Interested in a spot in Tulane SOM? Hear all about what the program has to offer [Show Summary]
Set in vibrant New Orleans, the Tulane School of Medicine offers students an outstanding medical education with opportunities for community involvement and research. Mike Woodson, Director of Admissions, explains what it takes to get accepted to this competitive program.
Mike Woodson, Director Of Admissions at Tulane University School of Medicine talks about how to get accepted [Show Notes]
Welcome to the 469th episode of Admissions Straight Talk, thanks for tuning in. Calculating your GPA for medical school can be difficult. You’ve got the science GPA, the overall GPA, and it’s particularly difficult if you’re applying via AMCAS, AACOMAS and/or TMDSAS. However, Accepted has you covered. Our free tool can really help you. It’s brand new and it’s a free GPA calculator. You can download the template to your computer or laptop and use it as you wish. You simply enter your classes and credits to calculate your GPA and sign GPA. If you’re a couple of years away from applying, you can download the GPA calculator spreadsheet, enter your classes and assess the impact of your grades as you earn them, or you can calculate the impact of different anticipated grades. Just download the spreadsheet template at accepted.com/medgpa and you can use and update it as needed. Plus it’s all free.
Our guest today is Mike Woodson, Director of Admissions at Tulane University School of Medicine. Mike earned his BA at Elon University and an MS in Sports Management from Virginia Commonwealth. He’s very close to earning his PhD in Higher Education Administration from Liberty University. After working for several years in high school athletics, Mike moved into the admissions world at Randolph-Macon College. He then was Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Houston and came to Tulane Medical in 2017 as Assistant Director of Admissions. In 2019, he became the Director of Admissions.
Can you give us an overview of Tulane Medical’s approach to med ed, focusing on the more distinctive elements? [2:26]
Every medical school has its own features, characteristics, mission, values, etc. Tulane University School of Medicine really focuses on whole body preventative medicine. We’re in the heart of New Orleans and we focus on serving the underserved population. Our school has 20+ student-run clinics. We have a culinary medicine center that helps our students learn and also has ties with the community. We conduct research that also helps the population here in New Orleans. Our tagline is, “We heal communities, we heal people” and all of that fits strongly into our mission.
What would you like listeners to know about Tulane Medical that many applicants don’t realize? Are there any myths that you would like to dispel? [3:28]
If you’re known for one thing, people just assume that you don’t do the other thing. We are known for our community service and our student-run clinics so people just assume we don’t have any research opportunities. That’s far from the truth. As I said earlier, we do have a lot of research that really focuses on the populations we serve here. We have an aging center, a cancer center, and also the Louisiana Cancer Centers right across the street from us. Our students really get opportunities in both those areas. We do have a primate center where we have a lot of primary research going on there. Our latest thing that we just got a huge grant for is developing a whooping cough vaccine.
How does New Orleans impact the student experience at Tulane Medical? [5:18]
It’s interesting because if anyone has been to New Orleans, they’ll know it is a very culturally diverse city. It’s very laid-back. The culture of the city actually seeps into our medical school. We don’t take ourselves too seriously here. During Mardi Gras festivals, you’ll see faculty members and students having fun together. It’s not one of those things where everyone’s standoffish. It really gives ample opportunity for our students to go through rigorous education, but also have fun while they’re in the city and take full advantage of everything the city has to offer.
You would be surprised at how many musicians we have in our class each year. Each class has their own class band. They can take it as far as they want to, but some of our classes actually perform in some of the clubs and music establishments here in New Orleans. It’s pretty cool when you go out and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s my med student right there.”
What are you trying to glean from the secondary that you don’t get from the primary? [8:12]
Everyone who submits a primary application automatically gets a secondary with us. What we’re trying to get out of the applicant is just more direct questions about why Tulane and what makes us special to applicants. We also want to see why New Orleans and how our mission aligns with what applicants want to get out of medical school. This year we’re going to be updating our questions a little bit more to really hone into why Tulane. I know it’s simple, every medical school has some question like, “Why us?”, but really we want to make sure that during that secondary it’s not copy and paste.
