools out there. So It’s not just difficult for Chicago Medical School. But again, we try to do a holistic approach to reviewing applicant files and trying to identify those applicants who truly align with the mission of Chicago Medical School. Our Dean, Dr. Chatterjee, always says that we are a community-based, community-engaged medical school. And that’s certainly our focus is to improve healthcare outcomes of the patient populations that we serve and the communities in which we work.
And so we really try to identify those candidates out of that large number who truly have a desire to work in community-based medicine to want to improve healthcare outcomes for vulnerable populations, who have an interest in giving back to communities that may be underserved or underinsured, for communities that may be rural, small communities, even large communities. So we want to make sure that we’re looking at students who truly have that interest. Because we are a community-based medical school, we are not connected to one single academic health system. Our students are going to get a wonderful education from a variety of different healthcare settings. We partner with about 28 different hospitals and health systems.
So our students will get a vast experience of working with these different patient populations, individuals who may be coming from very affluent communities to those who may be coming from very economically deprived, depressed communities. So they get to see everything and then are in a better position to choose what is it that they want to focus their careers on later when they finish medical school.
What advice do you have for applicants, especially those who come from underrepresented backgrounds in medicine, as they write their essays, given both your commitment to serving the underserved and the recent Supreme Court decision? [17:07]
Tell your story.
Tell the story of how your situation may have been impacted by your lived experiences. You have to tell people more than that, “I’m African American, or I’m Latino.” You have to tell how you were impacted by being from a community that historically has been disadvantaged. Students themselves, people themselves aren’t disadvantaged. We just put labels on people. Many times that has no bearing on who they are and what they are capable of doing. But you have to tell your story. You have to tell the story that will help the school the admissions committee to understand your true motivation for wanting to be a physician.
How you will contribute to, again, improving healthcare outcomes and providing better care to the patient population that you’ll serve. I would give them the advice as to work hard. I just met with a group of students earlier this week, and I’m really trying very hard to get students to realize that asking for help seeking help is not a weakness. That’s a strength. I think, in our educational system, we have done such a disadvantage to our learners because we made them learn as independent people and not working collaboratively. Then we send you to college, and so now we want you to work collaboratively.
We want you to work in teams and groups, and we find it difficult because someone isn’t going to carry their weight or someone is more competitive than the next. And, “I don’t want to share because you’re going to be higher than I am or you’re going to get a better grade than me,” and that’s not what medicine is all about. Medicine is about sharing and working collaboratively. And so if I had to give students advice, I would say, “Learn to work collaboratively. There’s a lot of knowledge out here that people expect you to know. You can’t always digest and learn everything that you might need to know by yourself.
And so why not join in with other individuals who may be stronger in a topic area than you are, and you help them with areas that they may not be as strong.” And so I would just say, “Be collaborative, ask questions, ask for help, talk to your professors during] office hours, participate in study groups whether they’re single study groups or large study groups, look at all the resources that may be available. But if you’re going to look at resources, you got to be able to determine the resources that are really good resources from those that are not so good. So you got to put your critical thinking skills in place that you’re not looking at information that is not evidence-based.”
One comment you made in responding to this question was that the person coming from an underrepresented background can’t just say, “I had this hardship, or I had that hardship.” That person has to also say, “How are you a different person as a result of that experience? How has it influenced your interest in medicine?”
I would add to that any experience you write about in your medical school’s personal, not just personal statement, but application, you should kind of bring in why is it included. Why is it important for the medical school to know it? So I think it’s excellent advice. I just want to kind of build on it a little bit because I think It’s absolutely critical. It’s not just a matter of checking boxes and, “I did this many hours of that and that many hours of that.” It’s like, so what? [20:13]
Absolutely. The checkbox phenomenon should end, and we should be doing things because, one, we genuinely want to do them, and that we have a passion for the work that we’re doing. And honestly, Linda, when you read an application for me and I’m sure many of my colleagues, you can feel the passion that applicants are bringing to their application just from the way that they’re describing their experiences. And it’s always amazing to read an application when you can feel the passion and compassion that that person has for the work that they’ve done.
I just spoke with the candidate last week who has been working with individuals who have ability issues. And the person is nonverbal, and you could hear in her explanation and about the work that she’s doing how she’s excited about it and realized that this is a population that we leave behind that’s hidden, who aren’t given the opportunities to fully participate in life because of a life-altering situation. And that we need to be more mindful of individuals who are in our community that may be different, but doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of learning and loving and enjoying life. And so we-
And contributing. [22:34]
Absolutely. And so we can pick those things up and how an applicant writes that personal statement or includes that in their secondary application. And clearly, if the interview day, you get an opportunity to talk to a candidate, and they start talking about their experiences, and you see the excitement that come across their face when they start describing the things that they’ve been engaged in. It’s very powerful.
