All about the University of Illinois College of Medicine’s admissions process [Show summary]
During this episode, Dr. Leila Amiri who is the University of Illinois College of Medicine’s Assistant Dean of Admissions and Recruitment, not only dissects the UI COM admissions process but also provides a wonderful and experienced perspective on the overall medical school application process.
Do your goals align with the mission of the University of Illinois College of Medicine? [Show notes]
Welcome to the 423rd episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for joining me today. Before we meet our guest I want to invite you to attend this next med school admissions webinar: How To Create Successful Secondary Applications. It’s a free webinar which I will present on July 8th, 2021. Secondary applications are going to flood your calendar and consciousness in the weeks ahead and maybe even have already started doing so. You have to turn them around quickly and effectively, but how? We’ve got you covered. Register for How To Create Successful Secondary Applications for free.
And now a little information about our guest today. Dr. Leila Amiri joined the University of Illinois College of Medicine team in 2017. As Assistant Dean for Admissions and Recruitment she oversees admissions and recruitment for all three campuses of the College of Medicine. She is a passionate advocate for holistic review and admissions and provides strong support for students striving to achieve their academic and professional goals.
Dr. Amiri has spent her career in higher education, starting as a peer advisor in the biology department. Over this time she has worked with a variety of students at seven different institutions as an advisor, faculty member, administrator, and mentor.
In the medical education arena she has engaged in leadership at the national level serving as a liaison for the committee on admissions for the Association of American Medical Colleges, AKA the AAMC, and as an AAMC holistic review facilitator working with other medical schools admissions committees on how to include holistic review in their process. She is currently serving as the vice chair for the BA/MD Affiliate Group.
Dr. Amiri, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk.
Can you give us, to start, just a basic overview of the UI School of Medicine program focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:15]
Absolutely, we’re one of the larger medical schools in the country. We admit 300 students every year to three different campuses. We’re very mission driven in that the mission is to advance health for everyone with outstanding education, outreach, healthcare, research, and really with a focus of social justice and social responsibility at the core of what we do.
What I really appreciate about our program is that we are so diverse, not only in the student body and the faculty, but also the programming that we offer. So we’re able to offer, for example, urban focused healthcare programs all the way up to rural medicine focused programs.
What’s a common misconception about the University of Illinois College of Medicine that you would like to dispel? [3:03]
I think because we are a multi-campus school I think sometimes students feel that the educational programming may be different on the different campuses. Once we implemented our new curriculum in 2017, we actually have standalone four-year medical programs on each of our sites with live instruction and curriculum that’s delivered simultaneously and assessed simultaneously.
Now, the feel of the curriculum will be a little different, obviously, because they’re in different locations, but the educational experience is very similar. And the other thing that I want to point out is that we don’t have a specific type of student that we’re looking for. Because we are old and because we are big we like to welcome students to join us with whatever passions they have, and the joy for us is to help them achieve their goals.
Is there any difference in size of class between the three campuses? [4:18]
There is. Our Chicago campus is our oldest and largest campus. We matriculate 180 to Chicago, followed by Peoria with 65 and Rockford with 55.
Can you study any of the programs in any of those campuses or are you better, let’s say, focusing on urban medicine in Chicago? [4:37]
Those scholarly concentration programs are focused on the different campuses because of resources and faculty members that have those interests. Urban Medicine is restricted to the Chicago campus. Rural Medicine, for example, is a specific program that’s on our Rockford campus. But in comparison to those we have something like our Clinician Executive Medicine program which is for those students who are interested in leadership roles and complex healthcare delivery systems. That’s available to all students on all three sites, because, needless to say, they will serve as leaders wherever they decide to end up with their careers.
What do you hope to learn from the secondary that you don’t learn in the primary? [5:28]
The primary is comprehensive, and because it is a general application that needs to be palatable to all medical schools I think it’s a good snapshot of what the student has accomplished until this point: their academic accomplishments, obviously, their test scores, and in the context of that.
