Do you want to know how to get into Johns Hopkins School of Medicine? Are you wondering what Johns Hopkins’ program is like? How is it adapting to the post-COVID era, and AI? Continue reading and you’ll learn more from its Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs.
Don’t miss Linda Abraham’s previous interview with Dean Paul White: What Med School Applicants Must Know About Johns Hopkins [Episode 392]
Are you struggling to keep up and write the essays with the specificity and coherence they require? Check out Accepted’s Ultimate Guide to Secondary Essay Questions. Download your free copy today.
Today’s guest, Paul White, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, attended Yale for undergrad, Georgetown for his law degree, but he has worked in admissions, both undergrad and medical school, since 1988. Since 2012, he has served the applicant community as the Assistant Dean for Admissions at Johns Hopkins. He was last on Admissions Straight Talk in November 2020 when the pandemic was raging. People were hunkering down and working and attending school at home. I’m thrilled that the pandemic seems to be in the past, and that today, Paul White has found time to join us again.
Paul, welcome back to Admission Straight Talk. [1:41]
Thank you very much, Linda. Nice to see you. Can I make one correction though?
Yes. I actually started in admissions in June of 1979 and then took a four-year break in which I worked, and then went and got my JD, so I’m in my 40th year in admissions.
I came back to admissions in 1986, but so all the way back to when I started, it was 1979.
Wow, that’s when I got my MBA. [2:08]
Oh, okay. I’ve been doing my medical school admissions since the year 2000. Also, I’m in my 40th year of admissions, of the last 44.
Okay, great. Well, you obviously have a lot of perspective, experience, and expertise to share, and I’m glad you corrected me. [2:23]
Yeah, no problem.
Can you give an overview, just to start, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine program, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:32]
Sure. Absolutely. Well, Hopkins is a MD program. Let’s start there. It’s allopathic as opposed to osteopathic. Osteopathic schools will work the osteopathic type of medicine. Hopkins is one of 160 plus allopathic schools in the US that awards the MD. We have been around since, oh, I would say 1893 or so as a medical school. We were one of the first medical schools to establish the need for prerequisites and we are also the institution where the term rounding was developed. Our dome, which is an iconic image of our medical school is where rounding first took place, and Hopkins is one of the schools in 1911 or 1912, that the Flexner Report said got it right. That’s all to say we have a history, but Hopkins doesn’t believe in, nor will have you rest, on your laurels. It’s just that we recognize that we do have histories behind us, but this is a fascinating place. We have 120 medical students come in every year who are either MD or MD-PhD. Several thousand applications, so it’s a very long process for the applicant, but also for us, our mission is research, patient care, and education, and that is a part of everything we do here, and we are also a very incredibly inclusive community, and that is also a part of what we do and recognize that everyone brings something to the table. This is a wonderful environment for the student, but also to be a member of the community as a professional, however it might be teaching or a member of the greater staff.
It’s very team-oriented. We’re the type of institution where everyone has a voice, including the students, and we listen very closely to our students and we also encourage, really require that they honor the patients that they work with, so you have be very service oriented and hopefully competent to deal with this but we’re very much a team environment on all levels.
Last time you were on Admission Straight Talk, I mentioned it was the height of Covid. Covid had dramatically changed our world, including admissions. Today, I’d like to ask about AI and ChatGPT, which are definitely also changing our world, and specifically the impact of those two technologies on medical school admissions, and actually, I think, they’re very much one andthe same. ChatGPT, to my limited understanding, is a form of, or uses AI. Now, medicine is using AI, as I understand it.
Medical practice is using AI, but are you concerned about applicants using ChatGPT? [5:01]
Well, I am, yes, I am. Let’s just put it that way.
I am concerned because if you’re applying to medical schools, it should be based on your own ideas, your own creativity, and not something that is generated by ChatGPT.
Part number one. Number two, AI, which is all part of that, it’s certainly being used, even by some medical schools in their admissions processes. We’re not using it. In fact, there hasn’t even been any discussion about it. Partly because it’s so new.
Also, one of the reasons why I work for the institution, it’s where I’ve worked for the past 40-plus years, is because of how we spend a lot of time looking at the individual and looking at the individual application, and we don’t read people well, we don’t prescreen, so we’re really looking truly holistically. When you’re using something like AI, for instance, maybe using an algorithm to determine who should be getting a secondary or who should be getting an interview, or who should be getting admitted, that’s for the committee, and that means a full discussion, and if it’s only done by like the use of an algorithm, I’m not sure if that’s really fair.
I really think it should be the student’s own ideas and, frankly, I’m not well-versed enough, but I just don’t think it’s as honest frankly if you were doing results on something like that.
One of our consultants played with it a little bit, and she’s a trained journalist. She basically tried to get it to produce an MBA essay and the amount of work that it took her to get it to produce anything of quality was almost as much as it would have taken her to draft the thing herself.
You have two risks to AI from my perspective. One is that they write an essay that’s much better than the applicant could write on their own.
The other is that it does a much worse job than the applicant would do on his own. So it’s a double-edged sword. [7:21]
Right. Well, and I also think, Linda, that some people have more privilege than others and more access to the kinds of tools and devices that would allow them to do that to give themselves, perhaps, an unfair advantage to the process.
The whole reason I got into admissions 44 years ago is I wanted to level the playing field.
Do you feel you’ve done it? [8:26]
I think so. I’ve certainly made the effort at the institutions where I’ve worked. I mean, very briefly, I gave a talk at a summer program where I worked a week ago. The faculty member who invited me to speak to the students came to talk to me afterwards, and she said, “You know, I was just talking about how we need each other.” because I’m on the education policy and curriculum where she was serving, and she said, “At this point, even though I’m not on that committee, the reason why I started this program is because of you.” I said, “Really?” She said, “Because you type up and need to attract a diverse population in all ways, not just ethnicity and race, make an effort to attract people who may not be necessarily in your pathway, your pipeline initially. As she said that, and said it beautifully, I’ll be perfectly honest, I was stunned that she said that I had inspired her and others to do that.
Well, that must be very gratifying. [9:37]
It is gratifying. It was surprising to be perfectly honest, but that’s one of the remarkable things that I like about this institution. If you are committed and you know your field, and you achieve any type of success, other people here will recognize that. It isn’t just that I see someone who’s done an amazing surgery or analysis of a disease, but it’s recognizing people who know their profession, including admissions.
Let’s turn to the Johns Hopkins application process, and specifically the secondary application. Now, you have a very thorough secondary asking for five essays. I think 2500 characters maximum each for the essays, except for one’s a little bit shorter. What do you glean from the secondary that the primary doesn’t provide? [10:07]
Oh, that’s a great question, and I think every school, just about every school has a secondary.
They almost all do. [10:30]
The secondary, for my money, should tell you what our values are by the questions we ask. Those questions should give you an indication of what we consider important as an institution here.
They also fit, Linda, with the AAMC’s interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies. Again, we’re looking at more than just MCAT and GPA. We’re looking at what you will bring to the table. We want to get a sense of your sensitivity to people who don’t look like you. We want to know if you’ve ever had to demonstrate resiliency, or if you’ve ever overcome something.
Those are parts of our questions and that’s really important to us. Then if everything works out, we invite you for an interview. Yeah, and I tell people this interview isn’t going to make or break you. The fact is, you have an interview. It’s just that we can’t take everyone and the interview is one other tool in our toolbox that we use, but it’s not the only factor that we consider.
I think I remember looking at the stats. By the time you get to the interview stage, it’s about a 50% acceptance rate. Is that correct? [11:52]
Well, it’s close. That is close.
