Monday, 6 June 2011

Academic excellence and med school admissions

Being a premed has been quite a fun experience at times. I have met and talked to many others who have the same interests as me, and that has been such a rewarding experience. However, when meeting other premeds I get asked a lot about my stats. Mainly, my GPA and my MCAT scores. I guess this is sort of a way for premeds to rank our relative competitiveness.

I have a question for readers regarding the application process.

In a field with such uncertainty (i.e. medicine), why do medical schools regard academic excellence in such high regard? Is this warranted? And, most importantly, who do you think medical schools should be accepting? 

I have my own personal opinions, but I'd like to hear your answers. I don't want to bore you all with my response. I could write a book on it (and might end up doing this one day).


  1. I think looking at academic excellence is inevitable because it is probably the easiest way for schools to narrow down the applicants field, however accurate it might be. There is a huge learning curve in medicine so of course they want students that have proven before they can do the work. Unfortunately that means some people could be excluded because they had a bad year caused by xyz reasons.

    On the other hand (whoops colloquialism!), strike that, conversely, having a great GPA/MCAT means absolutely nothing about the ability of someone to become a good physician because it is not just about the grades/material. Of course material is important, but we might argue it is not necessarily the most important characteristic.

    I feel MMIs probably give the best snapshot of who we are as individuals, and how we react under pressure. However, it's obviously impossible for schools to interview everyone so there needs to be a cutoff somewhere and grades make it "easy". I will add that I do not like the schools that put a lot of emphasis on ECs because too many people end up doing them just for resume-padding rather than choosing one thing they truly enjoy and growing through that.

    Not sure what I wrote makes any sense to you.. I'm apparently having trouble putting my thoughts in writing tonight! ;-)

  2. In talking with a few med school faculty members, I've heard that yes, GPA and MCAT are important, but overall, the interview is more critical. You can get great grades, but can you speak? Can you listen? Can you relate to others? Are you driven? Have you overcome unique challenges?

    Being a nontraditional med school hopeful has made me approach things in what I believe to be a different way than conventional juniors in college. I am noticing that there is a rising emphasis on not necessarily being a science major. I think schools are more and more looking for well rounded candidates who will go the distance, stay curious, and most importantly, stay in medicine.

    I really think medical schools should be focused on finding driven candidates who have the ability to really relate to the human condition rather than just drawing a cut off line and accepting every socially awkward kid who has the uncanny ability to ace each science class s/he encounters.

  3. I understand what you both are saying. And, I agree that the interview is a great way to screen for qualities/characteristics a competitive applicant should possess. But, like Michelle noted, I believe that a huge flaw is that while it is easy for medical schools to have GPA cutoffs pre-interview, it's not very efficient when it comes down to selecting the best applicants for interview. However, it does make nontraditionals (like myself, michelle, and anonymous) work even harder for our goal.

  4. Oh, and I'd like to elaborate when I say GPA cutoffs. GPA cutoffs for interviews can be very high, depending on the school, and can only be compensated by having great ECs, a great personal essay, and/or luck.

  5. "Oh, and I'd like to elaborate when I say GPA cutoffs. GPA cutoffs for interviews can be very high, depending on the school, and can only be compensated by having great ECs, a great personal essay, and/or luck."

    Except in a few schools like Montreal where first step is only GPA (for 50%), and then MMI ;-) I think even if they're not required, ECs you've done show through during the interviews. I can think of at least 4 MMI stations out of 12 where I drew my answers from swimming experiences :)

  6. Grades are worth 50% at U de M? Wow, not sure what the rationale is behind that. I just don't see how having such a high emphasis on grades can possibly project clinical performance.

  7. Yes I think it's 50/50. Sherbrooke has 50% grades, 35% MMI and 15% psychometric test. And Laval I think is still 50% grades, then MMI + 3 essays. Actually the weight of grades doesn't really change much I think because everyone that interviews has very similar GPAs (all high) so MMIs really determine who gets in.