Speaking of the interview day, what are you planning for the interview day for the upcoming application cycle? [23:01]
Well, we are one of the schools that do MMIs. And we still are looking to assess one’s ability to communicate, to think quickly on your feet, to be able to problem solve, be able to see things from multiple vantage points and to be able to share your thoughts about whatever the scenario or question is.
Is the MMI online or is it in person? [23:31]
We do virtual interviews.
And so our interview day is about five hours, five or six hours. I can’t remember. We start at nine in the morning and end at two. Two hours of that is us doing MMIs for a group of 36 per day, and then for the remainder of the day, they get a chance to chat with me, and I get a chance to chat with the interviewees.
We provide information about financial aid, talk about our student services, our student well-being programs. We have someone talk about the curriculum from first year through fourth year. So we get… I tell students the interview day is twofold. We are interviewing them, but they’re also interviewing us because, again, they have to have information to be able to decide if we’re going to be a good fit for them and vice versa.
I always ask this question, and I’ll tell you after you answer it why I ask it. What is the latest that someone can expect in an interview invitation from Chicago Medical? [24:26]
Yeah. Our deadline date for a student submitting their primary application is November 1st, followed by a December 1st deadline for their supplemental. We invite applicants as late as March to interview. So we hope that students are applying early in the cycle.
But for the student who may have had some challenges getting their resources together or getting enough people to write them letters of recommendation. We know that things happen that prevent people from always submitting an application at the beginning of the cycle. So if you complete an application by November 1st, there is still a possibility that you could be invited for an interview. We are on rolling admissions.
And I might’ve told you this last time, and listeners have heard me say this many times. I ask this question, and I’m asking it of every medical school admissions director I interview because there’s this meme out there that, “If you don’t have an interview invitation by Thanksgiving, you can forget it. You’re rejected.” And every admissions director says, “That’s not true.” So I keep asking, and someday, hopefully, the meme will go away.
What is the common mistake you see applicants make during the application process? And in this case, I mean the written portion of the application? [25:27]
So typically, on the secondary application, sometimes individuals will cut and paste, and they will leave information maybe about a different school that they’re applying to that’s a part of the application that… for my school.
And I know it’s not intentional, but it sends a signal that you aren’t paying attention, and as a physician, details are very important. And so that’s one mistake that I see. This year, I saw an applicant not complete two of the secondary essay questions. I’m not sure why. I think we made a call to see if it was just a technical glitch or something. But you should definitely complete the entire application or not submit it.
It was very nice that you called. I mean, many schools would just have said, “Okay, forget it.”
What is a common mistake that you see in the MMIs or on the interview day? [26:48]
Being a person of many years of experience, I see students have an enormous amount of anxiety and nervousness. And we try our best to share with students that, “You know, a little anxiety, a little nervousness is okay, but you have worked so very hard to get to this point of your journey to becoming a physician. You can’t allow your nerves or anxiety to not let you perform at your best. And this is your time to chat. So it’s not a time to be an introvert.” People don’t believe this, Linda, but I tell people all the time, “I’m an introvert, but I can’t do my job if I don’t talk.”
And so my friends laugh at this too, but it’s true. I would prefer to just sit in the back of the room and be quiet and observe. But, if you’re interviewing, you can’t sit in the back of the room. You can’t observe because someone is assessing, one, your ability to communicate. And if you don’t talk, they can’t assess because that’s a big part of assessing one’s communication. And then another part of that is your nonverbal communication. Are you giving good eye contact? Are you smiling or frowning, or are you distracted by something else that’s going on?
So I would say that’s probably the biggest thing I see on MMI day or interview days is students are just so anxious and so nervous that they don’t always convey their best selves. And we talk to our interviewers, particularly our first interview day was this Tuesday, and we said to all of the interviewers, “Be mindful that this may be the first interview day for many of the candidates. Many of them will be nervous, and we have to help them feel comfortable to be able to be their authentic selves.” And we certainly try to make that happen.