The secondary for all schools, including us, is specific to the information that we’re seeking from the student, and because we have the three sites and because we have unique opportunities on the three sites that’s really the tool that we use to help determine fit of the student for the specific campus that they’re interested and how the resources that we offer will fit the goals that they have for themselves.
Do the students request a particular campus, or do you assign them to a campus, or is it kind of a matching? [6:25]
It’s a matching. Based on what they shared with us in their secondary and all of the other experiences that they bring to the table during the screening process we’ll find a campus that we feel is the best fit for them. Then it goes to the committee on admissions, they agree with that recommendation, or they’ll make a different suggestion. We’ll invite the student to meet with us on the campus (it was virtual this year, but we invite them in times when it’s not virtual).
Then when we offer acceptance to a student we ask them to rank the campuses based on their desired placement. We work with the content of the application as well as what the student is asking for. Obviously, if they’re accepted to one of our extracurricular programs if that has a specific campus assignment they’ll be assigned to that campus.
Any plans to go MCAT optional this year? [7:20]
Not at this time. We adopt holistic admissions, so we look at the grades and we look at the MCAT for two reasons.
The grades tell us how the student will function in our curriculum. How much academic stamina do they have? How much science load can they handle? Will they need additional support as they join us? It’s a similar thing for the MCAT.
Now, the step score is obviously going to be a pass fail type of experience in 2022, but it’s still an indicator for us of how well the student can handle standardized exams, and will they need some extra support from us in terms of learning how to master these standardized tests that don’t go away, right? So there’s the multiple step pieces, and then there’s the re-certification that they have to do. And so, really, those are indicators for us on how well we can support the student that’s joining us.
Do you ever provide additional support for a student whose MCAT isn’t necessarily where you’d like it to be? [8:19]
Absolutely. We have a couple of pipeline programs that are specifically designed for students who perfectly match our mission and we feel that they could benefit from some academic enrichment. So we have a full-year pipeline program, we also have just a summer pipeline program, and embedded in those programs are the tools that they would need in order to manage a complicated medical curriculum.
Then we have what I like to call our army of learning specialists. They are a network of individuals that are in all three of our campuses who work very closely with students. So part of the incoming information is to look at the incoming class and see who may need some additional support and in what areas.
Does the University of Illinois screen secondaries before sending them out? Is there a certain minimum MCAT that one should have before you apply? [9:35]
Well, that’s a great question. I don’t have a number that is the threshold below which a student will not receive a secondary, but we are realistic about it as well. So we do want students to come to us with a science GPA that’s around a 3.0 so that we’re at least maintaining a B average.
In our secondary we also ask for the SAT and ACT as part of that academic support that we provide. If they’re performing an MCAT in the lower teens and 20s we’re not going to send out a secondary because what’s missing there maybe isn’t the content knowledge but how to take a test. And because how to take a test is not part of what we do. We do support students in test preparation but how to take a standardized test so that they’re performing at least at the 50th percentile will be important for us.
But it’s not a one on one, right? Because there’s first generation and college considerations, there’s first generation immigrant considerations. So there’s varying things that we will also look at. It’s not AI driven for us. It’s literally opening up each of the 7,500 applications that we got this year.
We did an experiment, well it was an experiment because there were some challenges with the MCAT administration because of the pandemic this past year. So many students were concerned about their ability to take the MCAT and when it would come through so we released secondaries to all students this year.
We did have some applicants that submitted applications to us where really we wouldn’t have released a secondary to them had it been a different year. I feel that applicants have all the data available to them based on the MSAR and what’s out there. The decision is theirs to submit the application or not, and it’s our way to support them with that decision making, because oftentimes they feel, if I could just get in front of the admissions committee, but the screening piece is the part that will allow that or not.
What does the CASPer add to your evaluative process and your insight into the applicant? [12:45]
That’s interesting. Up until this year we weren’t certain. We were asking students to take the CASPer and we weren’t really certain how to use it. I have friends that have very specific ways and metrics that they use for the CASPer. The group that graduated this year was the first group that went through our new curriculum since it was implemented in 2017, and we had CASPer scores for them. So there’s fun data that we’re digging into.
