Medical Are you rushing to attend Rush Medical College? [Interview with Dr. Cynthia Boyd, Associate Dean for Admissions and Recruitment]

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Show Summary​

Dr. Cynthia Boyd, Associate Dean for Admissions and Recruitment at Rush Medical College, discusses the distinctive elements of the Rush Medical College program, including its focus on developing critical thinkers and providing excellent clinical care. She also highlights the importance of community service and healthcare exposure in the admissions process. Dr. Boyd emphasizes the need for applicants to present a thoughtful and authentic application that aligns with the school’s mission. Ultimately, Dr. Boyd also encourages applicants to seek feedback if they are not successful in the admissions process and to consider areas for improvement before reapplying.

Show Notes​

Would you like to attend a medical school that is outstanding – really outstanding – community service? I’m speaking today to the Associate Dean for Admissions at Rush Medical College, recipient of the 2020 Spencer Foreman Award for outstanding Community Engagement.

I’m delighted to have on Admissions Straight Talk, Dr. Cynthia Boyd of Rush Medical College. Dr. Boyd earned her MD at George Washington, where she also did her residency in internal medicine and later earned an MBA from Chicago Booth. She joined Rush Medical Center in 1998 and has served in a variety of roles, including Assistant Dean for Minority Affairs, Director of Medical Staff Operations and Chief Compliance Officer. She moved over to Rush Medical College full-time in 2019, and is now Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the Associate Dean for Admissions and Recruitment.

Dr. Boyd, thanks for joining me on Admissions Straight Talk. Welcome back. [1:55]​

Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Let’s start with my usual opening question, which is can you give an overview of the Rush Medical College program for MD students, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [2:01]​

Absolutely. So just a very quick overview, Rush Medical College was one of the first medical schools in the Midwest, dating back to when it was founded in 1837. And it is a clinical-focused organization or institution or university. We don’t have a parent university, so we are dedicated to the health sciences. Rush Medical College, its main goal is to develop students who will be critical thinkers, who will provide excellent clinical care, patient safety and quality.

So in 2017, the curriculum was totally changed and more directed at the students becoming the learners, self-directed learning versus sitting in a classroom and so to speak, being fed everything. So practitioner teacher models, our practitioners also teach our students, so they’re able to bring to the classroom, to the students, their own practice experience, and they learn from that as well.

What’s new at Rush since we spoke a little over two years ago? A little over two years ago, we were in the midst of the pandemic, as I’m sure you remember and are aware. But has anything stayed from that period? What’s changed? [3:17]​

I would say the newest is that we went from a grade scale of grading to pass fail.

Oh, wow. [3:39]​

Now for the preclinical years, the pre-clerkship, I should say, years, it is a pass-fail grading system. Flipped classroom has already been in place, as I mentioned, since 2017, but now for the pre-clerkship years, everything is pass-fail.

And when did that start? [3:58]​

That started I believe in 2018 or 19.

Are students having difficulties in terms of residency placement because residency directors- [4:04]​

Not at all. In fact, what it does is it removes the competition. It removes the anxiety around having a grade. It promotes collaboration and communication more amongst themselves. We have no problem placing our students in residency programs whatsoever because residency programs now don’t necessarily focus on grades as well. They’re looking at other competencies beyond metrics.

I noticed that the Rush Medical School program has six objectives built on the foundational role of medical knowledge. The six are advocate, communicator, leader, practitioner, professional and scholar. And in reviewing those things, the practitioner, professional and scholar, I could see the differences with no problem. But what are some of the distinctions between advocate, communicator and leader? [4:38]​

Those six principles are pillars, if you will. Once a Rush medical student graduates and goes out to continue their learning and eventually become physicians, those are competencies that we really want them to have under their belt and feel comfortable with. So an advocate, that really is getting in the role to address the social and political and cultural factors that affect the health of patients and populations, and that’s to promote health equity.

So being a physician who’s an advocate, you step outside of just being the physician at that point, and you advocate for what that patient’s background is. And people have talked about the social determinants of health. Well, there are also political determinants and there are also cultural determinants. And so respecting that and promoting health equity because every patient does not need the same thing. And so it’s getting students in that mindset, future clinicians in that mindset, researchers, et cetera, to serve as an advocate for their patient.

