Tulane Medical School: How to Get In - Admissions Straight Talk Podcast Episode 569

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Would you like to apply to Tulane University School of Medicine, but are you concerned about the intense competition for seats? Its Director of Admissions, Dr. Mike Woodson, is our guest today, and he’ll tell you what it takes to get in. Dr. Woodson discusses the unique aspects of Tulane’s medical program, including its focus on healing communities and its integration of nursing students into the curriculum. He emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and authenticity in the application process and advises applicants to stop comparing themselves to others.

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Show Notes​

Welcome to the 569th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for tuning in. Are you ready to apply to your dream medical schools? Are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s med school admissions quiz can give you a quick reality check. Just go to accepted.com/medquiz, complete the quiz, and you’ll not only get an assessment, but tips on how to actually improve your chances of acceptance. Plus, it’s all free.

Our special guest today is Dr. Mike Woodson, Director of Admissions at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. Mike earned his bachelor’s at Elon University and an MS in Sport Management from Virginia Commonwealth, and his PhD in Higher Education and Higher Education Administration in 2022 from Liberty University. After working for several years in high school athletics, Dr. Woodson moved into the admissions world at Randolph-Macon College. He then was Assistant Director of Admission at the University of Houston and came to Tulane Medical in 2017 as Assistant Director of Admissions. In 2019, he became the Director of Admissions.

Dr. Woodson, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk. [1:54]​

Linda, it’s great to be back with you. I’ve heard so many great things on the interview trail about your program and how it’s helped pre-meds along the way. I’ve gotten some great reviews about our episode before, so can’t wait to chat with you again.

Thank you for the wonderful feedback.​

To start, can you give us an overview of Tulane Medical’s program focusing on its more distinctive aspects and elements? [2:11]​

Sure, Tulane School of Medicine is right in the heart of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana in the south. Our focus is mainly on really helping our community here in New Orleans. Now we have students that come from all over. The mission of our school is healing communities, and that’s what everything about our school is focused on, whether it’s curriculum, whether it’s extracurricular activities, whether it’s research, it’s all focused on healing communities and we’re trying to do that here in the New Orleans community.

It’s interesting that you say you’re focused on healing communities, not individuals. Normally you think about doctors treating individuals, but this is a little bit different focus. [2:55]​

When we say healing communities, yes, individuals are part of the community, but as a whole, our goal is to really help the community because communities help themselves. It can’t be this big institution that’s talking down to the community, talking to individuals, lecturing communities, lecturing individuals about what they need to do. It has to be a partnership, and so it helps that Tulane is really partnering with the community in the community. Our students are living in the community. Our doctors and faculty are living in the community, so they have a vested interest in this. And so yes, individuals are part of the community, but overall we’re really trying to focus on healing communities.

What’s new at Tulane since we last spoke? It’s almost exactly two years ago. [3:49]​

I would say there are a couple of new things that we have going on. It doesn’t really pertain per se to the medical school, but it will affect us. In the fall we have a new nursing program that started, and the good thing about that is, once it goes again with our mission of healing communities, but also there’s going to be a lot of curriculum and activities interaction with our med students. So they’re not just learning in a silo, they’re learning yes about the clinical aspects of medicine, the academic, the science stuff about medicine, but they’re also learning how to work together and that’s the main thing, because you hear so many times, especially from people who’ve been or seasoned veterans in the medical force, how sometimes maybe this wall put up between physicians and nurses, and so let’s just try to break that wall down and have them work together, collaborate. If you’re collaborating together in the learning phase, hopefully, they’ll have that collaboration once they get out in the workforce.