What we’ve seen thus far is that there’s a correlation between our students’ professional identity formation and their CASPer scores. Because the curriculum basically asks our students to describe how they see themselves as a physician at each part of the curriculum. Basically, as they’re going through in the beginning there’s uncertainty and there’s anxiety, and as they’re going through the process, as expected, they become more and more confident.
So we saw a great correlation there. Also knowing where their place was in the healthcare field, we saw that. So now we’re digging into the data of how good of team players they are. We have some data from our own students. They evaluate each other in their problem based learning, in their team based learning activities. It’s not complete data because it’s not required. Not everyone fills out all of the surveys all of the time, but based on the data that we have it looks like there might be a correlation there for us as well, that the students with the higher CASPer scores seem to be better team members in their TBL groups.
It gives us those things that we don’t see from the application. Because even if we do have a letter of recommendation from a PI still that’s one snapshot of their understanding of the student. We still don’t know how they are as a peer and because the culture is so important for us, the CASPer is giving us that type of information.
What are you planning for interview day during this upcoming cycle? [14:52]
We did make the decision to remain virtual this next year just because we weren’t certain what would happen when the cold season rolls around and if there’s going to be a resurgence or not, so we will be virtual again this next year.
We felt the virtual interview process went well for us. Every year there were students that we were not able to interview, and basically it was because it was financially not possible for them to get the flight to Chicago and cover everything else that goes with coming to a new city. We had no candidates cancel interviews with us this year or decline our offer because they couldn’t visit us.
There was also a sense of community that I was concerned that we wouldn’t have. The night before we had meet and greets with our current students, we had monthly meet and greets with our accepted students and our student ambassadors, and then we had a whole host of events after second look to the point where attendance was declining and we canceled the last few because I feel that the incoming class had had enough of meeting the people and having a sense of the culture. Those are the things that we will carry over to next year.
The only thing that we’re looking forward to being able to do, if we get permission to do that, is maybe have groups of accepted students come on for site visits during the year, whereas this year we opened it up to interviews after second look once Chicago had moved into phase three and number of vaccinations were going up and we were able to open up the buildings to small groups of students.
Our students were telling us that the accepted students had a really great time just coming in, seeing the building, meeting some other people. If we’re able to implement that for this next year I think that’ll be great.
Do you think that the University of Illinois’ “new normal” will include a virtual option for interviews? [18:04]
Absolutely. We’ve already decided that, particularly to accommodate those students that I mentioned. We always have students that are on a Fulbright scholarship or out of the country, or they’re doing something with the Peace Corps and they basically get a two week window to come back to the States to do their interviews. Often they’re trying to schedule five or seven interviews in a 10-day window darting around the country. It’s really stressful for them.
We, obviously, will accommodate those types of situations which are unique and really inconvenient for candidates. We also felt that for a second look as well. Even last year before we knew what was going to happen, we had a virtual second look with very little time to plan because we went and shut down on the 16th and the second look was less than a month away, literally three weeks away for us.
Last year we decided whatever happens we’ll have a hybrid model for those who are not able to join us because of work. This year it wasn’t great that we weren’t together, but we had students who were at work and they got permission from their supervisor, for example, for a couple hours, because there were presentations that they really wanted to take advantage of and that were not going to be recorded. They were able to join us even though they were still back in Philadelphia or Houston or wherever they were.
Perthe MSAR in 2019-2020, University of Illinois College of Medicine received a total of 5,015 and matriculated a little more than 5%. You mentioned that you had 7,000 applications this cycle. What makes an applicant jump off the application page for you in a positive way and join that very fortunate 5%? [19:35]
We’ve worked really hard to have a screening model that’s reflective of the mission. The screening rubric that we have really mirrors the mission that we have.
We look for candidates that exhibit excellence in one or more of the areas that are pillars for our mission, and that comes through the experiences section. So they’ve spent a lot of time, for example, with an underserved community, or they’ve spent a lot of time doing research, or they’ve spent a lot of time clinically as one of the pillars that we have where there’s really high levels of service that they’ve done for a particular underserved community addressing structural violence, for example.