In terms of communicator, that’s really establishing strong therapeutic relationships. And that is best done through conversations and communication. And that is with the patients, their families, and other significant people in their lives to provide care that reflects their needs, to provide care that values their preferences.

I often will say that you can write a prescription all day long or every week or month, but if it’s not tailored to what that patient’s beliefs may be or understanding, and you have not communicated and listened, then you have to go back and be a better communicator with that, because sometimes the patient will not come back because of that or what people call non-compliant. The leader is much further along with that in where the students are learning as physicians how to navigate the healthcare system to provide the best quality of care and safe care.

So in recognizing such things as medication errors, looking at things such as readmission rates and that type of thing, so they can be a leader in terms of being that physician, but also recognizing that they’re doing that in a culture of safety, coordinating care and having the best outcomes for their patient. And this is actually something that Rush really excels in, is quality of care and patient safety and whether that’s in the hospital or elsewhere.

So that’s how those three are different in that there’s a focus on the patient and their needs. There’s a focus on communicating and listening and hearing those needs and reflecting those backgrounds that are critical to health equity. And then it’s being a leader by recognizing as a leader, as a physician that there are constraints in our healthcare system, but to navigate that, to provide the best quality of care and safe care and coordinating resources and the like with your patients.

So the advocate is more geared to other members, let’s say, or other options in healthcare and maybe even broader society that could help a patient? [8:24]​

Well, it’s recognizing those social aspects of healthcare. So what someone’s background is. Looking at some of the cultural differences that exist with our patients. And that’s particularly important where we are; we’re on the west side of Chicago, which is a very diverse community. We have about 12 communities, neighborhoods, et cetera, that we have adopted as an anchor institution.

And so in order to provide the best care, you have to know who your patients are. You have to know where they live, where they come from, the social impacts on their health, the political ramifications around their health and cultural. So not everybody comes from the same background or the same place. And recognizing that and then advocating for their care in those lanes really helps to promote health equity and improve outcomes as well.

Thank you. That’s a fascinating answer.​

You mentioned before that Rush is not associated with a parent university, that it’s singularly focused on healthcare. And I assume from just looking at the information on the web that the majority of the students are graduate students. There are some undergraduate programs, but it seems like most of them were graduate. What are the advantages to med students of this focus, this laser focus? [9:30]​

We have four colleges, most recently three because one college was brought into the medical college. So the College of Nursing has bachelor degrees and advanced degrees, doctorates, et cetera. Our College of Nursing is internationally renowned and known. We have the College of Health Sciences, which includes all of those other allied health sciences and professions under that. We have a PA school and occupational therapy, audiology, et cetera, et cetera.

Then the graduate college was PhD programs, which have been rolled into the other colleges and more recently into the medical college. And what that does is it just makes things more continuous. With the medical college, in parts of the preclinical curriculum, there is interprofessional education. So as the students are doing, for example, the SIM lab or the simulation lab or standardized patients and taking care of patients, not real patients yet, they do that in an interprofessional fashion, so that recognizing taking care of patients takes teamwork. You’re not always going to be the physician, the leader with a particular patient.

So learning how to collaborate, communicate, interprofessionally just like happens in real time when they are in the ICU or the emergency room or wherever in the hospital and doing that first in the simulation lab with standardized patients. So we try to leverage having these other colleges and utilizing those key pieces that are important when our students and future physicians are practicing.

Now let’s turn to the application. Is research a nice to have or a must have or really important, to the admissions committee at Rush Medical? [11:38]​

It’s always a nice to have. So let me just say it’s not required. It’s not a prerequisite. Most of our students have done research to some degree, but what’s clear, we want to make clear is if you haven’t had any research exposure, that won’t keep you out of medical school at Rush. It’s important that students know that so that they, and this is just an aside, it is so important for students to research a school before they-

Oh, sure. I’m not talking about that kind of research. [12:16]​

Right, right. No, no, that was probably the wrong word to use. But investigate and explore a school. So most of our students come in with some degree of research that’s always an added value, but it does not inhibit their being considered by the committee or getting an interview or anything like that. So it’s an added value. It’s not a must have.

