Premed to a T: How to Be an Interesting Medical School Applicant
When you meet a stranger at a party, how does the conversation go? Maybe it starts with something like, “How wasted am I!” But we’ll assume you’re at a more sophisticated soiree.
Your conversations likely start with small talk. It’s a pleasant conversation that keeps you from looking like a Socially Awkward Premed while you nurse the “John-Dorian-Inspired” appletini you brought from home.
“How about this weather?” “Have you seen the new Hunger Games?” “That whole situation in Kiev is pretty crazy, huh?” “I like your shoes…”
A generous person might call the scope of topics “impressive”, but the superficial nature of the conversation drones on and soon becomes a snore-fest.
You decide to hang around the party for a little bit. After all, you only have a couple more hours of studying left to do tonight.
That’s when you meet the real life Eleanor Abarnathy. She just LOVES cats. She loves cuddling with them. She loves the sound of their purr. She loves watching cat videos. She LOVES all 18 of her beautiful little kitties.
She can’t wait to tell you about them.
“Mr. Boots is such a rascal!” “Priscilla Sassafras just loves sleeping by the toaster.” “For Halloween I dressed them all up as the cast of Glee!”
For another “cat lady” or “cat boy” this might be the most interesting conversation of the night. But for you’re finding the topic a bit narrow.
Depth & Breadth
Suddenly you lock eyes with a man across the room. You try to look away but, you can feel his piercing stare grab hold of your soul! This man’s name is Jonathan Goldsmith and the character he plays is the epitome of depth & breadth. Jonathan Goldsmith is “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
This character is a suave, James Bond type. He has endless stories and is an apparent expert in everything that he does. That my friends is the ultimate example of depth & breadth.
Now, we can’t all star in our own Dos Equis commercial. But don’t worry. You don’t have to be “The Most Interesting Man (or Woman) in the World” to be an intriguing medical school applicant.
The Premed Forumla
Everyone wants a formula for the perfect premed application. The honest answer is that the formula is different for every person and every school. But that’s not very helpful is it!? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a good starting point?
Easy, just do and be an expert at everything. Research, clinical experience, volunteering, grades, hobbies, etc.
Obviously that scenario isn’t realistic. But what does it mean to be interesting?
The answer is simple. You should develop breadth AND depth of experience and knowledge.
How to Become an Intriguing Applicant
This is a little something I like to call the TnT System. The letter T is important because it will be our visual representation of both breadth and depth. The top of the T will represent multiple activities and experiences: volunteering, clinical experience, research, etc. The long part of the T will represent expertise or depth of knowledge.
We are going to separate your experience and knowledge into two categories: Medical and Non-Medical.
Charting Your Breadth: Medical
Three are three basic categories that you’ll start with as the top of your first T.
Volunteering. Clinical Experience. Research.
These are the core areas where you’ll be able to gain expertise. I put clinical experience in the middle because I think that is the most worthwhile area. Plus there can be a lot of overlap between clinical experience and volunteering/research.
You will want to associate each point on the top of the T with a specific experience. My topics might have looked something like this.
Volunteering: Special Olympics Photographer.
Clinical Experience: Lab Tech at Phelps County Hospital
Research: Electron Microscopy Pancreatic Islet Cell Research
You can add more points of interest along the top bar of you T as you go along, but start with identifying experiences in the three major categories.
Charting Your Breadth: Non-Medical
You second T will consist of non-academic experiences: non-medical jobs, hobbies, sports/competition, clubs/sororities/fraternities. You can include almost anything you want at the top of this T. Try to think of things that would be interesting to talk about at a party. My topics might have looked something like this.
AXE Chemistry Fraternity
Charting Your Depth
How do we define depth of knowledge and experience? There will almost certainly be a subjective component to this process. I’ve given some day and hour ranges for the different levels, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide how much depth of experience and knowledge you have in a particular area.
Newbie 1-3 days and < 12 hours. You may have gotten a meaningful story or lesson out of this experience, but this level has no depth. Charting an experience on the top bar of your T is a Level 1 experience.
Novice 4+ days and 16+ hours. At this level, you are starting to get more comfortable talking about the experience. Example: Shadowing a physician 1 afternoon a week for a month.
Amateur 10+ days and 40+ hours. At this level, your experience is becoming more routine. You have started taking on responsibilities and acting on your own. Example 1: Working as a teaching assistant for the physiology class you took last semester. Example 2: Your shadowing experience has continued beyond 1 month and you have started to become more of a team member rather than a fly on the wall.
Pro 25+ Days and 100+ hours. Example 1: You worked in a research lab over the summer and presented your findings at a conference. Example 2: You have extensive shadowing experience and have started to develop a deep relationship with the patients, staff, and physicians.
Expert/Leader In this category, there are no days or hours. That’s because you have created your own category or you are THE expert/leader in your area. Did you spearhead a research project? Did you start a charity that helps the homeless? Did you start and lead a journal club at your school?
Over time, a Level 4 experience can turn into a Level 5, but if you’re going to claim to be an expert in that area you had better know your stuff.
Make Your Own TnT Charts
Your first goal should be to make a complete TnT Chart with one experience in each the medical and non-medical categories that extends at least to Level 4. Then keep adding more level 1 items as you go along.
If you have an opportunity to extend the depth of one of those levels, take it!
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