Well, that’s very understanding. And again, I guess if you want to have empathetic, compassionate people in your program it pays for you to also be empathic and compassionate, and that’s definitely the attitude you’re conveying. [29:01]
So, along those lines, it is now September. This interview will probably air in early October, and the Chicago Medical School application, as you just said, the primary is due by November 1st, and I think the secondary by December 1st. If applicants submit now between now and those deadlines or between whenever the application… the interview airs and your deadlines, do they still have a chance? Are their chances distinctly lower than if they had applied in June or July? [29:18]
I would probably say I think you have a better chance applying early in the cycle. I would certainly encourage students to apply early in the cycle. But again, we know that because of life, everyone is not always able to do that.
I do think that individuals who apply later will still have a chance. Now, whether they’ll have a greater chance, I don’t know. Because, personally, I think at the beginning of the cycle, members of the admissions committee are fresh. They’re looking at applications for the first time. They’ve had the summer to kind of take a break.
And then, as the season progresses, you can… you have read a number of applications, and so now people may be a little bit more… they may be looking for a little bit more than they did at the beginning of the cycle. Because, again, we can only invite so many people. And at some point, you have to say no to a lot of candidates who are truly well-prepared and will make great physicians. But I think they have a greater chance earlier in the cycle.
I sometimes tell people who ask me about applying late in the cycle, “Well, if you don’t apply, you have zero chance of acceptance”. If you wait, you would start medical school a year later. So it depends how much you value some chance of acceptance earlier over a less chance of rejection. It’s a very personal decision basically. [30:53]
And we just don’t know.
It’s kind of like the lottery. You play it in hopes of winning. And sometimes, you win, and sometimes you don’t.
I think the odds are a little bit better for acceptance to medical school than lottery. [31:32]
I would agree. I would agree with you but, you know it’s a gamble.
And if you applied late and you didn’t get in, then you’re a re-applicant. Do you have any advice for re-applicants to Chicago Medical? [31:43]
Yeah, I tell students… I meet with students who may have been unsuccessful in the application year that they applied initially. Sometimes it’s just timing. Other times, it could be little things that you need to strengthen in your application. Maybe you didn’t demonstrate enough experiences with healthcare, or you didn’t have enough hours in community service or evidence working with other… with individuals who need help. It could be that your test scores may have just been on the cusp, and one more score higher would just push you over.
It could be that you needed grades from your last semester to really improve your GPA. So it may be a combination of things. Again, because all the medical schools, I won’t speak for my colleagues, but we all get more applications than we have seats for. And clearly there are going to be individuals who I said… as I said before, are well-qualified to go to med school but just for whatever reason didn’t get… make the cut that year. And I had counsel and worked with many students who have been re-applicants who got in the second year.
And some may have applied a third year, and they got in. So again, it just really depends on you and your motivation for wanting to do this and your sticktuitiveness. I think if you are going to be a re-applicant, I think you really need to look at your application and make sure that you are changing your application to show the different things that you’ve done since the last time that you applied to medical school as well.
What advice would you give to med school applicants, thinking ahead in planning to apply summer 2024 or even summer 2025? [33:36]
I would say that to the applicants is to slow down, enjoy the process, make sure that when you do apply that you have all of the pieces in place that you need to make you a competitive applicant so that you’ve completed your prerequisites. You prepared to take the MCAT exam. You got the score that you think you need to have on the MCAT. You have the GPA. You have the experiences that you feel people are going to be looking for, and that you are mentally ready to go to medical school. And not to compare yourself to your peers or your classmates because everyone’s journey to medicine looks different.
And I think, a lot of times, students are disappointed because they’re looking at their classmate who may have been accepted early and they haven’t gotten even the first invitation to interview. Well, that’s that person’s journey. That’s not your journey. And I’ve been trying to share with students that, “When it’s your time, it will happen if you do all of the work. You got to do the work now.” And so, for some candidates, coming directly out of college is not their journey to get them to med school. We’ve had students who’ve had maybe four years gap years before they applied to come to med school.
And recently, there’ve been individuals who have had a career, and now it’s their time, and they’ve applied, interviewed, and have been accepted. So my advice would be is work as hard as you can, do all the things that are necessary for you to be a good applicant. Truly know that this is what you want to do. And then just follow your passion and don’t assess yourself by your father, your mother, your brother, your sister. Do it because this is you, and this is your journey.
Or the people in Reddit or Student Doctor Network. [36:01]
Dr. Barry Rothman, who used to be head of Cal State’s San Francisco’s Post-Bac programs, I think he founded several of those programs and is currently an Accepted consultant. He frequently says, “The fastest way to medical school is slowly.” [36:06]
I loved your answer. What would you have liked me to ask you? [36:26]
I’ve sort of been thinking, what advice would you give me as a dean of admissions on this process?