Given Rush’s focus on community service, is non-clinical community service something that you’d like to see? Is it a must have? [12:42]​

It can be either or. It can be clinical and it can be nonclinical, and there is no one that’s better than the other. I will say this. Because we do require healthcare exposure and direct patient care or exposure, it’s nice to see someone doing something outside of the clinical setting. Sometimes, many times our students will have had exposure in the healthcare arena through employment, whether as a scribe or EMT or a nurse’s aid, et cetera.

We also want our students to do things and volunteer, recognizing that giving themselves and their time and sacrificing that is part of the profession that they are entering into or trying to enter into. So it doesn’t matter if it is clinical or nonclinical, but it is good to have that nonclinical aspect because there are things that may have nothing to do with healthcare. So recognizing some of those things we just talked about, how your environment can affect your health, where you live, et cetera. So not a problem.

Do you screen before sending out secondaries? [13:55]​

We do. We have algorithms. We have some degree of artificial intelligence where we are looking for those applicants in that pre-review process. We try not to use screening because it sounds like it’s a negative removing people. But those have hit our mission. So we are looking for those early before putting in that cohort for potential interview invite to see if they do have the healthcare exposure to see if they do have the metrics to see if they do have the required commitment to service.

And if someone is very heavily research intensive and with little or no community service or healthcare exposure, it doesn’t do that applicant any good to apply to Rush. So we want to make sure that they don’t end up in a cohort where they’re being reviewed for screening or for interview because that puts our faculty in terms of their time looking at applicants that are never going to be considered for admission.

It’s interesting that you use artificial intelligence, not based on GPA or MCAT, but based on experience. [15:00]​


That’s fairly unusual. [1509]​

Well, it’s our mission. We practice holistic-based admissions and we don’t totally ignore metrics because we want to make sure people are prepared for our rigorous curriculum. So we have some thresholds and sliding scales there, but it is required to have community service exposure because that is what they are going to see. Our students start seeing patients the second or third week when they get there. So we want them to have had that experience so that they know what they’re getting into, so to speak.

Right, of course. Makes sense. [15:48]​

And then because of the way our focus is on outstanding clinical care, we are very clinically focused throughout education, our research. So we want to make sure coming that they have that as a ground, kind of as the foundation. And we make that very clear on our website. We make that very clear in our communications that you must have community service, exposure, commitment to service, and even health equity now as well as healthcare exposure.

So knowing what does a doctor do, what does the healthcare setting look like? What does it mean to be a doctor? What does it mean to be a doctor in this current state of our healthcare system and all of that? So that way people have a sense of when they get to Rush what things are going to be like.

I can’t imagine somebody going into medicine without having some exposure to the system and doing it on a rational basis. [16:46]​

Yeah. Well, some do, and I tell when advising students prior to applying, if you really want to come to Rush, if you have not had any exposure to clinical side of medicine or at least the healthcare setting, please go back and do that because we don’t want to bring you into an environment where that’s going to be what you’re going to see. And if you don’t like it, it’s kind of too late.

Same thing with community service, because our mission is really to serve our community. We consider ourselves an anchor within our community on the west side. And so that’s something that’s kind of a North Star for not just the university, the entire system and organization. So that cascades down to what we do in admissions as well.

I had a kind of interesting conversation with a potential med school applicant and her family a few weeks ago, where she defined herself as non-traditional because she had no interest in clinical practice. She wanted the medical knowledge to work on medical devices. [17:41]​

That would be a little different for Rush.

Right. But I think- [18:04]​

And there’s a place for that though. There are places for that. And that’s not-

Is it an MD program or is it a different degree? [18:10]​

Well, it could be an MD program. That’s something that an applicant should investigate, but you don’t necessarily need an MD to develop medical devices.