So there’ll be nurses and doctors together, maybe PAs and other members of the healthcare team? [4:58]​

Yes, that is correct. So when we’re doing different exercises, we have our preclinical phase where the early classroom stuff, but within that preclinical side, we do have, we call foundations of medicine. That’s kind of our how to be a doctor kind of classes and where they learn different skills and tests, and those lessons we can see they’re going to be done with our nursing students. Of course, they’re going to learn the exact same thing, patient care and so forth. And so they’re going to be learning stuff together and learning collaboration because in a safer environment, in a learning environment, it’s better to learn those skills now than when you get on the wards your third year. And then you’re dealing with nurses, seasoned nurses. And we just want to make sure everyone not only knows their roles, but also knows how their roles interact together. And so making sure we get that early lesson, early learning and starting first year.

Part of that early learning will probably take place in the simulation center at Tulane. Is that brand new or has it just been developed more in the past few years? [6:02]​

The sim center has been around for several years now, and it focuses not only just medical school students and their education, but once again, once again, I go back to that healing communities. We have EMS training in there. We have nurses who train in there. Also, we have our residents who train in there. So a lot of different community groups, first responders that are training in our sim center. And so that’s where we envision most of that taking place in that sim center. It’s a place where they’re going to learn their clinical skills in a safe environment because we want to give our students confidence. You don’t want them doing their first test on a live person or doing it on each other. That’s probably even worse. So we want to do it in a safe environment.

We have different rooms in that sim center. We have a simulation operating room, a delivery room, emergency medicine room, and different patient triage areas where they can learn. And it looks just like a hospital. You walk into the tile floors, to the white walls and all that, the bright, the fluorescent lights and all that stuff. It looks just like a hospital. So when you go in there, you get the true feel of being in that environment. So once again, when you’re in the clinics or you’re in the wards, it’s not a scary thing the first time you step in your third year. You’ve had two years of experience of doing things in a testing center where you’ve practiced your skills and you’re able to go into those third years confidently. And that’s also, like I said, we’re going to integrate the nursing program as well, doing things together in the sim center.

Could you touch on TRuMEd, the Tulane Rural Medical Education Program? [7:56]​

Yes. It’s going to sound like a broken record, but once again, adds to the different communities.

Part of that is because if you go outside 30 minutes, 40 minutes outside of New Orleans, you’re in a rural setting. I know people think of New Orleans, this is big. People think of Bourbon Street. We try not to say, “Hey, that’s tourists, that’s not the city.” But once you leave the city, Louisiana is very much a rural state, and we’re trying to address the shortages of physicians in those rural communities, especially down here in Louisiana, in the deep south. And so part of our program is to have these students do a curriculum that’s focused on rural medicine. Then some of their third-year clerkship rotations will be out in those communities. Yes, it’s under family medicine, but within family medicine in a rural setting, you’d be doing a lot of stuff. You might do some surgical procedures, you might be doing some OBGYN, you’re going to be doing some family medicine, you’re going to be doing some patient literacy and so forth.

So you can be doing all that stuff in that setting because that might be the only doctor in that community. And so they have to learn a lot. They have to do a lot. And so those students that decide to follow that path are really focused on learning about that particular population segment. And most of our students that are really focused on that come from those communities. I see on their essays all the time that they had to travel an hour to see a physician or they want to actually go back to the community and be that doctor in that community and so forth. And so it’s good to get trained in that specific care because people think medicine is medicine, whereas depending on where you’re at, medicine is not just medicine. It’s a lot of nuances and that’s what we try to open their eyes to.

I would assume the rural medicine doctor or somebody specializing in rural medicine has to be more of a generalist. They have to specialize in being a generalist. [9:57]​

That is so correct. Our students have done a lot of the rotations there. They’ve come back and said, “Oh my gosh, the stuff I’ve done.” Compared to their peers that maybe just done it in hospitals here, they’re like, “What do you mean you had to assist with the surgery? I thought you were in family medicine. Well, what are you talking about? You assisted with the birth of a child. I thought you were doing this.”

They have to be a jack of all trades.