You should have sent me that ahead of time. I would’ve thought about it. What would I give… advice would I give you? I love the understanding and the compassionate approach that you’re taking to the process. At the same time, I think that the students have to understand that they’re entering a difficult, demanding, incredibly rewarding profession if it’s the one they choose. It’s not for everybody, obviously. I don’t think I would like it too much, actually. And as you have said, they have to want it.
But I think they have to understand that there are going to be some real standards that they’re going to have to meet. Compassion, empathy is wonderful, but I don’t care about that if I’m sick, I want somebody who’s going to make me better and is going to have the skills to perhaps do surgery and do it well so that I survive the surgery and come out better than I was before without too much pain, preferably. So I think that would be kind of one thing that I would say. But I wish you would’ve given me some chance to think about it. I’ll think about it. I’ll email you if I think of something. [36:43]
Well, as you were giving your response, the one word that came to me is excellence.
Is that you really need to be excellent in everything that you do.
And it includes the science. It includes the interpersonal. Absolutely. [38:13]
There’ve been some family situations where one family member is facing some major surgery next week and then some chronic stuff. And I’m thinking about the different medical people that I’ve interacted with or this family member has told me about the person she’s interacting with. It makes such an enormous difference. Yes, you want the skill. You want the scientific knowledge. You want all the technical stuff, but it is all… but the interhuman interaction, the compassion, as you said, the empathy, that also is super important when you’re sick.
We, at one point, had a young child who was very sick, and I remember the nurses, I mean, they were battle-hardened. You try and get a… you have to stick kids, poke kids. They’re tough. But they also had to deal with parents that were under enormous, enormous stress. And sometimes, they’d be yelling at them or something. But they were basically nice, decent people, just people under enormous, enormous stress.
There was one really lovely couple, and a leak sprung in their child’s room from the ceiling above. The kid was immunocompromised and ill. I mean, he did okay. He did fine. He survived. He recovered, but they got really upset. And otherwise, you meet them, they were the most lovely people. They were just stressed. [38:19]
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that’s… what I think students have to understand, as you indicated, that people’s personalities change when they’re under stress, and it’s our role or their role to kind of keep that in mind and to stay even-tempered and to say, “Treat the patient like you would want someone to treat your loved one.”
And many times I’ve interviewed medical school admissions directors, and they’ve said, “When we’re interviewing a medical school applicant, we’re thinking, ‘Would we want you treating our mother, father, sister, child, spouse, whatever it is?'” So I think that, again, it’s a combination. I want somebody treating me or my relative who’s definitely got the technical skills but also is a decent human being and whom I can talk to. [40:10]
It was an interesting response to my question. I’ve never had that response. So thank you.
I think we’re almost out of time, and I want to thank you so much for joining me and sharing your enormous expertise and experience and wisdom because you really have shared a lot. I’ll include the URL for Chicago Medical School in the show notes. So again, thank you very much for coming.
It’s been my pleasure, Linda. And thank you very much, and I wish you a very productive academic year.
- Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University
- The Ultimate Guide to Medical School Interview Success
- Are You Ready for Medical School? (Accepted’s Med School Admissions Quiz)
- Tufts University School of Medicine Secondary Application Essay Tips [2023-2024]
- How to Get Into MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine – podcast Episode 537
- What Med School Applicants Must Know About Johns Hopkins – podcast Episode 533
- Get Accepted to Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine – podcast Episode 530
- How to Apply Successfully to Med School from Postbac Programs – -podcast Episode 526
How to Get Accepted to Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin [Episode 438]
What makes Chicago Medical School unique, and how to wow its adcom with your application [Show summary]
Dr. Michael Ellison, Associate Dean for Admissions at Chicago Medical School, describes how the school trains students from all backgrounds to be thoughtful and dynamic healthcare leaders. He shares his advice for students looking to pursue medical careers and to be admitted to the program.
What CMS’s emphasis on interprofessionalism means for applicants [Show notes]
Before we meet our guest today, I want to invite you to Accepted’s next med school admissions webinar, which will actually be a Q&A. The topic – drum roll – is Got Interviews: What if I’m Not Invited to Interview?, a live Q&A where I will be joined by Dr. Herman Gordon, former chair of the University of Arizona medical school’s admissions committee, and Dr. Barry Rothman, founder and former director of several postbac programs at San Francisco State. The Q&A is on October 6th, that’s tomorrow, at 4:00 PM Pacific/7:00 PM Eastern.
If you haven’t received an interview invitation yet, during the Q&A you can share your concerns, and we’ll share our suggestions from our collective decades of experience in medical school admissions. Save your seat for free!