Yeah, it was really close to 50%. [11:58]
I wish we accepted 264. That includes the MD-PhD and the MD- and the entrants that come off the waitlist. Our class is 120, with accepted 264. It’s so far about 45%.
Yeah, so if you get to the interview. Now, we invited to interview just about 592 total and we admitted 266, so it’s more of a third to 40%, if you ask me.
I was looking at the stats for last year. [12:32]
You probably were, and that’s a higher number admitted off the waitlist, you know?
You’d like 100% yield, I’m sure. [12:43]
No, not really. If we did that, we’d be admitting a lot fewer. That’s why I say that.
That’s true. [12:50]
Not that there’s… I wouldn’t want everyone, but if there’s a way. I tell the committee all the time, “Well, the class is 120. We’re not admitting 120.”
Maybe it’s more because these are applicants, especially for institutions like Hopkins, who quite rightly get into multiple institutions.
So the competition to get into your school is tough, and the competition to attract the applicants that you want to accept is also tough. [13:11]
Another way of looking at this though, Linda, is our applicant acceptance rate is 6% in the secondary, so when you say, well, your chances are real high, that’s true, but we only invite to interview 15%.
That’s where the real cut is, right? [13:30]
So you’ve got to get to the interview and then only 6% of all applicants from the secondary, I’m not even counting the AMCAS. That is roughly 6%.
You have the primary, you have the secondary, and you have to go from 4500 applications, let’s say last cycle- [13:48]
… down to 500 interview invitations.That means you’ve got to knock out about 4000 applications.
What makes an applicant jump off the page of the application? What makes them come alive for you? What makes them attractive? [14:06]
Yeah, well, that’s a great question because what I will tell you, and partly, and I hope the group that I network today is, you know we have committees and one of those committees is called the screening committee, right?
Now, I work very closely with that committee, and I’m a member of that committee as well as the larger committee, but there are only eight of us who screen all those applications, and I read close to 50% of those.
40% as a primary reader, and then the rest I will second read every one, or third read if necessary, but everyone gets at least two reviews, and sometimes three. Oftentimes, I’m the third review. I also do the first read. We always start the year, well, we’ll see in a couple of weeks, with an overview of the class that we just admitted so they have an idea what stood out, who could possibly do better in some areas, but there are no quotas. What are your targets out of a class of 120? I mean, yeah, I want a class of 120. That’s my target, right?
What bucket do I belong in? What bucket do I fit in? [15:24]
Exactly, exactly. Everyone comes at it from a different perspective. We have researchers who are screeners for us. We have acquisitions, clinicians, obviously, admin/admissions professionals, and then we have the full discussion with the entire committee, including medical students. We have 20 medical students on our committee. I tell the committee, “Look, let’s start with we are a medical school. We want people who understand, or have an inkling of an understanding of patient care. If they don’t have that, that’s going to be a problem.” We look for clinical exposure.
And for us, that’s a thoroughly significant part of the evaluation process. We certainly look at academic excellence, but the committee doesn’t need, once they get to the interview, they’re not even asked to evaluate that. Isn’t that interesting?
They figure, well, we don’t even have to look at their MCATS of GPA. It has this recommended screener for some who have significant clinical experience and/or significant leadership and/or significant community service, and/or significant research, and some have all those things. That’s the beauty of our applicant pool. That’s what they bring to us, so it allows us to be somewhat selective as a result.
Occasionally, they’ll say, “But this is a wonderful person.”, and I tell them, “There are a lot of wonderful applicants out there. We can’t interview them all.” It’s sad. We look for the outliers frankly.
The outliers in terms of those three qualifications; clinical exposure, community service, and research? [17:04]
Well, there are more things, but that’s part of why… because if they do those things, they’re the outliers. That’s what I’m saying. Right. They have to be within that. Yeah, and be in the top in all those categories, so in much of those categories.
Then, I assume that there are other nice-to-haves in the application. What are some of the nice-to-haves? [17:24]
Well, incredible letters of recommendation. Although, again, it’s rare to find someone who gets a negative, but, believe it or not, we do see it occasionally, and we’re always surprised and appreciative, you know… if they are being truly honest with it, and sometimes they’re not, then we’re thinking, “That’s interesting.” We see some glitches here and there. That person will not likely get through the interview stage, but if they do go through the interview stage, and you, as the interviewer, hasn’t brought the glitch up, that’s my job to bring it up. “Well, tell me about this.”, because it’s okay to have a glitch. It really is. We’re not looking for perfect, but we jump the small applicants overall.
Makes sense. [18:24]
What else do we look for? We have people who write well. Teamwork is very important to us and we find it in multiple areas of the application, and then in our questions as well.
Are you planning to make any changes to your secondaries this year? [18:35]
What are interviews like at Johns Hopkins, and stand up for domestic applicants, they are all in-person, is that correct? [18:39]
No? All right. [18:47]
I figure, for the past four years now. Going on four years, yeah, it’s been virtual interviews only.
We will continue with that. The interviews will be a little different. It’s going to be 100 so I’ll interview them virtually. We’re going to continue with that. Everyone hase two interviews. We still do the two interviews and one is with a medical student, and one is with voting members of the admissions committee and I’ve given full access to the candidate’s application. We give them free-range in terms of the questions, but we have a couple that we ask that they all ask the interviewee.
Are there opportunities for the applicant to learn about Johns Hopkins, and are there interview days? [19:26]
We hope so. Yeah, we hope. One of the things we’ve done since the pandemic – I used to meet with all the applicants. There were two of us who would meet with all of them on a Thursday or Friday. It might be a Thursday, it could be Friday, or whatever, at the orientation session. Now, since the pandemic, we sent out a video of yours truly giving an overview of Hopkins. We also include in the invitation to interview, the information about the various groups that they connect with either before the interview or anytime after the interview, and we’ll have a program for interviewees invited to interview with students virtually now, but before it was in person.
The night before your interview, or the night after is a possibility, too, but certainly the night before – and go informed into the interview. That has been going on for a long time. It seems they enjoy that, particularly since it’s only with first-year students that part. We have various groups, affinity groups here, and we provide you with their contact information and we schedule meetings with those students twice a month, I believe, for anyone who has interviewed who wants to talk to one of the affinity groups.
We try to give them lots of opportunity to engage and learn about Hopkins other than from the old folks like me.
I saw online that interviews end in late February. I mean, you’ve always been very good about putting out the timeline.
When is typically the last day that interview invitations are sent out? I’ll tell you why I ask this question. Everybody asks this. [21:09]
Well, you know, when it was in person, probably the last date would be the last, let’s see, the first week in February. With virtual, we can literally sometimes invite people three or four days before the interview. I would say at least a week before is ideal.
Mid-late February would be the latest? [21:42]
No, mid-February to late February but certainly not the day before. We want to give a heads up. When it was in person, because of travel, we always did minimally two weeks in advance.
The reason I ask this question is because there’s this meme out there that if you don’t have an interview invitation by Thanksgiving, you’re toast. Every single admissions director I’ve asked says, “No, we interview into January, February, and some into late March.” I don’t think anybody goes into April. [21:55]
I always ask this question and that’s why because I just think it’s wrong. [22:12]
Do you know where that’s coming from? Linda, do you know where that’s coming from? There are some schools – As medical schools, I think we’re partly to blame, but I also think that there’s a myth out there that it’s best to get your application in as quickly as possible. I know of one really fine medical school that will even tell applicants, “Get it in as soon as possible.”, and they’ve done a statistical analysis to show that the acceptance is higher for people who apply earlier to that medical school. Now, what I would want to know is what’s the profile of those students then, you see because in our experience, first of all, we wait for the verified AMCAS application which we won’t get until tomorrow, June 30th.