Then it goes back to the rest of the application. So now let’s look at your personal statement, now let’s look at your letters of recommendation. And once those things all come together that’s the applicant that we would invite to join us.
I think a lot of students say, “I just want to get in. I don’t care where I go,” and I think they’re selling themselves short. They have to be at a place that’s supportive of who they are as an individual and what they aspire to become. Because if they don’t like the culture or the community or the mission of that place they have no choice but to live with that and learn how to be that because that’s the only way we know how to do business.
It was interesting, in my time when I was a premed advisor they would say, “Well, I’m going to ignore those things. I’ll just do my own thing.” You can’t do that. The only way that you’re going to get through is to do what they’re expecting of you to do. And so, basically, we look for that. I say when the application makes sense, and by making sense it’s basically you’re saying they’re stating something in their personal statement about their motivation. Then I look at the experiences section, it’s supported by where they’ve spent their time and where they’ve spent their efforts, and the letters are supportive of that as well, and that’s a candidate that we’ll invite.
We’re slow in sending out invitations for interviews because this process is a labor of love. It passes through three different checkpoints before an individual is invited to actually interview with us.
You mentioned that in 2017 you had a curriculum update. Is there anything that you’re looking for in applicants that you didn’t look for two years ago or five years ago? [23:12]
It’s hard to say. I’ve been with the institution, as you mentioned earlier, since 2017. And while we’ve recently undergone the first ever strategic planning for the college university that’s over 100 years old, the mission has always been the same. If you look at the history of why the institution was established, it was basically the social responsibility so the mission hasn’t really changed.
It’s been relatively the same since I’ve been here in terms of looking at candidates that are a good fit for our mission and students that would fit well with our community. Our patient population is really important to us, as I believe it is for every medical school that students are applying to, and so we really look for the student that has the humility to understand that it’s a privilege to take care of the individuals that entrust us with that.
That hasn’t changed, and I can’t imagine it ever being any different even 10 years ago, but I can’t speak for 10 years ago.
Sometimes in talking to applicants I hear that, “I have this kind of clinical exposure, but I don’t have that kind.” Is there a great form of clinical exposure or is it a matter of following your interests and passions in order to make sure that the field is right for you? [24:39]
I think it’s the second one because schools will look at what they want differently. I’ve been doing this side of medical school admissions for 10 years now, and through the four different programs that I’ve been with, the approaches to shadowing have been different.
I was at a school where we did require three shadowing experiences. We wanted two with primary care physicians and one with a specialist. It was very prescribed. All the way to now, where we don’t care if a student has shadowing or not. The challenge with shadowing is that it is not an easily attainable experience because of HIPAA regulations and where students are.
We admit students from very underserved rural colleges, for example, and the local community has to drive many hours, or at least an hour and a half, to get to a physician. So there’s one doctor for 25,000 people. There’s no opportunity for shadowing to happen there, right? And we would lose the opportunity to train a great physician that would go back to that underserved community if we were denying them admission just because they didn’t have shadowing.
What I can say to students is that you can get a sense of what the school is going to be like by looking at these types of things because I feel we have to meet students where they are. What I expect of them is to show me that they understand what being in a clinical environment will be like. That it’s not going to all be as sexy as ER is, it’s not all going to be House. It’s going to be dealing with individuals when they’re sick and most vulnerable and not feeling well and probably not very pleasant and understanding of all of that.
However that understanding comes to the student is fine for us. So if they need to do some shadowing, I mean, it’s great, but we get people with hundreds of hours of shadowing, and their takeaway is always the same thing, which is communication between the physician and patient is important, and everybody knows that.
I would say there isn’t a particular thing that’s the right answer for all schools. I think students will have to look to see what the programs are looking for, but where they can be in an environment where care is being provided, I think, is most important.
Providing care to a loved one is probably even the most difficult, especially if they live with them. We have multi-generational family structures right now, and some students are living with their grandparents, taking them to the doctor, bringing them back, making sure their medications are there, helping them bathe, helping them eat – what more can there be?