I’m in Los Angeles. My husband once had something on his hand. He went to the doctor, and the doctor said, “Well, I have a fellowship.” My husband said, “It’s on my right hand.” And he says, “Well, I have a fellowship in my right hand.” And [my husband] joked and said, “What about the left hand?” He says, “I have a fellowship in that too.” But I mean, that kind of specialization, you can only really have in a large urban area. [10:35]​

Yes, definitely. And I guarantee there may not be a specialization or a special certificate about it, but I guarantee the people in rural medicine can do a little bit of everything.

Let’s turn to the application and a little bit more about admissions. Tulane’s secondary from the website appears to be automatically sent. What are you trying to glean from the secondary that you don’t get from the primary? You have a pretty thorough secondary, looking at the questions. [11:37]​

Well, we try to keep it shorter, I would say, but try to extract information out that really like, why us? And we also want to make the applicants think a little bit more about themselves. I’m all about self-reflection questions. I want people to really dive into why they want to go down this path, why they want us on this journey that they’re on. And when I talk to these special groups all the time, the first thing I say is self-reflection. Please do that deep dive and self-reflection. After you’ve done all your homework on different websites and doing your research and that kind of stuff, come back and still do self-reflection now that you learn all this other information. And so that’s what we’re trying to get on that secondary, get them to think about themselves. Not to have too many tricky questions per se, but just look at the why medicine, why physician, why Tulane, all that kind of wrapped in essentially three questions, pretty much. It’s a really focused-

The primary addresses the why medicine. That’s certainly part of what the primary application does. The secondary doesn’t move away from that. But I think you already got that information. [12:55]​

Well, it gives them a chance to say, why medicine here? Because when you’re doing your primary, of course you want to keep it as general as possible, but now’s the time for them to, if they really want whatever school they’re applying to, if they really want us to really focus on the why medicine here and not just at Tulane University School of Medicine, but why New Orleans? Because the community’s part of us, we’re part of the community. Why us? It is a package deal. You can’t separate one or the other. So that’s what we’re kind of gleaning, I’m trying to glean from our secondaries, but also making sure they really did a deep dive into themselves as well.

It’s pretty obvious that you don’t want somebody to just look at rankings or throw darts at a dart board and pick medical schools, they have to know something about New Orleans. The first part of question number two is what disparities in health do you believe are pertinent to the New Orleans patient population? How would you attempt to address them as a medical student at Tulane? You may support your answer by using past involvement, working in a similar patient population, et cetera. So it goes on a little bit more. [13:54]​


And you give them a whopping 150 words to do it, but it would require some thought on their part, research and thought. [14:21]​

Once again, that’s what we want. We don’t want them to be able to copy and paste and just take out the name of another school and put it into our secondary. Every secondary is going to have a why their school, but this takes it a little further and also gives them a chance to maybe dive into a little bit of the things they’ve done and how it compares to what they could be doing while they’re here in the city.

Do you plan any changes for the upcoming application cycle in terms of your secondary? [15:03]​

It’s funny when I start off saying you don’t want any got you moments, but I kind of want to tweak it a little bit just because I don’t want people, because I know our questions are out there on the web and everything, and I don’t like it when people pre-do their questions. They have months and months and months. I really want them to think about it on the spot because I feel like the answers are within yourself pretty much. And so we want people to think. So I don’t foresee us changing it too much. There might be an interview prompt, a video interview prompt. We’re in discussions with that. We don’t know yet how we’re going to do that or if we’re going to implement that this cycle. But once again, it will take away from the copy and pasting because you can’t copy and paste a video. But then also it might shed a little bit of a light on how they might do in a video, since we’re going to be doing video virtual interviews. So it helps us with that aspect as well.

Are you going to keep the COVID question? [16:11]​

We’re going to probably keep that. I think we still have maybe one or two years for that just because people, if they’re reapplicants, they’ve gone through the COVID, the height of COVID, I should say has gone away, but the height of COVID and it still affects people’s application, whether I know the overall answer is sometimes they’re like, “Oh, I couldn’t get the shadowing opportunity. I couldn’t get this research opportunity.” But also it affects people like, “It affected my family because a family member got sick or a family member died.” Family dynamics have changed. Maybe they had to be the breadwinner and they couldn’t do certain things that they wanted to do, or it intensified their passion for medicine because it affected their family in a certain way. And so I think it does still have value, that question still does that value.