That’s the first day, and we will not look at it, trust me, and we don’t prescreen, but sometime after July 4th we will start delivering access, acknowledging and then providing access to our secondary applications. You can take however much time you want to get it in, as long as it’s in my office by November 1st.
It doesn’t matter to you? [ 23:23]
Yes. It doesn’t matter to me.
I do not read anything into it. If someone waits until September, I figure there’s a reason for it, and should some people wait, absolutely. Absolutely, and I’m talking about someone who is having an incredible summer experience, like the students I just spoke with. They’re not going to be able to write. We don’t take updates.
We’re serious about that. I don’t want an update.
I want to know what you’re doing and what you’ve done. Okay. If you get invited to interview for Hopkins, I’m just talking about Hopkins – then you can provide an update after the interview.
Okay, but before that, so if you, for any reason, you’re having an incredible summer experience, which I hope, like summer internship program is for these students, and you want to write about it knowledgeably, it can wait.
There’s no disadvantage. We notify students, if you’ve been to my website, there will be a key that we say we notify students mid-December, end of January, and end of March. I once heard or read on one of those student/doctor.net, or one of the two, I think they’ve been combined now, someone said, “If you’re interviewing in January or February, you’re interviewing for the wait list.” That was news to me.
Why bother, right? Why would we bother to grant you an interview?
Why would you invest in the interview? [24:50]
Why would a student invest in it as well?
Instead, some of our most interesting students, we don’t get to their applications until, in terms of the review, until December or into January, and we say this is great. Wow!
Let’s bring this person in. We don’t want anyone to lose interest in us, and don’t take that as an indication of unlikely to be admitted. Some of our best applicants are taken in the last month.
Absolutely wonderful people.
The reason I’ve usually heard from admissions people for getting an application in promptly, not before it’s ready, nobody says get it in sloppy. Nobody says that. [25:23]
Yeah, get it in when it’s ready. Right. That’s right.
Do you hold interview slots for late in the cycle? [25:39]
We do. We hold interview slots, in fact, we probably interview more people later in the process than earlier in the process. Now that’s partly a reflection of when we start our interviews. We start at the end of August and we only bring in a few people to sort of get our toes wet, right, because you can keep in mind.
While some of the committee members are veterans, all of the medical students are brand new, right? And we always have new committee members, and so we don’t want to overwhelm them, so we always start small and then we start working toward a larger number by, let’s say, October, and then it’s even larger by January. I mean, if you were to look at, I have a document right here, which I can’t share, but I’m looking at the people who were discussed at the meetings. In the last two months, we had a huge number compared to the first four months.
That’s good to know. [26:41]
The first two months. Yeah.
That’s just a different process. [26:42]
Every school’s different. I’m glad it’s not lockstep. I’ve worked at one other medical school and they absolutely come there after I’ve been at Hopkins for a number of years, and I feel like I was on a different planet in terms of what we were looking for, and I was able to learn a lot and bring it back to Hopkins when I returned 12 years ago. That’s okay. It was great. I think they learned something.
I know I definitely changed their process. One of the things I found was they were pre-screening the AMCAS applications to determine who would get the secondary, and yet 98% of the people were given a secondary. I said, “Why are you wasting your energy?”
Why screen? [27:31]
I said, “No one needs to bother to do that.”, and there were some other things I did to accept that challenge. Then, I also found they were still interviewing the first week of May. I almost had a heart attack. The first week of May. In other words, the following May.
That’s ridiculous. [27:46]
Back then, you may recall because, you know, traffic rules were different before or CYMS. I said to the committee, this was not at Hopkins, I said, “Do you know about the May 15th deadline?” “Yeah, we have to let them know by May 15th.” I said, “No, they have to let us know, which means they have to have been interviewed and admitted.”, right?
Right, by May 15th. [28:01]
By May 15th, and you know, we shouldn’t even be interviewing, so that was the last year that they interviewed – and we even added a day because of some storm, or something. One day in April, but after that, it got moved to March, and now they’re, I think, doing the last of the interviews by the end of February. The traffic rules have changed.
I think part of the reason behind this November myth, you certainly gave a good one, another one is that I think it is wise for applicants who don’t have, let’s say, several interviews by Thanksgiving to start thinking about reapplication and preparing for it.
In other words, if you get the primary in and you get the secondary in, and then you’re tired. You take a break. All right. The break is a good idea, but if you’re just hanging out, and you’re going to hang out until May 15th when you know the results, and if the results are not what you wanted, and then you start thinking of reapplication, you’ve almost certainly lost, or put yourself back a year. Let’s put it that way.
I think that’s different from “you’re toast.”
It just means start thinking, start planning, start thinking that it might not work out the way you want. [28:35]
Can I make a comment about that. There are people who need to do that thinking and analysis, self-analysis before they even apply.
I find that most people know what the holes were in their application. Don’t think that if you throw the football that someone will catch it. No!. Don’t even bother throwing it.
Just figure out what do I need to do to be at my strongest, not just apply when you’re ready, but am I at my strongest in terms of my profile? If you know you have holes in your profile, wait and address those holes.
Dr. Barry Rothman, Accepted consultant, he’s the former head of the Post-Bac Program at Cal State San Francisco. He was the founder of the program; he’s the former head of the program. In any case, he frequently says, “The fastest way to medical school is slowly.” [30:06]
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.
What is the evaluation process? Somebody submits a primary, and they check Johns Hopkins, and you send them a secondary, and they fill it out, they do the best they can, and they send it in. What happens? [30:40]
What happens is once it’s complete and I know it’s, I worked with it from and the administrative staff, they will say this is a complete application, and they’re going to put them in the electronic file, and they’re just divvied up by a certain number to each, a member of the screening committee, and I really get about a week to review however many files they have in their bin, so to speak, right? Again, we’ve already had a discussion, in fact, sometimes I’ll let them read a few applications and then have a meeting to talk about what are you seeing, or okay, are you seeing any changes? Some schools, for instance, are dropping their committee letter. The University of Chicago just sent something out saying they’re dropping their committee letter. A couple of years ago. Yale dropped their committee letter. I was devastated by that one. That’s my alma mater.
I was just shocked. I really was. Things like that. Those kinds of things, I want to make sure they’re aware of that, and not thinking, like sometimes we’ll say, “Well, this person has not seen a letter from Linda, who’s the director of the admissions committee,,” and we always get a committee letter. Yes, but Linda’s no longer sending those.
They have to get either a single packet or, as we say, individual letters from faculty who taught them in a course, two in the sciences and one non-science.
The committee reads the application in the order in which it is sent by AMCAS, and it follows up with our secondary application. What’s the first thing we see? Biographical information.
What’s the second thing? Your parents information and demographic information; the distance you’ve traveled. The idea, they’re taking out the disadvantaged statement from the application. There will be something in there. Yeah, I forget what they call it.
Impactful experiences. [32:44]
I haven’t had a chance to really review any applications yet, so it hasn’t sunk into my mind yet, the language. We look at that, and then we look at the academic information, and I want to make note of whether or not they’re a re-applicant, and I look at their letters of recommendation to the letter, if there’s a letter. I’ll look at their activities, but, of course, you know that they’ll list up to 15 activities.
It’s the most painful. I don’t want to look at all of those individually. A personal statement, I left that off. We generally look at a personal statement.
Would you look at the personal statement around the same time as you look at the activities or before, after? [33:27]
Yes. Yeah, or actually before we even look at their activities. Before that, and usually even before we get to their academics.
Academics seem to be low on the list. [33:39]
Yeah, it does seem, doesn’t it.