There’s also the part of it that touches an individual’s heart, which may not be happening when you’re with a different person.
Now, I know that some of the challenge with that has been that the clinical experience is only with a loved one, and would the person be able to show this kind of compassion to someone that’s not related to them or in a clinical setting?
At the end of the day what I always tell students is “You don’t want to have questions there.” If the bulk of your clinical experience has been with a family member, do the absolute best that you possibly can to get some that’s not at home, to offset that, to show that you actually do have that in you to want to take care of people when you can.
What about virtual shadowing or virtual experiences? What do you think of those? [30:01]
I think they run the extreme between sitting there and listening to a doctor explain their experiences in medical school 40 years ago at an International Medical School, which has little relevance to our students now, all the way up to physicians bringing their patient with them onto the screen and having the conversation. I would say if they have to pay for it they need to be cautious. And they should have an understanding of what they’re going to see.
There’s never any harm in sitting with a physician and learning of their experience, but I don’t know if sitting there and learning about what they did in med school in a different country is going to be that helpful for them, unless if the conversation is in the broader scope of public health and access to health care and things like that.
You and I spoke about a week ago, and you mentioned that many applicants make the mistake of comparing themselves to others. I thought that was a great point. Can you expand on that? [31:06]
Absolutely, thank you for bringing that up. I think anyone who listens to this will know they’ve either asked this or they’ve had this question asked of them, “Everything being equal, whom would you take?” And what I want your listeners to understand is that it is never the case that everything is equal.
It’s very important for applicants to understand that when we are looking at you, we’re looking at the whole context of the application. We’re looking at your lived experiences, what part of the country you’re from, other languages you speak, socio-economic status, everything, where you went to school, all of those things, and how that fits in the context of the institution.
I will tell you, of the 7,500 applications that we had this year no two applications were identical. I think when students tell me everything being equal is the GPA and MCAT. I can list a whole bunch of applications with a 4.0 and a 518, and they’re not the same. I even say if you’re twins and triplets, your applications are not identical. Even though the parents are the same and you’re growing up in the same household, how you respond to stimuli is different. The experiences that you have are unique so it’s important for you to help us understand the lens that you’re seeing things through and to know that things are not considered equally. They need to be equitable, but they’re not equal.
You’re going to be the unique person that is applying to my unique medical school, and that’s how those two things have to match. So don’t be devastated thinking if a friend with a 3.8 and a 517 didn’t get in, how are you going to get in with your 3.7 and 512? Your context might be significantly different than theirs or the individual that you mentioned that’s applying to 60 schools has really high numbers but not a lot of activities.
Every conversation that I have with every student who is either a re-applicant or a new applicant to our program, that’s where we start the conversation, that I want them to understand that the context that they bring to the application is unique.
One thing that they struggle with is, “How do I answer the diversity question?” or “How do I say what I’m going to bring to the school?” How many other people do I have that are applying to me that are you? Nobody. It’s just you! So the fact that you’re a Math major or a Bio major, that’s not the only thing that makes you, you. Helping us understand how you function and those types of things are pieces that students could pull into those types of conversations.
I removed that question from my secondary a long time ago, because I know it created so much anguish, but I know it’s still out there.
What’s another common mistake that you see applicants make during the application process? [35:06]
The standard ones I think you’ve probably heard and everyone’s talked about – the typos and naming the wrong school in the secondary, those things still happen even though they shouldn’t happen.
I would say I think sometimes our applicants forget that every interaction that they have with us is basically them on interview. It’s not only the 30 minutes that you’re sitting in front of a faculty member; it’s all of the engagements and interactions that you have with us in terms of the voicemails that you leave for us and the pointed emails that you sometimes send to us.
I think that’s a mistake that applicants often make is that they don’t realize that we remember those things. Or if you’re calling and leaving an ugly message on a voicemail, then comes that caller ID right now and we’ve got your application. I hope this doesn’t encourage you to use a different number or a Google number to make your phone call to the med schools to which you’re interested in applying to, but basically I hope you understand that that’s part of the context as well.