Now, let’s move on to today’s interview. With a focus on interprofessionalism, the Chicago Medical School is one of five graduate schools in healthcare at Rosalind Franklin University of Chicago. It also has one of the larger MD programs in the United States, and I’m delighted to have on Admissions Straight Talk, Dr. Michael Ellison, Associate Dean for Admissions at Chicago Medical School. Dr. Ellison earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership from the Roosevelt University of Chicago. He has worked in higher education and specifically in medical school admissions and administration for decades. Dr. Ellison, welcome to Admission Straight Talk.
Can you give us an overview of the Chicago Medical School program, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:13]
Well, Chicago Medical School is a commuter based medical school. We serve a variety of patient populations, from those who are from rural communities, urban settings, suburban settings, individuals who may be coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, all the way to those people who may have more privilege and resources. We really want to make sure that we are training physicians who are going to have a broad-based education. Those individuals will have opportunities and experience with treating a wide variety of patient populations and individuals who may be coming from various backgrounds.
Rosalind Franklin seems very focused on interprofessionalism and the stated vision is “To be the premier interprofessional health sciences university.” Could you define or describe interprofessionalism? How does it manifest itself in the medical school curriculum? [3:01]
Well, we realize that to provide the best patient care, it takes a team approach and the physician is one part of the team, but the nurses and the pharmacist and the other health science individuals who are working as a part of that team help to provide the best patient care and to improve those patient outcomes.
A part of what we do here at Chicago Medical School is to incorporate these experiences in what we do as it relates to students from the various programs taking similar classes, working on similar cases. We look at how they would assist each other in those healthcare settings and how important those roles are in helping to improve the outcomes of the patient.
You will see our students interfacing in some of the classes that they take together. You’ll see them interfacing in some of the clinical experiences that they have, and you’ll also see them interfacing in some of the social and community-based outreach that we do here at the medical school, in the university.
How has COVID affected the curriculum and experience at Chicago Medical? [4:28]
Like everyone, we’ve had to do things a little differently. We’ve used hybrid methods of getting the curriculum to our students so some of the coursework has been delivered virtually. We’ve had small group settings. We’ve made arrangements that we could bring students in for lab work. This year everyone’s back on campus, and we are doing everything face-to-face. We’re also planning, should we have to go back to remote learning, but we’ve learned some lessons from the first year in terms of how to do it better virtually. Virtual, I think, has impacted us all in a way that has made us better in how we’re delivering instruction to our students.
Are you going to keep any virtual elements in the curriculum? [5:26]
I can’t answer that because I’m not responsible for curriculum, but I would say that from the admissions side of things, we’re certainly looking at how we may be able to incorporate both in-person and virtual experiences forthcoming.
A couple of medical schools have gone MCAT optional. In other graduate studies, there has been a broadening of acceptable tests and in some cases, widespread test waivers. Is there any intention or consideration of waiving the MCAT? [5:52]
There has been no deliberate conversation at this point about eliminating the MCAT from our way of assessing candidates. We are certainly doing things in a more holistic approach, where the MCAT is not the be-all to whether or not a student is going to be admitted to the program. We’re certainly looking at a student’s experiences and attributes and how they’re going to be able to contribute to the diversity of the class and what they’re going to bring to the learning environment as a part of the way that we are looking and assessing candidates we want to admit to the medical school.
Do you accept applicants from postbac programs? [6:52]
We do. We’re very fortunate to have a couple of pathway programs of our own here at Chicago Medical School, but we have accepted students from other pathway and pipeline programs throughout the country. We know that everyone’s start and journey to medicine is different so we really try to look at that holistically as we bring in a class of diverse candidates so that our students participating in the program can also learn from each other and their experiences.
Some schools really want research from applicants. For some schools, it’s nice to have. For other schools it’s really irrelevant in terms of the evaluation process. Where does Chicago Medical stand on that continuum? [7:29]
We don’t require that students have research experiences as a part of their portfolio. We’re always excited when we see students who have an interest in research. We have a dynamic team of faculty who are conducting research here on campus and always looking for students who have an interest in research, but it is not a part of our portfolio requiring students to have a research experience or background. We do think that research is very important to medicine. And so those applicants who have that interest will be able to pursue it here, but it is not a requirement.
Do you screen before sending out secondaries? Or are secondaries sent out automatically to everybody? [8:25]
We have a process right now to send out secondaries to everyone that has submitted an AMCAS application that is completed and verified.