They weren’t very happy with my answer because I basically said that I’ve interviewed a lot of med school admissions directors and I can’t think of one that wouldn’t want them to have clinical exposure and some- [18:26]​


And at least some clinical ambitions. Nobody seems to mind combining clinical with something else, maybe an MBA, MPH, MPA, all kinds of options. PhD obviously. But to say you have no interest, that’s not non-traditional. That might just be a mistake. [18:42]​

It’s ultimately those devices or whatever they’re developing, they’re doing it for patient care, they’re trying to improve people’s lives. So yeah, that’s really that individual to further investigate. But I can say at Rush that not wanting any type of clinical care, the curriculum wouldn’t fit for that person. Their experience at Rush wouldn’t fit.

What do you hope to learn from the secondary that you don’t learn from the primary? [19:24]​

Well, so the primary application, the AMCAS application, is a standardized application at all schools that students apply to will get a set of questions that have been developed for all schools. The secondary application is more what the school wants to know about the applicant that’s not in that standardized application. So it’s tailored more to the school, to the mission of the school, to the types of things the school might be looking for, those attributes, characteristics, experiences, et cetera.

So it’s more of the school’s own application and it is secondary to the AMCAS application, which schools definitely use for other things, but it gives the reviewer and the school a little bit more information about that applicant and through some questions, experiences and things like that. So that’s why the initial pre-screening phase, the pre-review phase, part of that is to look and see, well, just like we were talking about, is this someone who’s had any commitment to service? And if it’s not at all in there, that one is not going to fare too well.

And that makes perfect sense. I sometimes say that the primary application is about your fitness to be a physician. The secondary is about your fit with a specific school. [20:40]​

And we don’t use fit because it could be seen as negative, as fit is being fixed about what a person is. We look at it more as alignment with the mission.

That’s a better word. I agree with you. [20:58]​

Yeah, alignment with the mission of the school and organization.

Per the MSAR, and I think it was in the 2021-2022 cycle, Rush received a total of 12,798 applications, interviewed 413 and matriculated 144 MD students. So the big question is, how do you whittle it down from 12,798 to 413? [21:04]​

It’s very challenging. Well, so first of all, we begin reviewing applications in July. AMCAS opens in July. We start reviewing applications in July, going through that pre-screening and then reviewing to see if they’re suitable for an invite for interview. Then they interview, but it’s ongoing. So it’s rolling admissions until we fill the class. And the capacity now is 144. In the past it’s been 136. We started out at 128. Sometimes we go over, so we have to interview enough individuals, anticipating that some are not going to come and also help us to have a robust and strong wait list.

So when you see that big number, that’s everybody who’s applying, not everybody in that denominator or cohort is going to make it past that pre-screening or pre-review phase because they don’t have those requirements that we’re looking for. But when we do get that cohort, we have a dedicated group of people who review applications.

So some of our staff, our faculty, yours truly, we go through those and assess at that point it’s a qualitative assessment of those experiences, listening to or reading their personal statement, looking at their path to medicine, looking at distance travel. That’s really where holistic review occurs or should occur is really at that review stage, because that is your opportunity, our opportunity at least, for our greatest degree of diversity.

So whether we’re looking at students with a non-traditional background or students who come from a family that’s never had higher education, on and on, that is the opportunity and that’s eyes on reading and going through those throughout the year up until we have a class. And so it is a large number. It gets whittled down and we continue to interview up through most times through February. We have gone longer than that in the distant, distant past. And that is until we fill our class.

I also, I was going to ask this later, but I’ll ask it now. You just answered the question. I always ask, when do schools stop sending out interview invitations or stop interviewing? And the reason I ask it is because there’s this meme out there, I might’ve said this last time you were on even, that if you don’t get an interview by Thanksgiving and as we’re recording this, Thanksgiving is next week and when it’s posted, Thanksgiving will be in the rearview mirror, you’re toast. Forget it, you’re not getting in. [23:50]​

No, not true. We interview usually up until the first to third week in February. So again, as I said, it’s a rolling admissions, and what that means is we’re interviewing people and the committee is making decisions whether to accept or not accept or they might end up on the waitlist.