I think the other thing that students forget is that we are as eager to admit students to our program as they are excited and eager to join us. We see ourselves as your partners in this process. We’re not on two different sides of the table. We see ourselves as your partner holding your hand going through this process. I think you should feel comfortable to reach out to us to ask questions that you have and ask for clarification, not for things that are easily accessible, obviously, but if there’s something that you’re really confused about or unsure about I would encourage students to reach out to the schools. And again, that’s an indicator of us. If I am unwilling to answer the question, if I don’t answer your question, then maybe I’m not the right place for you. Because I’m supposed to be on my best behavior as I’m interacting with applicants. When I was a premed advisor I always told my students, “If the schools are not treating you with the dignity and respect that you should be treated with, they don’t deserve you as a student. Because if this is their behavior when it’s their best foot forward, what happens when you’re there? I mean, they will do everything they can to get you through, but what does that journey look like while you’re there?”
So it’s really important, and that’s part of the culture thing. If you email me and you ask a question, I don’t respond, I don’t ever respond. Or if I respond 10 days later, and I apologize because it’s been really busy and we’re prioritizing, that’s very different.
You sparked the question in my mind – what information does the interviewer have about the interviewee during the one-on-one interview? [37:57]
Our faculty interviewers are partially blinded to the application. We don’t give them grades, we don’t give them MCAT because they trust that we’re only interviewing individuals who are going to be successful in our program. We share the personal statement because we feel that that speaks to our mission, and we share the supplemental because that speaks to the unique opportunities that we have that align with the experiences and opportunities that the student would like to have.
We don’t share the experiences intentionally because we don’t have standardized questions that are asked where we give them areas that we would like them to explore, but the feel of the interview may be a little different, and so we allow the candidate to bring forth those experiences that are most relevant to the conversation that they’re having at that point.
How do you view letters of intent or correspondence from either students who haven’t heard from you, students who’ve interviewed and haven’t heard from you, or from waitlisted applicants because they get very anxious? [39:04]
I’m a sucker for updates, I love them, but we have a platform that makes it really easy for students to update their application. They basically just upload a PDF, and they can upload as many PDFs as they want. You’re right, there are some students who we’ve interviewed or maybe they’ve been waitlisted or they’ve been placed on delayed decision and they don’t hear from us.
This is basically years of experience that when a student is waitlisted, and we email them again and tell them, “Hey, you’re still on our waitlist,” I got feedback from students that said “The first blow was enough, don’t keep reminding me that even though you’ve accepted more students I was still not good enough,” in their mind, that’s not my language that’s what they said to me. So I took that to heart. That’s why we don’t communicate if a student has been placed on delayed decision. This year we practiced a little with giving some updates, and for the most part it seemed to go well, and for a handful of students it created a lot of anxiety.
As you mentioned this earlier, they read into it what they thought that they were reading, not actually the words that were there. So, for example, if it was “Our sites are at capacity now, we can’t do re-assignments,” what they understood was that “We are never going to reassign anyone this year, and given that you’re not reassigning anyone what’s going to happen to me?” So this is the balance that I think our applicants at this time may not spend all the time reading as much as they need to.
I hope you all don’t get mad at me for saying this, but really, take the time to read the website, read the emails, read the communications that are shared with you. I received feedback from one candidate this year that said, “Your instructions were not clear, in your instructions you could’ve written ‘Please read the attachment carefully.’” I felt that that was implicit in having the attachment
How do you view applicants or applications from students who have non-academic blotches? By that I mean either an academic infraction, or perhaps a criminal record, or in a completely different way, a background that reflects some kind of emotional issues. [41:57]
I mean, we’re people, right? So no one is going to have… well, I shouldn’t say no one, right? We do have some applicants that have just had blessed lives – blessed academic lives, blessed personal lives, and there just hasn’t been anything until they hit medical school and then there’s a concern of what will happen with the first C that you get.