It does. Those stats that everybody talks about. [33:46]
Right. I know, but I’m telling you, that’s our process. We really want to know what kind of person is this, and why medicine? What has he or she done to make that brought them to this point? What experiences have they had? Then we look at our questions on our secondary after we finish all that, that really dig a little deeper. The interest in medicine and how they demonstrated that, and also dealing with people, right?
We have a question on our application, it’s purely optional, well, we have two. One is, no, it’s not optional, more of an unusual question that a bioethicist created and we just got a preliminary report on that, and it turns out it shows a very creative mind.
Is that one about wonder? [34:37]
Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Exactly. A very interesting question.
Do you mind if I just read it off?
“Wonder encapsulates a feeling of rapt intention. It draws the observer in. Tell us about a time in recent years that you experienced wonder in your every-day life. Although experiences related to your clinical research work may be the first to come to mind, we encourage you to think of an experience that is unrelated to medicine or science. What did you learn from that experience?”
It’s a great question. [34:44]
Well, as you know the woman who created it, and she is a member of the admissions committee, and is an incredible thinker, I think, outside of the box, and I love having people with different perspectives.
As I said, we’ve already gone through many preliminary analysis, and we’re going to continue to research and it is IRB approved.
We do have a question, which you may see as well which kind of gets into that what’s being asked now bythe AMCAS application, excep we’ve been asking this question for three or four years, four or five years; tell us anything that is not already discussed. I want to know the distance they’ve traveled. Everyone has had a different lot in life. I have a different perspective and different experience they can discuss. This gives everyone an opportunity to share that.
That is optional for us, though. It is truly optional. And I’ve even told the committee do not hold it against people who didn’t answer it because it’s optional.
You know, you do get quite a bit of information between the primary and the required secondary essays. [36:15]
Mm-hmm, yeah, exactly. Exactly.
I’ve learned some things with the optional questions that I hope people are comfortable in sharing with us, and if it brings us to a better understanding of who they are, things that they might not have shared with their school. I’m kind of laughing because I was on a panel with a group of deans about three months ago and there was a woman from one of the schools who said, “This generation tends to overshare.”, and I have to agree with that, but when we invite you to share, it’s because there’s a purpose.
They can still use some judgment in sharing. [37:10]
Oh, I hope they will. I hope they will. Linda, I could tell you some horror stories, not from the applications here, but when I did undergrad admissions there were times when I blushed, okay, after reading some of it.
Oh, gosh. [37:20]
Okay, you didn’t show this to someone else?
I’ve occasionally had, just in hiring, I’ve had people do some sharing like that. Where’s the judgment? [37:28]
Well, exactly. Exactly.
Now, you mentioned that you do not accept updates, right? [37:37]
Not until after someone had interviewed only because of the way our process works, once you start reading and keep reading, we don’t go back. If you sent something to me a month after you’ve been evaluated, it is not going to be reviewed.
If somebody has been interviewed and wants to update you, or somebody is on the wait list? [37:56]
I’ll tell them how to do that.
Even before they’ve even been given a decision, I will tell them they can always send us an update anytime after the interview. That can also be additional letters of recommendation. Yeah, it doesn’t have to just be an update. If it helps you –
If there is something that may have occurred between the time they applied and the time they interview, and we don’t accept an update and they want us to know about it, then that’s valid after the interview because they’ve gotten that far, and we think, “Oh, this is pretty nice.” What are typical things? Well, they had a manuscript that was accepted for publication. Okay?
That’s fair, you know – but we won’t accept that before you interview. We can’t.
We will after the interview. Or if they’ve had an experience with someone who’s only got to know them over the summer and they’ve continued working with that person, and we are interviewing them in December or January, and they’d like that individual’s input, that’s a perfect update after the interview.
What about maybe they’re taking a gap year, and they’ve started a full-time job maybe as a scribe or a medical assistant or something like that? [38:44]
Only after they’ve interviewed.
No, I understand that. [39:18]
Yeah, not before that.
Something describing what were their responsibilities and what they learned from the – [39:20]
Right, what they learned from that. That’s exactly right. That’s different from a letter of interest. Okay. Now, I don’t if you were going to ask me about that, but-
I was thinking about it. [39:35]
I often get asked. I often asked do you want a letter of interest? No. Your application is the letter of interest.
No, I hear that. This is, of course, a time when it’s now end of June, so most people know they’re either going to medical school and starting, from the last cycle now I’m talking – [39:48]
And are either CTE or PTE.
Right, exactly. What if you want to be a re-applicant? What is your advice for re-applicants? [40:02]
That’s a great question, and there’s something going on on the listserve now for the GSA about what do you do for the re-applicant. I’m not going to weigh in because I disagree with half of what I’m reading, but I may be in the minority. It really touches on something I said earlier and, by the way, I’m not trying to be smart. Linda, I think you know by now that I really am committed to what I do and for the institution, but also for the applicant. I want there to be a great fit for both, and I think I want re-applicants to succeed wherever he or she goes for medical school. If you’re not ready, and you don’t get in, think about what those issues could possibly have been. In fact, my other institution, I put in my old letter, these are the types of reasons why people don’t get in. If you see yourself in any way lacking, then address those. Take a year, take two years, depending on what the issue is. I can’t provide individual feedback at Hopkins. I just can’t.
I was required to do it at the other institution, and one applicant, her advisor knew that she was meeting with me and said “Paul, be honest.”
“I’m going to be honest, okay?”
She said, “But also make her come to you. Don’t let her do it over the phone or send email questions to you.” I asked this woman, who had a 3.99 at a wonderful, small liberal college in the upper midwest, and who I can get in any day, I said, “What do you think your problem was?”
She goes, “Well, I had trouble with my first question in the interview.”
“Okay, do you know what that was? Do you know what that question was?”
“Why do you want to be a doctor?” I looked at her, “You had trouble with that?”, and the floodgates opened.
Okay. I grabbed a box of tissues. I always keep a box. All right. I don’t know if you can see it. I always keep a box.
I see it. Yeah, I see it. [42:14]
Okay. I grabbed the box of tissue and handed it to her and kept talking. I said, “Yes, I saw that when I would read your application that you have a shyness that borders on pathological. And then when I look at your activities, none of them really bring you into close communication with people.” And it fits. I gave her some advice. There’s an organization that I think does a great job of preparing people. Toastmasters International.
It’s excellent. I had an introverted roommate one year when I was in law school, and she did that and she’s now traveling the world for the US State Department.
Wow. Wow. [43:07]
I told this applicant, and some other things, “And I don’t want you to apply for a year. Take the year off. Get some this and that” She applied the following year. She just interviewed again. They looked at my notes. I always write notes.
She did everything Paul asked her to do, and she’s wonderful, and she’s in.
That’s great. Great story. [43:32]
It’s a great story, but I think it, to me, it’s a simple thing. Do some reflection before you reapply, or even ask us. I mean, I had a guy who came to see me, he was outraged that he didn’t get in.
God’s gift to medicine? [43:46]
Well, he said, “My father’s a doctor and he said I should have gotten in with those grades and MCAT scores.” “Your father wasn’t the applicant.”
And your father wasn’t reading the application. [43:54]
Your father was not reading the application, and so I tell him, and he goes, “Well, that’s okay.” I said, “Excuse me?” “Well, I got into another medical school.” I said, “Then why are we having this discussion?”
You know what that told me: We made the right decision.
Yeah, I’m sure you didn’t have any regrets there. [44:19]
We sometimes talk to re-applicants. Sometimes they just want us to tell them what they want to hear, which is frequently something on the lines of, “I know my MCAT was low. I retook the MCAT. My essays were great. I don’t have to do anything else.” I always tell them, “If you just resubmit”, and tell me if I’m wrong, “If you just resubmit your essays from your last application cycle, you are not able to show any growth. [44:24]
Thank you. Exactly. That’s one of the things I saw. Someone said, well, they can send in the same application. No, there should be some changes. I couldn’t agree more. We need to see a growth, which is why I say it can sometimes require more than a few months, but a year.