We really want to make sure applicants actually know what they’re getting themselves into and that they’ve done their homework, but more importantly, that they’ve done the self-reflection to figure out if this is what they want for four years or more. That’s what we try to get out of our secondaries. We’re asking questions about community service. We’re asking questions about dealing with different populations. We’re asking questions about more of why a school in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.
What are some of the more common mistakes that you see applicants make in approaching Tulane’s secondary application? [9:42]
It’s pretty obvious, but I would say the most common mistake that people make is they’re super scientific. Sometimes they forget to turn their science style down and turn their human side up a little bit. They try to cater everything they say to what they think the school wants to hear. It’s not hard to stand out. How do you stand out? I tell everyone to be themselves. There’s only one you but so many people are trying to cookie cut their application, especially the secondary to what they think the school wants to hear. It ends up sounding like every other application.
The ones that really stand out are the ones that are true to themselves. Maybe they talk about something that is not popular to talk about with medical schools. Everyone thinks that in secondary, they just need to list all of the stuff that’s science or medicine-related. They don’t want to talk about having a part-time job in retail, about their experience as a college athlete, or maybe volunteering when they’re in a fraternity or sorority. Those are usually the three categories that people seem to deemphasize in their application and overemphasize things that really don’t have any importance to them.
It seems like applicants get in their head and only talk about the experience that they think is relevant when they have other experiences they got more out of. But they don’t, they think we don’t care about that. They only share about the lab or shadowing. Those are some of the things that I wish people would stop overthinking.
We know the typical duties of people who shadow. If you’re working in the lab, if you’re scribing, we know those duties. Tell us why you picked that particular activity and what you got out of it. Most people tend to forget that because they’ve got their big science brains on all the time and they just want to focus on what they did.
Why does Tulane encourage the CASPer? Do you intend to require it? [13:50]
It’s not going to keep any application from coming incomplete. It’s still relatively a new test. We’ve been using it for about five years now and we’re still gathering data to see how we’re going to use this in the application process. I’ve had these conversations with CASPer too and they always ask, “Why don’t you require it?” and that’s exactly why. We’re still learning how we’re going to use this.
I know plenty of other schools require it and that works out in our favor because if applicants send it to one school, they’re going to submit it to us too. Anytime a new test comes along or a new examination, you have to make sure you understand it well enough to know how it’s going to be used and also to explain to others when they’re using it in their assessments.
What process does an application go through once it is submitted? [15:25]
It goes to our group of screeners. Every application is screened by at least two people. There are three categories it can go into. The first is yes, you’re going to be invited for an interview. The second is no, you’re not going to be invited to interview. The third is a waitlist to interview. In that case, everything looks fine, but we put applicants in that category as a hold for a possible interview. That hold is actually getting reviewed through the entire process as well. As people start to cancel, maybe a day or two before, it’s easy to pull people off that hold list. We also may put people in that category if we’re waiting for them to submit new information. Maybe updated grades if they’re in a master’s program or another MCAT score that’s coming in or updated grades from a graduate program.
Once the interview process is done, then the application goes to our admissions review committee. We do things a little differently than most schools. We don’t have the old school system where everyone meets in a conference room and passes files around. We’re in the 21st century so we try to use electronics as much as possible.
We send our admission reviewers the entire application along with the interview reports from the interview day. I will backtrack to explain the interview day which consists of a standardized patient exercise, a faculty interview, and a student interview. So those three reports get put in with each admissions file and sent electronically to a couple of review members. Each applicant is reviewed by three faculty and one student. Each person will review independently of each other so you don’t have someone in a room who likes to be the talker or the person who’s not paying attention. Independently, they can review and then they will put their comments and a report and give them an admissions grade. Those four scores are averaged together and that’s that person’s admissions review score. At the start of the year, we look at the scores we’re receiving and then look to see where that line is for how the scores are coming in. Then we’ll determine the threshold to admit or to waitlist.
This process helps our student reviewers because sometimes students get intimidated when there are faculty members in the meetings with them. They may not feel like their opinion or voice is heard just because of the power dynamics. Not that it plays out that way, but they just sometimes feel that way. At least with our admissions committee, they don’t have the influence of having the faculty member, who might be on their rotation right next to them and having different opinions about a student. They can talk about the student however they want to talk about them and not worry about that influence.