So we interview until we fill our class. So that’s why it’s a rolling admissions, ongoing review interviews, and some schools may have different deadlines or whatever. Some fill their class maybe quicker because they have a smaller denominator of what they’re looking for. But we definitely, if you haven’t heard anything, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not going to get an interview.

Are you at all concerned about the use of ChatGPT or AI in the application process? [25:07]​

Not really. One of the things that I think most people get adept at is reading what is someone’s own words versus someone else’s words. And even before all this ChatGPT became available, I think for those who do this on a regular basis, they can sometimes determine this isn’t the student’s voice, this isn’t the student’s voice. And we really do put emphasis on people being authentic.

We even sometimes see missed grammar or spelling errors, which is okay, we don’t like to see a lot of them. But I would say this, if someone is using ChatPT and using words or not expressing experiences, and let’s say they make it through and get an interview, the interview will pick that up. It will pick that up. But we don’t have a concern about that right now.

I would say you will get much further at most schools, Rush included, by being authentic and telling your story. That is what people are looking for as what prompted you to do that. And then they look at your experience to see how you tested that motivation. So if you have anything in there that’s not you, it will be something that would come out if you did get an interview. So be authentic. That’s what I would say.

Also, if you write and it’s very flowery, well that wouldn’t impress you guys anyways, but if your essay is perfect and any email you send is terrible in terms of the English, not that it would be, but the tone is entirely different, the style is entirely different, that’s also pretty clear. [26:39]​

Yeah, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. It’s the tone and we know how students talk. So someone you can easily say or tell this isn’t the student, it could be someone else did it for them or it could be ChatPT or whatever.

ChatGPT. [27:19]​

But you can tell that this is not, and these are people who interact with students on a regular basis. So it’s like students don’t talk like this. I would just say be yourself, be authentic. Have somebody review it or edit it, but let it be your own voice and your own story.

What can applicants expect if lucky enough to be invited for an interview? [27:37]​

Well, since the pandemic, all interviews, at least at Rush, I know some have hybrid, are virtual. The same is true for people applying to residency programs. It’s actually cheaper and more equitable for people who can’t afford all the traveling. So all are virtual and should you get an invitation, I will say this, unless there’s something just untoward that happens, please show up. Or if you can’t let people know because some don’t show up and that spot is like gold because someone else could have been in that spot.

But what the day involves is meeting our admissions team and hearing from various people on the admissions team. The interviews are you have one interview that is called an open interview where pretty much your entire application is reviewed with you with either a faculty person or one of our professional staff. The second interview is with two individuals, a faculty person and oftentimes a fourth year medical student.

And that is just not as structured. There’s certain questions that are being asked to get more information about the applicant and what they know and their experiences. Another reason why you don’t want anything in your application that’s not true, because people will zero in and say, “Tell me about this, what did you mean by that?” or whatever. And so it gives an opportunity to, what I always do in the morning when I meet with our applicants for interview, I say, “We have your written application here and all the good stuff in there and that got you here, and now we have you in front of us and we want to compare the two.” So sometimes what’s on paper may not match what you’re hearing or seeing, et cetera. The interview is critical and it’s for the applicant to lose, but it’s critical and really in many ways what people are looking for.

We have our student ambassadors who also are involved. The night before some of them host a virtual session where they can ask the current students anything they want; faculty or no one else is involved. Pre-COVID, some students when they came, they would room with one of our students and perhaps see Chicago or if they weren’t familiar with it. So they have the interviews, they have a virtual tour, which includes our Cook County Stroger Hospital, which is our large county hospital.

Then when they come back after their interviews, they hear from our dean for the curriculum and what the clerkship years look like, what the curriculum looks like. They can ask questions. Then I host a session called Finding Your Rush, where they will hear from our medical students any year in terms of what they’re doing in the community. And then Dr. Sharon Gates, she is our senior director for diversity for the university and also for community engagement, and the students will hear about her work with the Rush Community Service Initiative Programs, or RCSIP.