Some schools have a formal policy about reapplication.
I know those schools pretty well, if you don’t get in and you reapply the second time, and you don’t get in, they make you wait a year before you reapply the third and final time.
I know many schools will, basically, if you applied three times, then you really are toast if you’re not admitted. [45:31]
Right. Well, but do you want to hear something, Linda?
We had someone early like maybe in 2000 who’d already applied 11 or 12 times. We also suspected this person wrote her own letters of recommendation. So there were other reasons why she didn’t get in.
Yeah, that will do it for sure. [45:56]
Yeah, but she’s an incredibly bright person, but there were clues, issues there.
What advice would you give to medical school applicants, and this time first-time medical school applicants, let’s say planning ahead to apply in 2024, in other words, next year’s cycle, or two years hence? [46:05]
Well, next year’s cycle for me has already begun by tomorrow.
No, no, I mean starting in – [46:21]
Oh, starting June 20’24.
I think people would save themselves a lot of grief if they applied to – applied to look at a broad range of schools and try to match their profile to a broad range of schools and not go just with name recognition. That’s the worst reason to apply to us is because you recognize the name. I want them to apply to Hopkins because they see themself there in the community when they look at our profile, and they read about what we value in terms of patient care, in terms of serving the community. Save yourself a lot of work. Really read our websites. They’re there for a reason. You look at where you want to be. If you’re applying very vertically, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. It has to be a horizontal process, and there has to be some variety along that horizontal line.
That’s a matching process. [47:22]
Certainly start here, but it’s a matching process. People don’t do that, though. They think, “Oh, I know this school.” There’s some wonderful places out there. You’re going to graduate with an MD degree. It’s about getting in, making your mark, and then getting into a residency program in terms of your residency. It’s really important.
You want to know what people ask, “Where did you train?” They’re not talking about where did you get an MD degree. They also want to know where’s your graduate training, which is what the residency is.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [47:56]
What would I have I like you to ask me? Ask me about Baltimore. Ask about what our student do.
What’s it like going to medical school in Baltimore? [48:08]
Well, I’m glad you asked that question. First of all, I think Baltimore has a number of issues, and the good thing is we’re always trying to fix those issues. This is a place that will challenge you in terms of being able to work with a really diverse patient population and making a difference for those folks. That’s why our volunteer organizations here are huge. It’s enormous. Absolutely enormous, and it’s bringing our medical students and our graduate students, our public health students, and our nursing students into the communities to make the healthcare better, and that’s what I love about being in this environment frankly. I love the fact that our students are a part of the community and not apart from the community, and our faculty and staff as well. Now, for my undergraduate alma mater, I did a lot of volunteer work in the community and would look for people to join me and half my group were from Hopkins Medical School because they wanted to get involved. It just tells me the students who come here really are committed to serving others and this is a great place for them to do that.
Wonderful. Thank you so much. Paul, I think we’re almost out of time. I want to thank you again for joining me and sharing your expertise and your 40 years of experience. There’s a lot of wisdom here. I know you’re extremely busy. This has been just delightful. Where can listeners learn more about Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. [49:30]
If they’ll go to our website, the basic website, URL is hopkinsmedicine.org.
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What Med School Applicants Must Know About Johns Hopkins [Episode 392]
Learn what the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine adcom looks for in applicants [Show summary]
Paul White, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, dispels common misconceptions about the program and explains what applicants can expect from an admissions process altered by COVID-19.
What makes Johns Hopkins School of Medicine unique, and how can YOU show your fit? [Show notes]
Do you want to know how to get into Johns Hopkins School of Medicine? Are you wondering what its curriculum is really like, and how it has adapted to COVID? Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs is here with answers.
Before arriving at Johns Hopkins, Paul White attended Yale for undergrad and Georgetown for his law degree. He has worked in admissions, both undergrad and med, since 1979. Since 2012, he has served the applicant community as the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Johns Hopkins and made a previous appearance on Admissions Straight Talk in 2016.
Can we start out with an overview of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine program, focusing on its distinctive elements? [1:50]
Johns Hopkins has a wonderful educational program. Hopkins is one of the schools that really pioneered prerequisites for medical school, and the Flexner Report, which came out in 1910, said Hopkins was one of the schools that did it right, and we’ve never sat on our laurels. So we’re always asking, are we keeping current? Are we teaching students what they need to know to work with patients? A few years ago, easily 12 years ago now, Hopkins completely revised its curriculum to focus more on the social determinants of disease.
We incorporate that throughout the curriculum when our students come to Hopkins. You have a course that begins right after orientation that focuses on healthcare disparities. There are several intersession courses you’ll have between major components, like anatomy and so forth. But the very first one focuses on healthcare disparities and brings in someone from the community who talks about their issues, and so forth. We also have our students do an ambulatory longitudinal clerkship later in their first year, which gets them out into the community and working alongside a physician who works with patients from underserved populations.
Continuing with that, we integrate, throughout the curriculum, the social sciences, ethics, public health, and interprofessional education. We give our students opportunities to do research. Many of them have already had research prior to coming to Hopkins. Although it’s not required, I would say easily 95 or 96% have had research prior to their matriculation. But by the time they graduate from Hopkins, easily 99% will have research, and nearly 99% will have a publication by the time they graduate from Hopkins. So that has really strengthened the profile of our students, which was pretty strong to begin with, but it has really made students that much more attuned to what’s going on in the world and ready to address it using scientific methodology.
When you talk about a longitudinal ambulatory clerkship, what are they doing? [4:55]
I think of it as advanced clinical shadowing, and actually in the community working with the physician. But rather than being a pre-medical student, they’re actually medical students, and it is something which they are evaluated on as part of their curriculum as well. Who they see depends on who the physician is seeing as part of the clerkship. That’s why it’s several weeks rather than a two-time event.
What’s a common misconception about Johns Hopkins that you would like to dispel? [5:36]
That the only thing we’re interested in is research. That is a misconception that can impact how someone is viewed in the admissions process. Even though I am not a physician, I’m a lawyer by training, I want to make sure that the students who come to Hopkins have a strong commitment and interest in patient care. So we look for students who’ve had meaningful patient interactions prior to applying, not something they hope to get once they’re in medical school. And if they haven’t had that, and instead they’ve had research, that’s great. But the research has to involve some type of patient care. Most of our students who are successful in our admissions process have had significant clinical interaction, and that goes well beyond shadowing. I’m talking about actually interacting with patients, and sometimes they’re scribes, but in a position where they interact on a regular basis. All have interest in patient care, and how they would benefit from the research that they’re doing.
Obviously, clinical exposure early-on and throughout the four years of med school is a critical element in the curriculum. How are students getting that during COVID? [7:25]
Certainly the third and fourth year students had to pause in the spring, but they were getting right back into the clinical component in early July, if not slightly early. They didn’t miss a beat. The first and second year students, it’s a little different for them, and it’s more controlled with the standardized patient program instead.
Now let’s turn to the Johns Hopkins secondary application. It’s a thorough secondary and asks for five essays. When you examine the secondaries, what are you attempting to glean from them that the primaries don’t provide? [8:09]
We’re looking for people who will be the best fit, and you don’t always get that from the primary. You get some of it from their personal statement. That’s why there is a personal statement, frankly. It is our questions that will impart, hopefully, to the applicant what we value. One of our questions deals with adversity. Another question deals with a time when you were not in the majority. What interests do you have? What kind of medicine are you interested in?