Are you planning for in-person or remote interviews going forward? [20:39]
We’re going to be remote and hopefully, that will be a thing of the future. When we decided to do remote interviews this past year, instead of planning to go back in person, we were able to get more faculty interviewers in the process. But we have also heard from surveys that applicants like experience because they’re not spending money to fly all over the country and they don’t have to take a lot of time off from work or school or volunteering.
That really helps make the whole process a little more equitable. When someone who’s really bright and smart gets invited to all these interviews, they’re not picking and choosing based on location and dollars. I’ve heard from so many students pre-pandemic that they were basing their interview choices on where they could drive to. A couple of years ago, we had someone who left at four in the morning to get to an interview and that’s just nuts because they’re not going to have their best interview. It’s not equitable when someone can have the means to fly 15 places and interview and stay in hotels and not worry about the money aspect. There could be a great person, physician, and medical student who maybe doesn’t have that opportunity just because they can only afford to go to two places. So I think it makes the whole process a little more equitable as well.
Can you touch on Tulane’s policy regarding updates for both interviewed and waist-listed applicants? [25:02]
We definitely encourage updates and we give applicants an option on their application portal so they can submit it directly. We don’t have cutoffs for anything. We do truly look at every single application. Our process is longer by nature because of that so there are going to be a lot of times where they’re not going to hear anything from us and I know they’re anxious if it makes them feel better, they can submit 50 updates if they want to. We’re going to look at them and we totally encourage it. So go ahead and submit it. It’s not a problem at all, or extra letters or whatever the case may be.
How do you look at candidates who have faced mental health issues? [26:51]
That is part of our holistic review process. When we’re looking at an applicant, that’s actually one of the main reasons why we don’t have cutoffs for anything just because we understand that there are going to be dips in someone’s academic career. We’re doing our due diligence and really trying to understand the applicant where they’re at and understand the application in its context. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason for why their grade point average is this way or why maybe certain grades of certain classes are this way. We understand that and we want to make sure we’re looking at that in the context of everything else in the application. We want to make sure, whatever the situation is, that we don’t want to set applicants up for failure at our school. We want to make sure that they have recovered from that issue or dealt with that issue. We don’t want to set people up for failure.
How do you look at applicants who have an academic infraction or a misdemeanor on their record? [29:29]
Like anything with education, it depends. I’ve learned that in the admissions world so many times. I’ll first start with the misdemeanor. It just depends on what it is. We know sometimes people go to college and do stupid things. I’ve read applications plenty of times with alcohol infractions or speeding tickets so we look at that and take that all in context. But we also want to make sure the person learns something from that experience and not just a better way to not get caught, but actually learn something from that experience to not put themselves in that situation again.
Academic situations are a little different with us, just because sometimes that shows some judgment concerns that reflect a bit on character. As I said, everything’s different in context. What did you learn from it? Is it a repeated pattern of academic integrity? Is it a one and done, because at most of these schools, if you get caught, you either fail the class or you may be suspended. Those are pretty harsh infractions so hopefully, they’ve learned something from that incident. We take that academic integrity a little more seriously than the underage drinking stuff, just because when you’re going higher up in the academic world or medical school, it doesn’t get easier as far as your academic work. If you’re going to be trying to take shortcuts in that instance when you’re dealing with someone’s health, that’s very serious.
How is the application volume at Tulane this year for the 2021-2022 cycle? [32:02]
It’s dipped a little bit. This application cycle, we got almost 16,000 total applications which is down from 17,000 applications. So during the first COVID years, when we got 17,000 applications, that was a record application haul for us. So we are down a little bit, but this past year is our second highest application volume. Pre-COVID, we were averaging about maybe 11,000-12,000 applications. We expected higher volume but we didn’t expect that much more. It was a lot, but we’re dealing with it and it makes the process a little bit longer to review applications and get decisions down. Hopefully people know that when they were waiting.
How many spots do you fill each year? [33:26]
Each year we matriculate 190 applicants.
