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Advice for Applicants

Surveys indicate that women are less likely than men to apply if they feel they have not met all stated requirements.  If you are interested, here is a great article from the Harvard Business Review on this subject.

The following is advice, not a list of requirements.  Everyone will have different clinical/research experiences, and you should not be dissuaded from applying if you have not had a few of the experiences listed below.

  • Know the nitty details of your research project as well as the big picture, like how it fits in to the field.
  • Know the short comings of the project, and how you would design a future project to address these limitations.
  • If you have opportunities to present your research, take them.  Try to make sure each presentation has a slightly different title so your CV does not look redundant, and that these presentations are at all different sorts of venues.
  • If possible, publish your research.  If that is not looking possible, see if you can get involved in writing some other form of publication like a literature review on a topic relevant to your work. Note: publishing is not a requirement, but does make you more competitive.
  • One way to get a head start on writing your personal statement is to start a file on your computer detailing how and why you got interested in research and medicine, what it means to you, and what you see yourself doing.  Update this file periodically.
  • If possible, it is useful to have shadowing experiences in both inpatient and outpatient settings to understand the difference in those two environments.
  • The MD-PhD path is long, and you should only consider applying if you feel deep within yourself that you would not be satisfied with only one training or the other. You must feel that both trainings are necessary to achieve your career goals.  Be prepared to defend this.

Letters of Recommendation:  The idea with letters is that they all need to focus on different aspects of your personality, so that by the time the reviewers read your application and letters they have a good idea of who you are as a person.  Except for the research and academic letters, not all of the following letters will apply to all applicants.

  • Research Letter:  Preferably from a PI you have worked with for a substantial amount of time that knows you well. This letter should speak to your ability to think like a scientist, your dedication to your work, the level of understanding you demonstrate during lab meetings, poster/oral presentations, how you problem solve, whether you ask to take on new responsibilities or challenges in the lab that you have recognized there is a need for, how you work with others in the lab, and your understanding of the literature as demonstrated by your actions and writing.
  • Clinical Letter:  Preferably from a clinical mentor you have worked with for a substantial amount of time that knows you well. This letter will speak to your interest and dedication to medicine, how you approach clinical situations, what questions you ask, how much time outside of the clinic you spend following up the questions you had during the day by reading to find the answers, and how you interact with patients.
  • Academic Letter:  From a teacher/advisor that you know well speaks to your academic performance, how you conduct yourself in the classroom, how you work as a team member on group projects, how you interact with other students (do you go out of your way to help, advise, and uplift others), if you take an active role in class and make a point to ask interesting, well thought out questions, whether you approach them outside of class for feedback, advice, or to ask more in depth questions demonstrating that you are internalizing the material and working with it past the class requirements.
  • Service Letter:  If you do a consistent service project and have a boss/advisor for that, this letter will speak to your commitment to others and the betterment of society. This is an extremely important piece of the picture. Doctors are social servants, and thus, you should be dedicated to understanding the society you exist in, the different populations of people, the different challenges they face, and what you can do to best help them overcome those challenges.
  • School Letter:  Most schools have a letter from the undergraduate pre-med office which reviews you overall as a candidate by looking at your grades, CV, application, and letters of recommendation.

Life Things To Think Of:

  • Keep your CV constantly up to date. Have the career center on campus look it over and give feedback on how best to format it for visual ease of reading, and clarity.
  • Start the above reference file on your computer early so that you have been thinking about the different concepts you need to include in your personal statement for a long period of time prior to writing it.
  • Stay on top of the local, national, and international news. Take note of how laws & politics intersect with health, medicine, and scientific research. Be able to talk about these topics, as they may arise during interviews for one, but really you just need to know how your career fits into the world around you, and what you can do to change the world to make it better.
  • Network broadly. This is an important skill to develop for your career.
  • Always put forward the best representation of yourself, not just when you are interacting with faculty. You never know who you will meet, and how your paths will cross in the future. Be kind. Be considerate. Be patient. Listen fully. Be compassionate. Lift up those around you.

Things to Read:  Read broadly.

Additional Resources
Application Myths

Interview Tips