What do you hope to learn from the secondary that you don’t learn from the primary? [8:48]
Well, the primary application goes to all of the medical schools that the students select, but the secondary application allows us to ask questions that are specific to us. We will want to see things about a person’s interest in diversity and working with communities that are underserved or those who may be from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to see if students truly have a passion for service and want to work with individuals who may be different from themselves.
We’re also looking to see their resilience and their ability to work collaboratively in a team, because medicine is a team approach. We want to know that people are going to be culturally sensitive to their patients and bring in that personality that will make a patient feel comfortable about sharing those things that they may be a little nervous about sharing with a stranger.
What does the Casper add to your insight into an applicant? [9:56]
Well, right now, we don’t use the Casper to make admissions decisions, but we are still collecting the information to see how it could better help us to assess candidates. We’re looking at it in a variety of ways to determine if it’s really something that we want to use to make decisions, or if information about decisions of applicants who we think are going to be a better fit for us.
The most recent MSAR says that Chicago Medical received 11,893 applications, interviewed 823, and matriculated only 189. So the big cut occurs between the secondary and the interviews. How do you whittle it down? What makes an applicant jump off in a positive way and join that very fortunate, roughly 7% of applicants who are invited to interview? [10:42]
As you probably know from any of my other colleagues across the country, this is a challenging task for us. I think I could speak for the committee when I say it’s really those personal statements and the letters of recommendation and the secondary application. Those are the things that pop out for me. When I can read a personal statement and I can see the journey that the applicant has taken to get them to where they are today, that’s very important. When I could see or feel their passion for medicine, when I could see their desire to really want to improve healthcare outcomes for people, for those individuals who have had hardships and challenges and barriers in life and they’ve overcome those, those are the things that are very pressing for me.
But also for those students who may not have had unfortunate life circumstances too, they add something to our class as well. So having, again, a very diverse class of students, I think everyone benefits from that.
As we are reviewing applicant files, we’re looking for those key touch points and attributes that say that this is how the person can help improve our educational outcomes here at the medical school, but also improve the profession of medicine in producing doctors who are going to be compassionate and caring about the patients that they are serving.
Also keeping in mind that we live in a global society and there are so many different cultures and backgrounds. Seeing applicants that are coming from different backgrounds can only enrich the educational experience of our students. It’s challenging, but it’s exciting when you run across those total packages that you’re just excited to want to meet those students via interview and hope that they will see the significance that Chicago Medical School has with helping them to become the doctors that they want to be.
What kind of interview day can invited applicants expect? [13:50]
We have a very robust interview day, considering it’s still virtual. I can’t wait till we go back to in-person interviewing because I really love to see and interact with the applicants face-to-face. But I think we’re doing our very best to make it as engaging as we possibly can.
Our interview day consists of the office of admissions welcoming the entire group. I will speak with every group of applicants and share with them the expectations of the day and answer any questions they may have. Our Dean of Student Affairs will also meet with the candidates during the day. We’ll talk about student life here, we’ll answer any questions they may have about support services and programs in place at the medical school. Then we’ll talk about the curriculum, both the first and second year curriculum, and then third and fourth year curriculum when they’re doing most of their clinical rotations.
And then of course, the day could not end without having them talk with students. Students are the prime reason, I think, for the interview day and for the interviewee to have an opportunity to engage with our students. So we’ll have a student panel who will certainly consist of students from M1, M2, and M3 year to be able to share their experience and answer any questions with applicants.
Then at the end of the day, we’ll do a wrap up. We’ll ask if there are any questions, and we will wish them the very best as they go through this process. One thing that we’re doing new this year, this evening, as a matter of fact, we’re having a meet and greet with students prior to next week’s interview. We really want to make sure that the students have a very positive experience, that their questions are answered, and that they feel that this will be a good fit for them here at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University.
Is the interview a traditional one-on-one? Is it one-on-two or three? Is it multiple mini interviews? [15:48]
We’re doing multiple mini interviews. There are seven stations and students will get an opportunity to express their thoughts with seven different individuals. If you think that you may have not done such a great job in one of the interviews, you have six more interviews to go through where people will be able to find those positive attributes and experiences that you will bring to the medical school. The interviews are with faculty, staff and students.
How does Chicago Medical School look at update letters at any point in the process, before interview, after interview, if wait listed? [16:55]
Well, I would say that because of the volume of materials that we receive, we do not encourage updates. We do take everything into consideration that has been submitted with their primary application, because they do get an opportunity in the primary application to talk about future activities that they will be involved in. One of the things that I will certainly talk with students during the interview day is the expectation of when you will hear from us and hopefully help manage that. The one thing that I’m most pleased about is that we have a system where students can check in to see updates on where they are, and we’re working very hard to make sure that we get information out to students this year within four to six weeks after interviewing, if not sooner.