That’s just part of being human, and to be human means that there may be things like this. So we look for frequency. Underage drinking is pretty typical, we see a lot of that. I’ve seen that everywhere that I’ve been, and it will happen. Some students get caught; others don’t. There’s the student that gets caught; then there’s the student that gets caught over and over and over again. There’s the student that gets caught, and there’s the student that passes out. It’s considering, “So this happened. Did you learn from it? What did you do moving forward?”
The most painful ones to read are the ones where there’s indicators of plagiarism, and the student denies anything, and then they blame the faculty member for it. It’s really taking responsibility, because if you think about it, the end of this journey means that my life is going to be in your hands. Right? That’s a pretty severe thing. I mean, to me that makes me freeze. The idea that anyone’s life would be in my hands other than my kids, that’s a really scary thing. So to not be willing to take responsibility for things is really uncomfortable for us.
That’s the challenge, how a student engages with that and describes that is really important for us. And what they do to turn it around. I’ve seen incredible stories of students who had drinking issues, for example, drunk driving issues, and then they took this to a different level of educating peers and working with the Boys and Girls Clubs, and just phenomenal things. So that misstep really opened up a whole new world for them in ways that they could help others. That’s a very different experience for us.
We chalk it all up to being human and we know that you’re going to be human when you join us too. We’re prepared for that as well, that’s why we have the academic support and resilience centers and psychologists and psychiatrists and peer tutors and advising house faculty members, because we’re human.
On a forward looking note, what advice would you give to premeds thinking ahead and planning not to apply this cycle but planning to apply next cycle or the cycle after? [45:17]
I would say be as creative as you possibly can be. You know what the categories of experiences are that we’re looking for. You know you have to have some kind of clinical experience. You know that we want to see some kind of leadership from you. We want to see some kind of community service. And don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, because, again, it’s the context of you that matters.
I’ll give you one example. We have rural students who are applying to us going to rural schools, liberal arts school, small liberal art schools, the whole school has 1,100 students in it across all four years. That’s smaller than a department on my campus right now. Nobody’s doing research there, because that’s not part of what they do. The faculty teach four to five classes and their tenure and promotion line is based on that. There’s no opportunity to do research. Yet a student is doing research every time they go back home on their farm, and they’re messing with the fertilizers or figuring out the feed for the chickens or the cows. They’re experimenting. They’re doing research.
It’s within that context, they’re understanding trial and error, they’re understanding moving things forward. So that’s research for us in the context of that student. So think about the categories of things that we’re expecting of you. Don’t embrace them just for hoops to jump through.
I met with a student earlier this year, off the charts metrics, every activity was 20 hours, 30 hours, 50 hours, really small investment in things because the thinking was, these are the boxes that I need to check, right? We don’t care about the number of boxes that you check, what we care about is experiences that you’ve had and what you’ve taken away from them.
So have a little bit of everything as much as you can, and I would say engage in it over the period of time. I am never impressed by 400 hours of anything over the summer. Because to me you found the little window where you weren’t taking classes and you were full time, whatever that thing is that you’re doing, and you were not doing that at any other time. So whatever it is that you’re doing needs to be spread out over the four years.
Sometimes we see students that have zero volunteering except when they go back home, and they only volunteer at whatever it is that they were doing at home. So they were not a good citizen of the university that they joined. They may have been a good citizen of their hometown but not a good citizen of that university.
That’s a student that we wouldn’t invite, because they are not going to embrace our community. They’re not going to go out there, they’re not going to do street medicine with my students, they’re not going to take care of the individuals that come through our facilities, because they didn’t connect to that community.
And read. Read as much as you possibly can read, get your first hand information. Listen to all the advice that you can possibly get, but understand that that advice is coming to you from the context of that individual, how does it apply to you? Don’t try to do what they did, because it’s probably not going to work out.
Where can listeners learn more about the University of Illinois College of Medicine? [49:48]
On our website. You’re welcome to visit us at medicine.uic.edu. We also have monthly webinars. I would love it if you would pop in and join us on our webinars. We’ve got a listserv that you’re welcome to join, and we have a YouTube channel as well. And we’ll be at the WMC virtual fair on the 24th, so let me know how we can let you know more about our program. Also, you can email us as well, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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