That is just a fun session because first they hear all of this and then we open it up for questions about some of the initiatives that are going on and how things work and all of that. And then that concludes their day. So it’s pretty full. But what I tell them is, “We want you to have a snapshot of who we are. So when and if you have a chance, the chance to decide on schools, it’ll be an informed decision.” We are very transparent. I share the mission with them so when they leave, I tell them, “You have a snapshot of who we are.” So that’s kind of the day.

Sounds like a really full day. Now what about update letters? If an applicant applies in June or July, things can happen in November, December, January. Are you open to update letters? Are you open to update letters after the interview? If waitlisted? [31:23]​

If there’s an update letter to something, for example, an experience, they can send that, they can send things up to the interview. Sometimes we get things after the interview. Typically, we like to have all of their academic work completed. If there was a course that they just finished or whatever and perhaps, but typically for academics, it should go through AMCAS, if they have done some research, if they presented a paper or got an award or whatever.

Otherwise, the letters of reference are already there. Those go through AMCAS, so when applying, make sure you have the letters you want, because once we have them and it has gone through AMCAS, we don’t take extraneous letters, they must go through AMCAS. But other things, accolades, honors, et cetera, no problem.

Or a new job, that kind of thing. One thing I know that drives applicants nuts at this time of year is the silence. You just said that you’re still sending out invitations, so maybe that’s going to reassure them. Obviously, if they get an invitation in January, are they worse off than if they get an invitation in September? [32:35]​

Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

Do you have any tips for them on handling the thunderous silence that comes between submitting the secondary and either getting an invitation or finding out that you’re not admitted? [33:01]​

You mentioned those who apply. One of the things we always tell people is to apply early as possible because then you’re more likely to have your application reviewed. But with that, I’ll say it is going to take patience because the admissions process is a rolling admissions process, which means it is continuous and the committee is continually voting once a week. And so we have to take into account on the operational side what that denominator looks like, how many are accepted to date, and that can change. Just because someone is accepted doesn’t mean they are coming.

I would say just try to be patient. If you do not hear anything and you contact a school, you’re still not going to hear anything because people are scrambling to manage the admissions process. Knowing that we get a large volume of applications, knowing that we continually are still reviewing applications, knowing that the committee is continually voting, but applicants don’t always come when they are accepted,that is something until I would say at least February is going to be continuous. After that, the AAMC process, the choose your medical school tool, that is what they should keep in mind and think about. But if they have not heard anything up until that point in time in February, I would say to be patient. But if you contact the school to see where you are in that process, you’re basically going to hear we’re still in process.

So I recognize and realize that it’s difficult. One last thing I’ll say is we do have an early decision program, as most schools do. No school can start sending out acceptances until that October 15th deadline for early decision programs pass. Even though we may be interviewing, we just can’t say anything if you’re in that cohort as well. So it’s just the way it is, and I understand that students get anxious and all of that, but I would say be patient.

Now, let’s say the cycle comes and goes and they haven’t heard anything. Well, at that point, if interview season is over and they have not heard anything and they’re likely not going to get an interview, and at some point in time our students will reach out, those that particularly want to come to Rush, they might reach out for information or advice about their application, what can I do to improve it or whatever. And sometimes that’s when we tell them, you didn’t have enough this. You didn’t have enough that in your application. And it never made it to review for interview. So I would just say, be patient.

Great advice. And you said patience. And I was thinking, is that with a TS or a C? But obviously you meant with a C. And then the other thought that occurred to me, applicants come to me at this time of year and they’re like, “Gee, if it’s after Thanksgiving, am I toast?” And I say, “Well, no, you can still get an interview invitation.” Not just from Rush, I’ve actually never had an admissions director tell me, no, we don’t send any interview invitations out after Thanksgiving. Not one, which is why I keep asking this question because that thing is still out there.​

But what I will tell applicants is if you don’t have interview invitations by Thanksgiving, and basically from anytime after you submit your secondaries, you have to be open to the possibility that you might have to reapply. So you should be constantly improving your qualifications. If you know that your MCAT is on the low side, then start prepping, studying again for the MCAT. If you know that you did not have your clinical experience or exposure wasn’t that strong, get some. Prepare. [36:09]​

One of the things that happens, Linda, is that schools, I think on the average students might apply to 13 to 15 schools. And over time, what may happen is they are not getting interviews from any of the schools. They haven’t heard from any, and then they might contact the school that they really want to hear from. But you’re right, by the end of the cycle, typically if they haven’t had any interviews whatsoever or maybe one and not an acceptance, then it’s time to do a review of themselves and their application and where they are with that. And that takes time and judgment to recognize that, okay, I’m missing something here. If I want to go to medical school and reapply, I need to figure out why I didn’t get an interview. Or even though I had an interview, I didn’t get accepted.