What is the latest that someone could expect an interview invitation from Chicago Medical? [18:05]
Well, we interview up and through the end of March. Our last day for the AMCAS application is November 1st and our last interview day is March 17th so it’s at least a few weeks. I would say the latest applicant would probably be receiving an invitation the first week of March or last week of February.
Is there any kind of clinical exposure or experience that you prefer to see in applicants or is there any kind of clinical experience that is not so valuable, in your opinion? What about virtual shadowing? Because many shadowing opportunities have evaporated. What is your take on that? [18:48]
Well, COVID has certainly changed the complexity of how things can be done so we’re trying to be very flexible in how we look at and assess the opportunities that students may have over this period. We really want to make sure that students understand what the practice of medicine is all about and to understand that there is a lot of hard work coming through this journey. We want to make sure that you’ve had an opportunity to maybe shadow, maybe do some patient contact.
I’m a premed, former premed advisor as well, and sometimes students would say to me, “I want to be a pediatrician” and I would look at their application prior and wouldn’t see anything on their application that says that they would like to or have worked with children. So, how did this come about and where’s the evidence that you want to do this?
I think our admissions committee, or admissions committees probably all over, want to make sure that you’ve had an opportunity to spend some time in the hospital to see how it is to work with people who are ill and sick and may not always be at their best and may not always look their best and may not always smell their best. For us to be able to know that you’ve had some experience or exposure gives us an idea that you’re not going to go through the first year and then during the third year say, “Oh, this is not what I want to do. This is not what I thought it was all about.” We want to make sure that you’ve had exposure to health careers, whether it’s working as a CNA, EMT, etc. You may just be a transporter or a volunteer. You may be doing scribing and you may be doing some shadowing.
I always tell students, “I want to see that you’re doing something that shows you are giving to another person.” Sometimes when you’re shadowing, you’re just sitting and observing something. I want to see you doing something. The second thing is service to others. Are you providing service to people in the community, to people who don’t look like you, to people who may be struggling and suffering?
I think medicine is one of those professions that’s always giving. We want to see that that is something that is innate. We can’t teach you to be a giving person. We can’t teach you to be compassionate. That’s something you have to bring with you.
Is virtual shadowing something that you would discourage, or would you just encourage applicants to try to get something in addition to whatever virtual shadowing experience they may be getting? [22:06]
I would encourage them to try and get something additional. Again, one of the things that I do when I speak to undergrads is to say, don’t wait until your fourth year to start this, start in your freshman year, and it gives you four years to build this portfolio of service to healthcare and to community, that will give you ample time and ample hours to be able to have a sufficient number of experiences.
But I would encourage them to seek out additional opportunities if available. If they’re not able to get these opportunities, they should be using the personal statement or the secondary essays to explain why they were unable in order to help us to understand where there may have been some barriers or problems.
What is a common mistake you see applicants making during the application process, at any point? [23:12]
Applying late in the cycle. Copying and pasting from their original secondary application to other applications without really looking at the mission and vision and core values of the institution that they are applying to, particularly for the secondary applications. I think that’s very, very important. Another thing that I see is sometimes not utilizing their pre-health advisors or their academic advisors in their undergraduate or post-bacc programs to assist them with how they’re completing their application. What’s the most important experience for you within the experience section and why is it that? Are you giving the admissions committee members the evidence that tells us about your compassion and how you’ve grown and your ability to work collaboratively and your leadership skills? Those are things that sometimes I see in some of the applications that I review.
How do you view applicants with an academic infraction or perhaps a criminal record? Do either of these mistakes mean they can’t get in? What are you looking for if you are accepting? [24:37]
I’m one of those individuals who believes, particularly if you’re a first-generation student going to college, there are many things you may not know as you enter your college life. And so your freshman year, you’re making all these adjustments. Maybe if you go away to school, you’re adjusting to living away from home. There’s no parent looking over your shoulders every hour. You have the flexibility to get up and go to class or not go to class. Sometimes, you make a few mistakes along the way in your freshman year. We expect to see that in an applicant who may have experienced those growing up pains of moving away from home. We don’t expect to see that in a junior or senior. If you’re going to make your mistakes, make them early.