How should an applicant who wasn’t one of the lucky 190 approach reapplication to medical school? [33:52]
That’s the number one question we get, especially this time around. I always tell people to take a step back and look at themselves. Not your application, but really look at yourself. What is your true motivation for medicine? Once you figure out your motivation for medicine, your “why” of medicine and being a physician, take a look at your application and see if that was conveyed. I tell people you’ve really got to turn down the scientific thought process and turn up the humanness process and figure out if your passion for medicine is aligned with what the medical school can offer.
Everyone is so focused on what they did but they can’t tell me what you got out of their experiences. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be about the patient. What about your other healthcare colleagues, your nurses, your techs, and what impact do you have on them? So take that step back, do that self reflection and figure out that “why.”
You have to be honest with yourself and figure out if you’ll be happy in New Orleans. Sometimes people kid themselves. For example, a couple of years ago, we had in-person interviews around Mardi Gras times. During the interview day, we gave everyone beads to wear and nobody wanted to wear the beads. You’re not going to make it in the city if you can’t wear plastic beads for a couple of hours. I know that’s an extreme example but there are certain things you have to get used to.
This question is from a podcast listener: “If you were a premed student, traditional or otherwise, what is the one thing you would be doing to prepare yourself for medical school?” [37:58]
Oh, that is a great question. I would say the one thing you should do to prepare yourself and it’s going to sound so counterproductive, but stop listening to the outside noise and follow your own passion. It sounds very abstract, but I think that will help people make better decisions about what they do and the paths they take. So many times people will follow the same path as the people around them and will do an activity not because they want to do it but because they feel like they have to do it.
When you do something because you feel like you have to do it rather than because you want to do it, there’s no way you’re going to be able to explain that activity or get something out of it. Especially if you’re interviewing, it’s going to naturally come across. That’s when it comes out whether you’re writing an application or in an interview with someone. So just follow your natural instincts. There are so many different paths to medicine and medical school. You don’t have to follow the same path that everyone else is following.
Could you give an example of something that people do because they feel they have to but isn’t actually a requirement for medical school? [40:26]
I’m not putting down shadowing or scribing so forth but sometimes people think you have to do that. That’s only one medical clinical experience you can get that counts. I would argue that there are so many other things you can do to get that clinical experience. You can be an EMT. Maybe students have to be the sole caretaker of an elderly relative. Sometimes you learn so much more about medicine doing that than looking over someone’s shoulders.
Sometimes you get a greater sense of what goes on in a clinical setting, by volunteering in various roles, rather than maybe just scribing. I’m not saying scribing or shadowing are bad, but sometimes it’s this narrative that that’s the only thing to get clinical experience
Here’s another question from a podcast listener: “What is Tulane doing to prepare students for the major shift that technology will eventually impose on the healthcare field?” [41:53]
It’s interesting because there is this great shift to using more electronics, but then also you don’t want to lose the hands-on experience that’s been used for years and years of medical school. As a school, we’re still doing cadavers. It’s funny because I hear stories from other students who have friends at other schools and sometimes the first time they’ll put a hand on a body is like their third-year clinical rotation. Maybe that first-year anatomy lab with a cadaver kind of breaks that ice a little bit so we’re keeping some old-school ways but we also understand the advantages technology gives us.
We are starting to implement a lot within our education here. We know telehealth is a big thing so we’re starting to have our students practice that more now. We want to make sure that they have that experience as well. We also have some technologies that help our students prepare for whatever career they want in medicine before they actually, I want to say harm someone. We have simulation labs, simulation surgery, and simulation births. All of these exams can be performed on robotics without actually hurting someone.
Is there anything you would’ve liked me to ask you? [45:01]
I just want people to know if they’re thinking about Tulane University School of Medicine that we really want people to understand that being a doctor is not necessarily being the smartest person in the room. We really want people who have a humanistic approach to medicine. You’re not curing a disease or a person per se. Medicine is a partnership with a patient or a medical community.
Where can listeners learn more about Tulane University School of Medicine? [46:21]
The best place is our website at https://medicine.tulane.edu/.
There’s an admissions tab, right at the top of that page where you can learn anything and everything you want about the admissions process. Our students are really beefing up our student areas page. We’re going to have more in-person interviews and video interviews, so you can get that true experience of how it feels like to be a student here, not only in our medical school but also as a student here in New Orleans.
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