The biggest obstacle students face when applying to colleges is figuring out what colleges really want. The entire selection process can seem ambiguous and, at times, even random. Nevertheless, there are usually common traits amongst students admitted into certain universities, and that holds especially true for BS/MD programs.
The purpose of this blog post is to tell you not only which traits are most desirable to BS/MD programs, but also to explain why exactly those traits are important in the field of medicine. Because, ultimately, these programs are seeking out future doctors, so they’re really looking for students who’ve got personalities fit for physicians.
Perhaps the most important quality for BS/MD applicants to possess is maturity. And if you think about why, it actually makes perfect sense. Most high school students have a general idea of what field they’re interested in, but for a student to acknowledge their interests and subsequently work to build a resume that supports their claim requires a great deal of maturity (especially when building that resume means sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice fun things, such as hanging out with friends!). But maturity is a very broad and general term and it can be interpreted in several different ways. So below, I’ve broken down the word into its two main components: professional and personal maturity.
Professional maturity is generally relative to age, since the older you get the more experiences you gain. What you will find with BS/MD applicants, though, is that the activities and experiences they’re involved with are atypical for their age. In fact, many of the tasks they take on are usually reserved for college students. For example, when I was working in a lab at UCSF in 11th grade, I was working alongside a student who was then a junior in college. We were both doing the exact same work, yet I was four years younger than her and hadn’t had nearly the same amount of lab exposure as her. So how did I land that position? Well the key word here is enough. I had enough lab exposure from my prior science fair submissions that my lab PI (prospective investigator) was confident in my abilities to take on the project he was proposing for me. As a high school student, nobody expects you to be as knowledgeable as college students, but you’ve got to have at least some sort of prior experience to prove your credibility. Beyond that, it’s all about your attitude and willingness to learn. Because you can teach skills, but you cannot teach passion. So if you pair your prior experience with strong enthusiasm, you too will be able to land college-level jobs and build your professional maturity.
Personal maturity is absolutely necessary for anyone who is even thinking about becoming a doctor. This is a field that’ll require you to deal with life and death situations, expect you to always act in a selfless manner, and challenge you to take important decisions with limited information and in a time-sensitive manner. Some people may know right off the bat that they can’t deal with death and sacrifice, in which case they will likely not choose to become doctors. But for someone to say they are okay with death and sacrifice (especially at 18-years-old, before they’ve truly had to experience both those things) is a bold statement to make. But that’s where your experiences come into play; those experiences are what help you build the personal maturity necessary to become acquainted with sacrifice and death.
Now of course, nobody is going to put a dying patient in front of you in your freshmen year of college. But as part of a BS/MD program, they may expect you to be able to at least talk about topics related to death. Before joining a BS/MD program, it is necessary for you to have the maturity level to handles such conversations, because you are likely going to be having such conversations with your BS/MD advisors and peers.
What qualities make up a good leader? A good leader is someone who has effective communication skills, mental toughness, and the ambition to inspire change. Coincidentally, these are also some of the most valuable skills for a doctor to possess, which must mean that a good doctor is also a strong leader.
BS/MD programs are always looking for students who have previously held some leadership positions, because prior leadership experience is a strong predictor of future leadership success. As a result, it may be smart to talk about your leadership experience in both your essays and interviews so the application committee can get a better understanding of the exact role in your positions. It also wouldn’t hurt to mention experiences that clearly show you’ve displayed the three qualities mentioned above, because, again, they are extremely important for doctors. In order to help you better understand the relevance of those three qualities (so you know what specific anecdotes to focus on in your essays/interviews), I’ve explained them down below:
Medicine is a field that requires constant communication. As a doctor, you will always be collaborating with other people, whether that’s your medical staff, your patients, or other doctors. Your communication skills will thus always be necessary because they’ll help you both express your ideas clearly as well as listen to the ideas and concerns of others (because remember, communication requires both give and take!).
In terms of what to write about in your essays/talk about in your interviews, think about a time when communication either helped or hindered your experience, and what exactly you learned from that. For example, in one of my essays, I explained the importance of nonverbal communication. I had been working with a patient who couldn’t speak, and in the beginning, it was quite difficult for me to understand how to connect with him or understand exactly what were his needs/wants. But the more time I spent with him, the more easily I began to understand his nonverbal cues (such as specific hand gestures), which ended up becoming our newfound way of communication. This experience helped me realize that communication may not always happen by means of words (as most of us are so used to), but still, nonverbal communication is just as valid and significant as verbal communication. Lessons like these, which discuss the importance of communication, are great topics for essays. So next time you’re going through your volunteer shift at the hospital or doing any other medical-related activity, keep your eyes and ears open for experiences you could talk about!
A strong leader is someone who has the mental toughness to withstand high-stress situations, make tough calls, and lead his team to action all while maintaining composure. This is a quality that is necessary for pretty much any field, but especially medicine. Why? Because high-pressure situations in medicine means life and death situations; mental toughness is something that is needed to make instantaneous medical decisions about someone who might literally be dying in front of you.
So how do BS/MD committees test your mental toughness? The most common way to do so is to throw a curveball question at you during an interview. You’re put on the spot and expected to answer a seemingly impossible question. But that’s because they’re trying to see how you react to high-pressure situations. In reality, the answer to the question doesn’t even matter all that much; they want to see you maintain your composure while trying to use prior experience and knowledge to answer the question in a logical and reasonable way. The other type of question they might throw to test your mental toughness is an ethical question. Again, there is really no right or wrong answer to this, so don’t try to make up and answer simply because you think that’s the answer your interviewer is looking for. As long as you are genuine in your answer and explain why you hold that stance, you should run into no trouble.
A leader is someone who is constantly working to make the status quo better, to create lasting change that’ll improve people’s lives. In medicine, that means developing new technology, improving treatment efficiency, and bettering diagnosis accuracy (amongst a multitude of other things!). BS/MD programs are thus looking for students who have the ambition to make such changes, because ultimately, that is the whole purpose of providing you with this “easier route” to medical school. It’s so that you have free time available (something most traditional pre-meds don’t have) to follow your passions and hopefully work to improve the medical community in some way. By taking a chance on you and providing you with this BS/MD honor, schools are looking to get something out of it too – name recognition. As a result, it is critical for you to mention in both your essays and interviews what exactly are your aspirations and if given the chance to be involved in a BS/MD programs, what you would do to make those aspirations come true. Try to emphasize potential weak spots of the medical community that you’re looking to change and why that change is important. Having such a reflective and understanding outlook will show application committees that you have a plan of action for the future and will not take this opportunity for granted. And if that’s the case, then you are more likely to be a student that can help inspire change in the future.
Of all universities you apply to, the ones with BS/MD programs are going to be the most mind-boggling in terms of results. Even if you were to display all the aforementioned qualities, have a perfect resume, and stellar statistic, you might still not get the interview. Sometimes, certain programs are just looking for very specific things, and there’s no way of really figuring out what that is. But if you try your best to emphasize the qualities listed above, then the likelihood of you getting an acceptance letter will increase, and what more could you really hope for, right?
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