It’s not that we are looking for anything conclusive, but we want to know, have they ever dealt with patients? So they have at least an idea. I do interviews as well, and I screen, and I’m one of the interviewers, and I’ll say, “You know what? I think this person really blew off X question.” And that will lead to much discussion. I’ve had applicants tell me, “I love your questions on the secondary.” We have some questions in our interview that get at what we value as well.
Does Johns Hopkins have any automatic screening of secondaries? [10:26]
No, not at all. It would make life easier, I think. But as long as I’ve been with Hopkins, we have never done automatic screening. Every application is reviewed. I probably read 40% of the applications, but every one is read by two different people. We made some major changes in our review process this past year, and not knowing that there’d be a pandemic, we decided to go ahead and plow through it, and it has not been easy. But we’re still on track. And, this is crazy, but our applications are up almost 25%. They’re up nationally, about 17%. But even among our peers, our increase is outpacing them.
The deadline just passed for the primary, but the secondary one is not until November 1st. But we’re going through every application, and I can tell you I doubled the number of screeners. And these are people who’ve been veterans of the admissions committee, but they’ve never had to screen. There are three of us who are screeners, out of a dozen, who’ve been on this committee for 20 years or more. “Screening” means we’re screening those to be considered for an interview. We screen every applicant who submits a verified AMCAS application, and then from whom we receive the secondary. So we don’t just base it on their primary; it’s on the completed application.
We truly use and believe in a holistic review process. So that includes the MCAT, as well as the academic record, meaning the course work they’ve done, as well as their performance or GPA in those courses. But it means that there are no cutoffs. There are students who I will say no to, but the other reviewer says yes, and it automatically goes to a third reviewer, and the majority wins. I know I’ve seen a couple students where I really wondered, is this someone we should be bringing in? But someone else saw something there that I may not have seen, but I’ll say, let’s see how the person does in an interview. And an interview doesn’t mean you’re in.
In addition to the two screenings before you get to the interview, any student invited to interview at Johns Hopkins will have two interviews, correct? [13:08]
That’s right. Everyone has to have two interviews. Both interviewers are members of the admissions committee, but one is always the faculty member and the other is a medical student. The medical students are actually selected by the rising fourth years to represent the entire student body, so we have 20 medical students on the admissions committee. They are terrific. They’re typically campus leaders. Not only that, they’re interviewing for residency themselves. They are in their final year, and yet they were able to do it. I always talk to them and see how they’re doing, and they’ll say, “This has been really incredible and has helped me with my residency interviews.”
Given COVID, are there other activities for the invited students? [14:07]
All virtual. If they were in Baltimore, they would be taking a tour of one of our principle housing residences. Housing is run by a corporation that owns numerous hotels that you’ve heard of. It’s a 23-story tower that we give a tour of. We’re not doing that. Then they would typically meet with me on Thursdays and with the woman who is our director, who reports to me, on Fridays. So for both days now we send out a video of me welcoming them. That was interesting because I pretty much did it in one take. It’s just 10 minutes giving a high level overview of what they can expect. We also did a PowerPoint presentation, and we present that from our financial aid office, which I think they’re delighted to have. And then on the actual interview day (so that’s anyone who’s been invited to interview) on Thursdays, I’m on the computer all day, and they meet with me and I give them some last minute things, housekeeping details. I ask them if they have any questions, and I serve as the traffic controller for Thursday interviewees. So I’m typically on a little before 9:00 our time, and as late as 5:00 in the afternoon. Even though it is eating up my entire day, I’m able to review applications online if I have 45 minutes. So I’ll do that while people are doing their interviews.
Watch: Med School Interviews During COVID-19 >>
Per AMSA, Johns Hopkins Medical received 6,016 applications in 2019. You’ve just said that you’re up over 24%, is that right? [16:11]
We’re at just under 7,000 applications. Last year, we actually saw a decrease, and we were puzzled about that. It was around 5,600 applications. Then this year we’re over 6,900 right now, and they’re still being processed, the ones that met the deadline. So we made it to 7,000.
In 2019, you interviewed 657 applicants and matriculated 120. When you get to the interview stage, statistically, your chances of acceptance go up dramatically, is that right? [17:03]
Yes, though last year, we actually cut the number of interviews to about 574 for the MD program, and roughly 90 for the MD/PhD. This year will be similar to last year, approximately. I know I’ve talked to some of our peers to see what they were going to do, because they’re experiencing an increase as well. One school said they felt like they needed to increase the number of interviews. Frankly, out of the 574 that we interview, we could easily admit 300 of those, so I don’t see the need to increase the interview numbers.
But then I do keep my eye on who’s accepting our offers with the new process, where you have the Choose Your Medical School tool, rather than when you had to enroll or commit to enroll. The first year of that, Linda, may have been the year you and I last spoke. No one knew what that meant. Everyone was committing to enroll. I think something like 96% of our students committed to enroll by April 30th. This past year, which was the second year, they got a little wiser, and I would venture to guess maybe 50% committed to enroll. Once you commit to enroll, you can’t stay on a waiting list. We actually went a little further into our waiting list because we weren’t sure who was going to come. Money played an issue more so last year than previous year, but who’s to say what will happen this year? As long as I’ve been doing it, there hasn’t been a typical year.
When you have close to 7,000 applications, and you’re trying to get it down to 500 lucky people who are going to be invited to interview, how do you do it? What makes an applicant jump off the application page for you? [19:19]
We have 12 very different people who are our screeners. Two people besides myself, so three of us, are not physicians. Two are researchers. I am obviously not a researcher or a physician, but I’ve got the experience. And then everyone else is an MD, and in some cases, an MD/PhD. You’ve got surgeons, cardiologists, bioethicists, HIV researchers. It’s just a fascinating group. Psychiatrists. I only meet with them once a month. They get their files weekly from my staff, and I only meet with them once a month, but I send them emails and I track how they’re doing, and I remind them that it is incredibly important that we get people who know what it means to interact with patients, who can talk about why patient care is so important, why doctors have the role they have on a medical team.
I don’t say, “These are the cutoffs,” or anything, but I tell them that our GPA for applicants and MCAT were X last year, just for applicants, and then invited to interview, people admitted, and then those who matriculated. And I don’t say you have to have a 3.93 to get an interview. I don’t say you have to have a 521 to get an interview. But at the same time, they know that if someone is in the 50th percentile on the MCAT, that’s not as competitive. We’ve got too many extremely qualified applicants just by the numbers. Their job is to look and say, “Okay, we know that the people who come to Hopkins are campus leaders,” as undergraduates, because that’s who they are when they come to Hopkins as well.
One of the things we think we do a good job of is training people to be medical leaders. We take advantage of that and look for people who’ve been in leadership positions. We also know we’re a great place for anyone who is interested in serving the public. That is something you can definitely do in Baltimore. And because they get out in the community, and we want them to be comfortable with that, familiar with that, we’re a great place to learn. One of the things people don’t realize about Hopkins is that it’s a great place for primary care training. And we have a primary care leadership program. We know that our students who do that program will be leaders of primary care, teaching primary care, not just seeing patients, but actually teaching at major academic institutions. And so we look for people who we think are going to be these future leaders in medicine.
About what percentage of the class goes into primary care specialties? [22:22]
It’s not high enough. The primary care leadership track is actually something they can only choose once they’re out of Hopkins. That is, by design, small, though the number has tripled since it was introduced about six years ago. But I would say in a class of roughly 120 graduates, maybe 12%, 14% will go into what I think of as primary care. What the Department of Education thinks of as primary care may be a little more expansive. For instance, going into internal medicine, which some may not think of as primary care, really is. I think it is, but some people think when we’re talking about primary care we’re thinking family medicine, pediatrics, and then certainly geriatrics. That’s part of the program here as well, especially if you’re doing the primary care leadership track: You get early exposure to mentoring. You get mentoring all four years, but they have mentored workshop, which is with primary care folks in geriatrics, family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, and so forth.