  8. And, yes MMIs are decent at determining personal traits/characteristics, but honestly, it's a snapshot in time. What about reference letters, which I believe are underplayed in the process? A good reference letter should show that someone else has seen your personality over time and vouch for you. I think reference letters play too little a role in the process, honestly.

  9. Hmmm yes reference letters are useful, but I think most people coming out of cegep here couldn't get really strong ones. Not much weight to a cegep prof letter in general because there are so many students so they don't really know you and it's more free for all than undergrad like you guys I guess. And here at least, most cegep kids will not be doing tons of ECs.. there's certainly a difference with the rest of the country as most here come into med school much much younger. I have a feeling it's one of the reason the 3 French schools don't ask for letters.

    It's really a complicated process in the end, and I don't think we could ever have a "perfect" situation. They have to take some here, leave some there, no way about it unfortunately.

  10. Ah, well I have a lot of criticisms with that process then, Michelle. Quite a lot. It's just like the old fashioned way of doing it. The only novel approach is the MMI.

    I think I'll bite my lip for now, before I get in trouble :)

  11. Note to self: biting your lip hurts.

  12. In my interview, I actually had to answer a question similar to this. I think to be a good med student, you have to have SOME academic abilities. Since the purpose of the application is to determine who will most likely to succeed in med school, and ultimately in their medical career (i.e. help patients and be useful to the world), it is important that the person proves themselves to be able to learn information well, and apply it. (does grades really measure that? I don't really know....) So a minimum cut off is definitely needed. I don't think applicants should be ranked by their grades though.
    So in a way, I completely agree with Western's admission style =D

  13. Also, I never ask people's stats, they just make me depressed lol. Luckily, Western only looks at 2 best years, and best 5 credits for each year =D

  14. Thanks, dumbadum (not a fitting username, IMO :) ).
    I like your perspective! Thanks for sharing.

  15. You don't have to bite your lips :P

    I think in part I'm probably not explaining correctly our situation here. In the end though I think I prefer the admissions process here than elsewhere in Canada, to me it gives equal weight to the academic "capacity" (yes not perfect) and personality traits. Nothing wrong with thinking otherwise! :)

    Maybe just adding that for many people cegep kinda acts like that first undergrad where you aren't quite sure often what you really want, so many people will choose health/natural science if they like the classes better, others will go humanities because it's the easiest and so on. It does give kids an extra 2 years to think about though!

  16. Although I completely agree with what was said about finding individuals who understand how to relate to people, I think grades have to be at least part of it, 1) for the reason Michelle said: they need something to go off in order to narrow down the thousands of apps, and 2) because Medical school and the practice of medicine itself is hugely demanding academically. You need people who will be able to excel with a high workload, and succeed as students for their WHOLE LIVES...while I think grades aren't necessarily a perfect measure of this, we don't really have better tools. Re: reference letters - I totally agree they should be given more merit, but they can definitely be biased. I had one employer (who I obviously didnt end up using) who I thought would give me a great reference (and should have) but had a policy against not saying anything negative in her letter (i.e. Student was once late for a meeting, makes spelling mistakes). I wouldn't have known this had another colleague not warned me, since she also had a policy against showing people their letters. In any case, I think that grades are important, but cutoffs shouldnt be set in stone. Candidates should not be eliminated for not making cutoffs, but further explored. For example, someone with an 83% average is unlikely to get into Ontario med schools, but no one would say their marks aren't good. Someone like this who has a great extracurricular profile and shows an obvious commitment to clinical practice and their community would be a huge asset to med school and shouldnt be ruled out.

    So I guess I think grades are a necessary component, but not necessarily the most important one. Interviews can be faked or botched by accident, and the MCAT represents (I would argue almost nothing of worth, but at least ->) only one day of your life. Good candidates should demonstrate a long term committment to medicine in and outside their careers.

  17. Hey anonymous,

    Thanks for giving lending your perspective. I'm curious to see what you think (and anyone else):
    What percentage should academics be a part of in medical school admissions?


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