And that’s a process. And I think for the particular school or schools that you’re very interested in, you can contact those schools. Now, some may not respond. We do try to give responses, but we don’t do it right away because we’re trying to matriculate our class at that point. Once we get the 144 and it’s going like this, okay, we’re down to 142, bring somebody off the waitlist. It’s literally a balancing act.

People are just busy. They are trying to enroll a class to begin medical school when we start in August. So getting information, reviewing your own application, reviewing your own application against what the school told you they were looking for, and if it’s missing. I’ll say this about scores and academics. If you know your academic record is weak, start there and see against that school’s website against MSAR, where are you?

So if your MCAT or your GPA or your GPA and MCAT together combined are on the low side and your transcript has some ups and downs or mainly downs, you might be getting a sense that it was the academics. The other is if you’re applying to a research intensive school and you’ve done no research, that’s going to be quite obvious. And then finally, if schools specifically are looking for something, and I’ll use Rush as an example, is that strong commitment to community service and healthcare exposure and you don’t have it, well, you have your answer in some ways.

You really have to look back and be insightful and hold a mirror up and review yourself. And I’ll tell you this, we get a lot of re-applicants, not necessarily to Rush, but reapplying, and you can see the delta from what they did and what they’re doing now. And so students who really want to be a doctor, they continue to pursue it.

I’d like to add a little bit to that if I may. I think there’s also the qualifications, the academic qualifications, there’s the experiential qualifications, but there’s also a thoughtful presentation of those qualifications. [40:10]​


And I think that that’s the other element that applicants have to look at. My sister was telling me that I think, I don’t know, the son of somebody who is a service provider for her, was complaining he didn’t get into medical school. He doesn’t know why, and he has this qualification, he has that qualification. And I said, “If you want,” I said, “this person can give me a call. I won’t charge them. I’ll just have a call.” It’s somebody that my sister knows well.​

And she says, “Well, do you think it’s …?” She said that the mother was basically saying it was unfair, unfairness. And I said, “Before you go to unfairness, why don’t you look at the qualifications and the presentation of those qualifications?” She says, “Okay, you got a point.” And neither the woman nor her son ever called me, so I have no idea what the reality was. But it’s also, again, a thoughtful presentation of what you’ve done. And that would mean not just listing experiences, but evaluating them. What did you learn from them? What did you get out of them? What did you contribute? What was your accomplishment? [40:25]​

One of the things that most schools know now is that everybody’s path to medicine is different. And that’s kind of the fun of it. So as we talked earlier about ChatPT or AI and all of that, the personal statement is useful in many ways of how someone articulates their path.

But the other piece of it is, where are you coming from with this? It’s a common thing. Why do you want to be a doctor? That takes some explanation, but it also takes some initiative to show your curiosity and what you’ve done to investigate what it is to be a doctor. What kind of experiences have you exposed yourself to? What kind of differences? What kind of other backgrounds, communities? Or how do you know you want to be a doctor if you haven’t done anything to expose yourself to that? So some of it is what you have done on your end.

Holistic admissions is weighing and balancing the individual’s personal and other characteristics that they bring to the table. If there’s a student out there who is working hard, going to school, supporting their family or supporting themselves, taking classes at the same time, that person may not have enough time to do some of the extra stuff, but they are still engaged in doing something and they have done something.

We’ve seen this with people during the pandemic. They were able to manage and find things to do. Some of it was virtual. We have something that asks about how did the – most schools do – how did the pandemic affect you? So some of it is what is your story, how did you articulate your story in person? What did you do, how does what you’re saying match what you did? So some of it is, I don’t know, I can’t give all the examples here.