Is there anything that you look for in applicants today or value more in applicants today than you did two or five or 10 years ago? [23:32]
I would definitely say knowing what type of students succeed at Hopkins. I look for people who have perhaps overcome challenges and are capable and have the resiliency to figure out how to make things work. I think one of the things we do better today than we did when I came to the medical school in 2000 is support our students. Even though we have a lot of support, when we changed our curriculum, we introduced the college system. All of our students are assigned to one of four colleges, which has nothing to do with your intended field of medicine. Some schools call them learning communities. The students have support throughout with faculty members who serve as their mentors and advisors for all four years, and then you still have the resources of the Dean of Students office. But we know that times are different today. They certainly are different than from when you and I were in undergrad and grad school I’m sure. We had to be resilient. But we also didn’t have the same pressures then that they have today.
Students compare themselves to other people. We didn’t have social media, so we weren’t able to figure out that we weren’t as good as someone else perhaps. I was no slouch when I went to college, but I remember toughing it out. Students today have a lot more pressure on them, external pressures, let’s put it that way. So we offer more support to the students with the wellness program. We have a woman who works with students who encounter academic difficulties, which no one would think of when they come to Hopkins. But sometimes they’ve had to overcompensate for issues affecting their learning in college, and they’ve had that down pat, but then you get to medical school and it’s like a fire hydrant with the cap off. This woman has done a great job. It’s just a handful of students, but that kind of support means a lot.
I’m not saying that we look for this in the application, but if someone clearly expresses unease with asking for help, they’re not going to get very far. You have to be able to ask for help. Particularly if we’re talking about this kind of student, I think at Hopkins and at other medical schools, it’s difficult to ask for help. It was difficult for me as a freshman in college, 120 years ago, whenever that was. But you learn. It’s okay to fall. It’s how you pick yourself back up.
How do you view letters of intent or correspondence from waitlisted applicants? [26:58]
I don’t pay any attention to them at Hopkins. We want there to be a level playing field, and if you’re interviewed that’s your shot. The way we do our admissions process is that we have a vote at the meeting, and we don’t even tell the admissions committee how someone has done. Maybe three months later, three of us will sit down and review the transcript of the meetings and the scores. That dictates who gets in, and that will dictate how far we can go. We know our yield will be X percent, so we try not to load it up with people who were fortunate enough to be discussed earlier.
We notify people in three rounds, depending on when they interview: December, end of January, end of March. And yet the percentage of acceptances is about the same relative to however many were interviewed. If they were discussed and they’re placed on the waiting list, once we know we’re going to use a waiting list, we go by their initial voting score. An additional letter means absolutely nothing to us. I don’t welcome them at Hopkins. I know that’s probably heresy compared to some medical schools. As I said, we want there to be a level playing field. I also know a letter of intent is not a contract. They may be sending it to numerous other schools.
I will accept an update from someone who’s interviewed. Post-interview they can submit, and I tell them that’s part of their orientation when I meet with them on my Thursdays or when Val meets with them on her Fridays. Other than that, I don’t track anything. So if someone says, “Here is some information, I’ve applied,” I have a standard email now that I send, “Thank you very much. But unfortunately, we’re not able to retain this, but if you’re invited to an interview, you’ll be given information as to how you may upload the information.” I want it to go to one person because that person will keep it. She’s the repository of all updates, and I’m afraid if they send it to me or to someone else, we won’t know. And we only do it for those people we’ve invited to interview. Keep in mind, 7,000.
At this time of year, I almost always get calls (frequently from parents, less so than from the applicants themselves), and the call goes something like this: “My son applied to 20-something top schools. His application looks great, but we haven’t heard anything. What should I do? Should we start preparing for next year? Should he apply to additional schools?” I tell them you’ve got to wait. What would you say? [29:44]
There are two things I want to mention. One is that not every medical school has the same process. There are some schools that will encourage early applications. We’re not one of them. I’m basing it on historical data. I can point to where we see the application process and the influx of candidates and so forth. So why would I go out with more offers early in the process, when I know that I’m going to see some great folks later as well?
We don’t get the verified application until the last Friday in June. This year was a little different of course. 10 days later, I think this year. But normally it’s the last Friday in June. We would take a couple of days and then send them access to our secondary, and we use the AMCAS secondary now, through WebAdMIT. I’m the Guinea pig, so I review it to make sure that everything new that we put in is working. And that means I’m reading probably 30, 40, 50 applications before I tell the screeners, “Okay, let’s have a meeting to talk about the plans for this year.” So normally, we don’t start reviewing applications as a committee until mid to late July. This year I think it was late July, beginning of August. We were right on time with interviews.
We’re actually in our ninth week of interviews. I was shocked when I talked to some of my colleagues. A couple of weeks ago, some of them were in their third week of interviews and deliberately started late. We saw no reason to. Because of all the changes, we wanted to start small and figure out where we could go wrong, and you can only do that when you’re starting small. And it was small, trust me, but that’s okay, because we saw what the bumps were. Now we’re in week nine, and our interviewees have told me that it’s been an unbelievably smooth process for them, because we figure out who to put where and what, and the times.
We expanded our interview times. Typically, if you were on campus, you would only be interviewing at 2:45 or 3:30. You can interview now anywhere from 9:00 to 4:00. It’s much more flexible. I was shocked: I had students who were clearly in Berkeley, California, who were interviewing at 9:00, and they said, “Well, I have classes later, and this is great, because I’m not missing any class.” A real early riser. I’m like, “Well, good for you.”
To get back to your question, patience is rewarded. It’s a long process. I have a timeline on our website, and I want to remind students that it is a six month process for us as well. There are students I may not review until early December or even January, and they’re still invited to interview. It says nothing about their quality. It’s just that we go in the order in which their file is processed, but we don’t over-admit, so they shouldn’t worry about that.
I think there’s only been three times where Hopkins had a little sweat about the end of the process. And one was before I got there, in 1999, when they first became an AMCAS school, because prior to that, they were not an AMCAS school. They used to accept just your SATs or ACTs or GREs, and then, to be a member of AMCAS, you had to require the MCAT. They went from approximately 3,000 applications to 7,000 in one year. That’s because you knew you had to make an extra effort at that time to apply, you remember? The idea of a common application is that it makes it easier, but it creates this kind of frenzy and froth. And that’s what we see, and then students talk themselves even further into the frenzy thinking, “Oh, if I don’t get in, it’s because I didn’t apply early. I waited until it was August 1st.” And there’s some people who should wait until September or October to apply.
I’m constantly telling people, apply when you are at your strongest. And if that means you had to wait because you were taking summer courses, or you were having a summer experience that would really enrich your application profile, in terms of your clinical exposure, your leadership, your research possibly, and you want to be able to talk about that in the AMCAS application, particularly since we don’t take updates. Then, wait. There are students who are smart enough to figure that out and really benefit from that.
What about waiting a whole year and doing a gap year or two? [36:25]
I have no problem with that. Over 50% of our students have had at least a year off before applying, but what I don’t want them to do is feel that they are disadvantaged unless they take a year off. I’ve talked to our own undergraduates, and they’ll say, “Yes, but I’m planning to take a year off.” And I ask, “Why?” “Well, because a counselor thinks I will be a stronger candidate.” And I’m thinking, if you’ve done every X, Y, and Z, and we look for X, Y, and Z, you’ve got a competitive MCAT or competitive GPA already, you’ve been a campus leader, you’ve spent every summer doing research and you have significant clinical exposure, what more do you need? I can’t get that message out often enough though. There’s no one size fits all for every medical school.
