Premedical advice from an expert: how to find the right school

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Sanjay Aneja MDDr. Aneja is a former Yale School of Medicine Admissions Committee member and MedSchoolCoach advisor. He provided some advice for premedical students applying to medical school, including how to find the right school for every applicant.

Applying for medical school is a very tedious and difficult process so what kept you going through your personal journey?

I think understanding that medicine as a career is a process. For students who are applying for medical school, I think that they should appreciate the ups and downs of the process and I think if you are continually interested in becoming a physician and have a passion for taking care of patients then it really is worth it. It becomes rather difficult when students feel that after each step they are done. It’s never a complete process and once you appreciate that fact, the entire journey of becoming a physician and the constant learning process then that’s when it becomes a lot more manageable. I also think that everyone finds the right fit, the right medical school and opportunities are not limited by not being at the top schools. I think that’s an important thing to highlight to students. You can still take care of patients and be a great doctor even if you don’t go to your top choice. The most important thing is that you actually become a physician.

I also think that everyone finds the right fit, the right medical school, and opportunities are not limited by not being at the top schools. You can still take care of patients and be a great doctor even if you don’t go to your top choice. The most important thing is that you actually become a physician. 

You mentioned finding the right school. How can a student determine whether they’re a good fit for the school they are looking at and what do you think determines a good fit?

When I think about medical schools I would really think about trying to evaluate if you have a specific career goal in mind. I think when a lot of students are applying to medical school, they don’t really think about where exactly they want their career to pan out and I think that’s okay. In those situations I really do think that medical students should really go to the schools that afford them the best opportunity to have a diverse career. Often times those are the schools that are perceived to be ranked higher but at the same time I think that students are becoming more knowledgeable about medicine in their undergraduate education. I think that they are able to discern whether or not they feel like their career will be more academically focused; whether they’re more interested in research and teaching or interested in being clinicians whether it may be community practice or private practice. I think that in a world where you think that you are more academically focused you should go to a school that allows you to pursue scholarly activities. When I applied to medical school I knew that I was interested in an academic and research focused track so I was mostly looking at medical schools that offered me that ability within my four years of medical school. Alternatively, I’ve met students who had done research but it wasn’t something they were willing to dedicate their life to so for them, I think it’s important that they go to schools that are very clinically focused, has really great teaching and exposes you to a lot of patients so that you’re clinically strong when you become a resident. Lastly, when students become a little older, more often than not students have geographic preferences based on where they are from, significant others or spouses and obviously that would play into all of it. But I will say that I think that if you are coming out of an undergraduate school then geography is not as important because it’s more important that you find a medical school you will be successful at.

Okay. As an admissions committee member then, what is the biggest thing that you are looking for in a prospective student?

I think that when we look at students the most important thing to see is whether they have an idea of what they want to do in the future. Do they actually spend time to think about where they see their career? It’s not necessarily about seeing themselves becoming a specific type of physician like a paediatrician or an oncologist or if they see themselves practicing at a specific location but how they want to divide their time in the future. Do they see themselves primarily caring for patients? Do they see themselves primarily doing research? Do they see themselves teaching? Doing something very alternative like policy work or entrepreneurial things? It could be all of those things but I think having students who have an idea of where they want to be is really helpful because then we know whether or not our school can provide them the next step or the tools to achieve those goals. When we think about students in the admissions committee, it’s very easy if we see that the student has a plan and he needs to come to this school to achieve that plan and our school can provide the resources for him. It’s a lot more difficult to project students who are very unsure of what their future is and have not really thought about it so they just know that they would like to become a doctor or something in that context.

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