I can give you one. I had a guy come to me years ago. This was years ago, this guy, he wasn’t applying to medical school. But the point is there, I didn’t even remember what he was applying to. I was trying to get just some information about the guy. And I said, “Is there anything going on that you’re committed to or that you want to change or whatever?”​

There happened to be at the time, a horrible incident of child abuse in the Los Angeles news; I live in Los Angeles. And he said, “Oh, I’m really upset about child abuse.” And I said, “Okay. What have you done? And are you advocating for reform in this area? Are you donating money to anti-child abuse mothers or whatever it is, the cause? It was before social media. Are you organizing? Are you active? He says, “No, no, it just makes my blood boil.” I said, “Okay…” That’s not showing any commitment.” [43:24]​

Yeah, well, oftentimes students will come to the table, so to speak, having had experiences that they delved into or became –

He was not a victim of child abuse. He was not a victim of child abuse. That wasn’t his story. [44:38]​

So some of this, sometimes we’ll see people whose family had an adverse outcome with their health or their physician and they want to do better. So some of this is what is prompting you to do this, but you also have to be introspective. And I will tell you this, it is not just your numbers.

Schools could fill their classes in a day or two if it was just numbers. So we are looking for these humanistic characteristics. We’re looking for your ability to communicate and demonstrate it. We are looking for being able to put yourself aside for other people. There are many communities in this country that are suffering. We’re looking for a commitment to improving healthcare for everyone.

As I said, we sit on the west side of Chicago. We know who our community is. So we want people who are going to be active participants, even as students, in helping improve our communities that we serve. And that’s part of our mission is community partnerships. Doing these things ahead of time, I’ll tell you, it makes it much easier to review an application and decide whether or not-

Good. [45:58]​

Yeah, I’d like to see this person here.

This person partnered in his community or her community, participated. [46:02]​

If you’re advocating for something, we’ve seen people advocating for things such as disabilities or opioid overdose, whatever grabs you, what’s your passion is really what this is. What is your passion? And then how did you pursue it? How did you pursue your curiosity? So if that’s not demonstrated in your application, there are thousands of other applications waiting to do it.

So it really takes time. Don’t rush into applying. Really sit and talk to yourself and other people about why you want to do this. Because no school, once you’re admitted, no school wants to lose you. It’s an investment. Applicants when they enroll are investments. And so they want to make sure they’re making the right decisions.

Great. Thank you. I think we’ve covered a lot. We’re running out of time here, and I don’t want to take advantage of your generosity any more than I already have. [46:59]​

No problem.

So Dr. Boyd, I think just thank you for joining me and sharing your expertise, your thoughts, your experience. It’s been great. Where can listeners learn more about Rush Medical College? [47:09]​

Thank you for that, Linda. Our website is absolutely full of things. You can go to Rush University and see all of the colleges. I will say this. Rush University, Rush University Medical Center, Rush University System for Health, our mission is to improve the health of the individuals and diverse communities we serve, through the integration of outstanding patient care. And that’s an emphasis because we are very, very good in providing outstanding patient care, education, research, and community partnerships.

We are focused on improving health equity in our communities and beyond. And so we want students, when they leave Rush, all of those six things you named earlier, Linda, in terms of communicator, leader, advocate, professional, scholar, all of those things, when our students leave, that’s part of their DNA and they will be able to do that wherever they practice. So I hope people will go to the website, not just Rush’s website. You should look at websites of all the schools where you apply. But Rush’s website, after you read it and go through it, I think you will have a good understanding of what you need to be at Rush.

And the last thing I’ll say, during the spring and through the summer, we have a bootcamp for people who have not yet applied. It’s free, where you can come and hear, the same thing I’m talking about, but from our admissions team, of what we’re looking for. So we run a session and people are able to ask questions. And the reason that this is important, is you get to do it and make any changes before you apply. If you have already applied, it won’t help you. So if you’re missing something, it’s too late. So my advice would be to get as much information as you can before you submit that application, because once you do, if you’re missing something, it’s too late to change that application.

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