Academic infractions are not the end of the world, particularly if you’ve been able to redeem yourself. The criminal kinds of incidents may take on a different flavor. It really depends upon the criminal action. We certainly don’t want to admit any student that we can’t get licensed. That would be a horrific thing to do, to have a student invest in the educational expense of a four-year medical school to only learn that we can’t license them. We look at those situations on a case-by-case scenario, and we determine whether or not this is a student that we will be able to assist.
You mentioned that with academic infractions in particular, you want to see some redemption, if you will. What kind of redemption are you looking for? [26:57]
I’ve seen some students who had a very poor academic record their first semester of college. They barely made a 1.5 GPA, but the next semester they were back on their game and had improved all of their coursework and now had a GPA well over 3.0, and sustained that GPA going forward. That’s the kind of evidence I think we would be looking for, making sure that you’re not withdrawing from classes every term, or you have this up and down pattern. We want to make sure that the pattern is either stable or that it’s going up.
What advice would you have for applicants who had a dip in grades or had to drop out of school because of an emotional issue? [27:58]
I think we’re finally getting to a point in our society that we realize that mental health is something that impacts many of us. One of the things many medical schools are doing, including Chicago Medical School, is really trying to create this balance between wellness and learning. As professionals, we’re also trying to find this balance between work and life.
We’re certainly realizing that students may have some times in their lives where they may have to postpone their learning, to take a break and to get things under control, so that’s really not a problem. It’s making sure that you are taking good care of yourself, not only your physical but also your mental wellbeing. We want you to be at your best when you come to medical school so preparing and taking care of that ahead of time is a plus for the applicant.
What is your perspective on taking gap/growth years? [29:17]
A hundred years ago when I went to college, there was no conversation about gap years. I think I would have benefited greatly from a gap year, because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be. I just knew that my family said, “You’re going to go to college.” And I just said, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to do.” It worked out for me, I’m very fortunate.
But for students who have the opportunity – take a gap year to do research or to enhance your application so you’re more competitive candidates. Obtain that greater experience working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds or individuals who may have special needs. Maybe you have other special interests and you want to pursue those first.
I had a student many years ago when I was a premed advisor who chose to be an art major first and then came back and did his prerequisite courses to go to dental school. I was so amazed by that because he was doing something that he truly had a passion for first and then he combined his love for dentistry with his art. What a wonderful way of doing that. I think for some students, they may need a gap year to fill in those blanks and to maybe mature a little bit more and to become more self reflective of what it is that’s important to them and the legacy they want to really leave to the world.
What advice do you have for medical school applicants? Not so much the ones in the thick of it now, but for the ones thinking ahead and planning to apply next summer or the following summer, or sometime in the future? [32:19]
I would encourage students to take a look at the AAMC’s website for students. There’s tons of information there about the medical school admissions process. I would also encourage them to spend time with their pre-health advisor or academic advisor at their schools. Start the process early and be mindful that everyone’s journey to medicine looks different. Don’t compare your journey to their peers, because it may look completely different. So everybody isn’t going to be in medical school by 21. You may be 25, or you may be 31 when you get there so don’t put that pressure on yourself saying that, “I have to be in medical school by the time I’m 21 and I have to be a MD by the time I’m 25, and married with kids by the time I’m 27.”
Just take it one day at a time and do what you need to do to demonstrate that you have the passion, the compassion, and the desire to be a lifelong learner, because that’s what medicine really requires. By the time you finish medical school, many of the things that you’ve learned and the techniques you practice may be obsolete so you’re going to have to learn and keep learning as you go through this profession.
I think you should enjoy it, even though when you’re struggling through organic chemistry and physics and biochem, you’ve got to find some happiness with that. Then you have to really like people and want to be an individual who wants to improve the healthcare outcomes, not just those who are privileged, but those who may be coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, disadvantaged communities, immigrant communities, and so on and so forth.
The advice I would give is take it slow, do all the things that you need to do to make yourself very competitive. Also know that everyone may not get into medical school on their first attempt, it may take you multiple attempts till you actually reach there, but just make sure that you are the best prepared when you do enter the time slot for applying to medical school.
Is there anything you would’ve liked me to ask you or anything you’d like to share? [34:55]
I’m hoping that soon we’ll be back to in-person visits so we can actually visit various schools and see students in person, but when things do come back in person, I encourage students to participate in those career fairs and to meet the admissions professionals when they visit your schools and to just be vigilant in what you’re doing. And, again, enjoy the process.
Where can listeners learn more about Chicago Medical School at the Rosalind Franklin University? [35:48]
They can certainly come to our website at rosalindfranklin.edu and find information about not only the medical school, but also our pharmacy school, podiatry school, college of health sciences, and our graduate programs.
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