The most popular medical school admission podcast we’ve ever hosted was an interview with Jennifer Welch, Associate Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid at SUNY Upstate Medical University – and today, she’s joining us again.
Jennifer is extraordinarily experienced in med school admissions. Since 1994 she has served first as SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Director of Admissions and in January 2013 she became the Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at SUNY Upstate Medical University. So that’s over 20 years heading up a medical school admissions office. And in addition to heading up admission for the medical school, she is also in charge of admissions for all healthcare related programs including Nursing, PT, PA, MD, MD/MPH, MPH. Welcome, Jennifer!
What’s new at SUNY Upstate? [1:55]
We have a new president – our first female president (an African American woman). She’s dedicated to our mission of promoting diversity in medical education. We’re also just launching a new curriculum this fall, including new clinical contacts in the first two years. There’s a big focus on self-directed learning.
What does that mean? [3:22]
We’re emphasizing small groups and teams. We have collaborative co-directors teaching the curriculum (both MDs and PhDs). It’s competency-based, system based. There are more hands-on experiences (less time sitting in a lecture hall). Students are becoming more involved in their learning. It’s been a 3-year process – everyone’s really excited about it.
The future of medicine is team based.
The curriculum includes earlier clinical exposure, and a focus on understanding the clinical relevance behind what they’re doing.
What are your thoughts about the new MCAT? [6:45]
It’s still a work in progress – we’re learning from it. Some students have the old score, some have the new, some have both the old and the new.
We’ve always done a holistic approach to evaluation. So the exam is still important, but we’re looking for grades, consistency of grades, the strength of the undergraduate curriculum, what the student has in terms of extracurricular involvement, volunteer work, etc.
Our average this year was 509 (80th percentile), which is about a 30 on the old test.
I’m excited about the social sciences section on the new MCAT – I think it’ll ultimately bring us a different type of doctor.
What have you learned from the new MCAT? [9:00]
We’re looking at each of the categories vs the overall score – so we’re looking at it a little differently than in the past. Also, we’re not averaging multiple scores anymore. It all comes back to holistic review.
Any advice for handling/responding to secondaries? [10:50]
Sometimes students make the mistake of thinking they’re not as important as the AMCAS. They are. And they need to pay close attention to all the pieces that are asked.
In terms of handling multiple secondaries: prioritize. Some can be answered relatively quickly, and others will take more time. But make sure each one is done well and done correctly.
Our secondary is pretty straightforward in terms of the questions asked – but you need to pay attention to detail: it has to be done right. The secondary gives us info about applicants, and also info about how they do things (professionalism, attention to detail). If you make careless mistakes (such as errors in capitalization, etc), it’s a red flag. Pay attention to detail and do it right.
How do you recommend applicants prepare for the MMI? [14:34]
It’s our 5th year using the MMI. We use a mixture of traditional types of questions and scenario questions. The interview questions are set up to mimic the competencies we’re looking to train through med school.
To prepare, be yourself. The questions change, so you can’t really prepare for those. But know that the questions will be asked by doctors (who have an interest in your clinical experience). We’re interested in getting a sense of your professionalism, communication skills, etc.
What are examples of the competencies you’re targeting with the interview questions? [16:30]
Resilience, curiosity, professionalism.
With the MMI, it’s much more difficult to “fake” an interview. In a traditional interview, you can get a great interviewer or a not-so-great interviewer, or mesh with them or not. The MMI allows you to meet 5-6 different interviewers, and allows 5-6 interviewers to assess you and make a recommendation to the admissions committee.
What is an interview day like at Upstate? [17:45]
We want students to have a chance to see if they can see themselves here.
When they arrive, they’ll be welcomed by a member of staff. They’ll have a chance to visit classes or meet students. Then they’ll have lunch, an info session with me (what to expect in the process, our campuses, our programs, etc), and before or after, they’ll have their interview. The interview takes about two hours.
Does their behavior all day count? [19:55]
Absolutely! Unfortunately, there’ve been students who’ve been on their phones during the presentation. They need to know that every interaction is important. We take everything into consideration. (Every email, every interaction with students and staff on campus, etc.) Be professional. We’ve occasionally checked people’s facebook/Instagram, especially if the interviewers got a vibe.
Is it too late to apply this year? Better to wait until next year? [23:30]
It’s getting late. By the time someone applies and gets verified at this point, it could be Sept/Oct.
I started with 750 interview slots. The closer I get to December, I’m basically looking for someone who walks on water. Once you get into Sept/Oct/Nov, there aren’t many interview spots available. It’s important to apply early—June/July, verified by early August. It’s a really competitive process.
Can you describe the SUNY PA master’s program? [26:45]
It’s a 2-year MS program. It’s very competitive! We take a class of 35 from a pool of 800 applicants. (We interview a little over 100.)
Our focus is on students who are interested in going into rural communities – the goal is to get PA’s into communities with limited medical services.
We’re looking for dedication to the field: applicants need to have 1000 hours of verified clinical experience. And they need to have shadowed a PA (they need a LOR from a PA).
Grades and GRE are also very important.
The med school program is also looking for students with an interest in serving rural communities.
What about the PT program? [31:35]
It’s a 3-year doctorate program. Students have to have completed certain prerequisites during their undergraduate program. The minimum GPA is 3.0, preferred 3.3 or higher. They have to volunteer with a PT (who will write them a LOR). Shadowing is encouraged.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever heard given to a med school applicant? [33:05]
Waiting to apply – waiting till you have the next experience finished, etc. Getting your application complete is really important. Apply early and get it in on time.
What timeline would you recommend to someone planning to apply next spring? [35:00]
Work on getting clinical experience – reach out to docs to ask if you can shadow (ask about a few hours. Students often ask about a few months, which is a mistake).
Start getting LORs in line in January. And ask the right people! Sometimes students ask people because of their names or the letters they have after their name. We’re looking for letters where the writer has something meaningful to say about you.
Take the MCAT in May or June, and be ready to roll in June.
I often advise people to work on the personal statement over winter break (or spring break) if they have a tough spring semester.
Any advice on personal statements? [38:00]
Take enough time with your personal statement! You can’t just throw it together – you have to plan it. Tell a story: Who you are; what you can bring to the medical field; why you’re interested in medicine. What sets you apart.
Don’t duplicate information from the activities. The personal statement is about what makes you who you are: the only place that does that is the personal statement.
• SUNY Upstate Medical University
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• Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success
• Medical School Admissions 2015-2016: A Dean’s Perspective [Jennifer Welch’s earlier interview]
• Exploring Yale’s Top-Rated Physician Assistance Program
• Put the Med School Application Puzzle Together: Advice from C. Foote
• 3 Ways Temple Can Help You Become an MD
• The Do’s And Don’ts Of Med School Interviews