COVID has affected every corner of our lives, including medical school admissions, and medical school applicants are sometimes anxious, to put it mildly, about not having taken the MCAT early, applying late, taking online classes, taking a class pass/fail, or having trouble getting the clinical exposure that is so important for medical students. What is your advice? [37:28]
We’ve never really prohibited pass/fail. We said that you had to have a conventional grading system. Someone said to me, “Oh, well, I think a pass/fail isn’t conventional.” Yes, it is. We accept that. What I was talking about were those students who go to the rare colleges, you probably know which one I’m talking about, that use narratives instead of letter grades. That’s what we’re talking about when we say that’s not enough. But pass/fail, we can work with that. And certainly this year, we had to work with it, and we have no problem. I even put that out on my website ages ago.
One of the other changes we had to make this year is we never accepted online courses for the prerequisites. I had to update the MSAR repeatedly, because we do accept it now. Maybe that also explains a huge spike in our number of applications, but in some cases that wasn’t even approved until late July/early August. So it was after when people had applied, in many cases.
We’ve had to be flexible. They need to be flexible. And that includes understanding that they may not have the meaningful deep clinical experience this year. What I want to know is, what did you do pre-pandemic? I’m not thinking they have to have a thousand hours of volunteering at Cedars-Sinai hospital, but I’m looking for some indication that they had some interactions with patients prior to that. There are some opportunities. One of the things I talked about with a group back in the early summer was that states need people to do contact tracing. I’m seeing that now from applicants. I think it’s fantastic. Hotlines. If anything, it’s a chance for students to think outside the box. They don’t have to be holding a patient’s hand to have patient interaction.
What advice would you give to med school applicants thinking ahead and planning to apply in 2021 for 2022 matriculation or later? [40:40]
First of all, I think the AAMC did a wonderful job with the MCAT. There are people who say, “Oh, well, it’s terrible. They keep canceling.” They added numerous dates and times. They were being offered at 6:00, 12:00 and 6:00. In fact, out of our almost 7,000 applicants, only 74 don’t have an MCAT score. That is remarkable. And that’s data from theAAMC. We require the MCAT, and I moved by a couple of weeks the deadline by which they needed to take the MCAT examination. But what I’m not doing is moving it to January. We’re almost done at that point. They sped up the turnaround time for score reporting from four weeks to two weeks. I think that was terrific. Going forward, I think those students, and AMCAS is probably learning this, should sign up for earlier dates. If they’re canceled, you still have time to take them. I’m not even sure if there’ll be a problem, but you should certainly anticipate that there may be a need to sign up, and be prepared to take the MCAT a little earlier, and to take it if need be a second time, a little earlier, rather than waiting until August or September.
So that’s one thing. I think we’re thinking about two different processes: one that it’s going to be in-person, and we’re still thinking about a virtual one. I won’t start thinking solely about an in-person interview process until I know that there’s a vaccine and that all of the people have taken it. We’re in the 2021 cycle now, and 2022 may still look like this. It may not be until 2023, and even then, it may look different than it did prior to 2021, because there are some things that we’re doing now that we weren’t able to do before.
Students clearly aren’t being disadvantaged by having to travel somewhere. Offering interviews throughout the day on Thursdays and Fridays, instead of afternoons only, means that our faculty kind of like it. I’m old school; I still print out the papers, but I know when I talk to someone who’s in their 20s, they say, “Why did you print it?” But I’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight interviewees this Thursday. Normally, I might have five people interviewing. And now I’ve got eight. Some of them are only doing one, but hey, that helps. One person started at nine o’clock, and I remember admitting her as a student, and now she’s on the faculty and has been for a couple of years. It’s mind-boggling that some people were interviewing until four o’clock.
It’s given us flexibility, frankly. We were doing Skype. That’s something you haven’t heard in a while, probably. We were doing Skype interviews. Differently, though. The people who were doing Skype were on scholarships, fellowships and so forth, or in another country. They were in England. I’ve interviewed students in Israel, South Korea, China. We can do that now too, but they’re a part of a group, whereas before it was an individual. We have group exercises for them. They’re actually interacting with our current medical students on three different occasions as part of the process.
Is interacting with current students part of the interview process? [44:59]
It depends. The greeters program is voluntary, but that’s where they’re going to hear from first and second year students. It’s all off the record. Unless someone says something really stupid, I shouldn’t know anything about it. The meeting with our underrepresented students, it’s all off the record. And that’s voluntary, by the way.
The afternoon sessions are with our fourth years, who are members of the admissions committee, and one of them may be your interviewer. That’s all on the record. Years ago, I used to tell the students to be on your best behavior in that interaction, the in-person with our students. Not that they shouldn’t be anyway. I mean, I don’t need to tell them that. But I recently had an encounter with someone who didn’t realize that they’d been interacting with me. This was an exchange of email. I answer emails left and right. I’ve answered email since I started at the medical school through my secondary account. I don’t put my name on it necessarily, and I have other people who may answer some of them. If I’m not sure, I’ll forward them to the registrar’s office, things like that. I have seen some rather shocking behavior. And then the person applies, and lo and behold, they get an interview. I’m like, “Well, I’ve got this.” And I had to say, “This matters.”
It’s how you’re acting when people aren’t looking at you. I could tell you some stories. That’s the one thing that we’re not getting necessarily when they interact with live people and how they do with our staff, but also with the interviewers. I remember a committee member saying when we had interview rooms (which we’re not using right now, obviously) set up with a table and two chairs, matching chairs, but we always put the student chair here and the faculty on this side. And we had a student bring his chair and sit right next to the faculty member. And the faculty member said, “What are you doing?” The student said, “I thought it was important that we be close.” She said, “Get back over there!” And she told the admissions committee about that. That wasn’t that long ago.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [48:35]
We’re interested in all kinds of students at Hopkins. As I said, there are no cutoffs in terms of scores or anything. We want people we think will take advantage of the educational opportunities that exist at Hopkins, and we can only get a sense of that if you’ve done that as an undergraduate. You don’t have to be perfect, because gosh knows we’re not perfect. We need to hear from your recommenders, for instance, who say, “This is someone who’s made a real effort to learn and apply that learning to others and improve things.” That’s the kind of person that I think will flourish at Hopkins.
I’d also like people to realize how important it is for Hopkins, and all of medicine, but especially for Hopkins, that there be collaboration with students. There are two things that, I tell people, really define the kind of student who succeeds at Hopkins. The one who is accustomed to collaborating with the other students or faculty, because the faculty treat the students as junior faculty. We want to teach, and so you’re going to succeed and take over from us. And the other thing is, what helps our students stand out is their entrepreneurial spirit. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. They really are creative and dynamic and coming to decisions in a group setting. And I think if people think of Hopkins that way, that may dispel anything they may think of or have heard of 30, 40 years ago.
I’ve been affiliated with a medical school for what feels like forever, going on 21 years. And I remember in our discussions early on thinking, “Okay, where is the ‘uptight’ whatever?” We didn’t see it. Part of that is because the screeners do a pretty good job of weeding that out. We know that the students who succeed at Hopkins are the ones who are accustomed to working with other people. It is a team sport. It’s so different than it was 40 years ago. “I’m the doctor and I make all the best decisions.” Really? People hear that now, and they think, “What a bizarre thing to say.” At Hopkins, it’s about being a member of a team. One of our committee members (and I wrote it down) who’s on the admissions committee, but she’s also the head of curriculum, said, “Medicine is a team sport.”
Where can listeners learn more about Johns Hopkins School of Medicine? [51:30]
They can go to our website: www.hopkinsmedicine.org/admissions.
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