What makes an application jump off the page for you in a positive way? [17:03]​

There are plenty of ways to make it negative. I always talk to groups of people and that’s usually the number one question and thousands, thousands of applications, how do I stand out? And I always tell people, honestly, it’s not that hard. And they look at me kind of sideways and are like, “What are you talking about? It’s hard.” And I tell people, “Just be yourself.” So many times people go to the internet or they go to friends and they’re like, “Oh, everyone’s doing this, so I’m going to do this.” And I was like, “That’s one way not to stand out if you sound like everyone else.” And so it’s only one of you. So just be yourself this entire process.

Don’t try to cater your application based on what you think school is going to hear because most of the time, you’re going to get it wrong. Just be yourself. The schools and not just our medical school, I know plenty of people in the field, they just want to know about the person as an individual. Are they genuine? Are they honest? What are their insights? Why do they do things?

The people try to check off boxes. We got it. But what led you down this path of picking a particular activity and what did you get out of it? And I tell people all the time, if you do that, you will tell us more about yourself than a standard, “I like medicine because…” And list all the activities you’ve done.

I want to help people. [18:24]​

I want to help people, and I always when I interview people and it’s like, “I want to help people.” I’m like, “Oh, well, you could be a banker and give out low-interest loans.”

My standard answer to that is, “Why aren’t you a plumber?” [18:34]​

Yeah, that is true.

Just be yourself in the entire process because only you have experienced something the way you’ve experienced it. So even if everyone shadows, everyone researches, whatever the case may be, your experience of that shadowing is going to be different. Your motivations for pursuing that shadowing is going to be different than someone else. Your lessons learned from that shadowing is going to be different than everyone else. And once you start doing that, we get a good picture of who you are as a person instead of a list of accomplishments. And then those are the ones who can master that or are comfortable with that because the internet sometimes will tell you contrary, don’t do that. If they do that, they start to stand out and we get a good idea, we can close our eyes and almost picture the person possibly being in front of us in an interview and possibly be a med student here.

That’s a great answer. And if you combine that response with your comment about self-reflection, I think you just unlock the key there to great essays. [19:41]​

Sometimes for these science people, it’s hard to turn down the science brain and sometimes tell them, turn up the humanistic side a little bit.

You encourage people to take the CASPer but you do not require it. What role does it play when applicants have taken it and you have those results? Is not taking it a negative? [20:00]​

I will say that full disclosure, we know a lot of schools require it, so we know we’re going to get it anyway. So as a school, we just don’t like putting barriers in front of applicants because now we’re just adding more tests, we’re adding extra costs, we’re adding extra time and resources. And so we encourage it. We don’t require it. And right now we’re still in the learning phase for CASPer and Duet as far as how we’re going to use it. I mean, I am good friends with the Casper people. I talk to them routinely and they’ll be the first ones to tell you that it really only correlates to possibly the third and fourth years of medical school. And so we’ve been only using it for five or six years or so. But if it’s focused on the backend, we’ve only had about three classes that have gone where the correlation might play out.

I hear what you’re saying. [21:22]​

We’re still looking to see how we’re going to use it. There’s still an educational curve with our committee to figure out, because some people on the committee, they’ve been doing it so long, sometimes we’re still trying to figure out the new MCAT score, so we’re educating the committee on that, how it’s going to be used, what’s it about, and so forth. So we’re still in those planning phases. Now, I could see maybe two or three cycles from now, maybe us requiring it, but for now, we’re still keeping it. We encourage it, but it’s not required and it is not going to hinder someone’s applications based on whatever they get.

You’re requiring it almost as much now for your own education as to evaluate applicants, it sounds like. [22:02]​

Correct, yes.

You’ve emphasized authenticity, the importance of self-reflection and authenticity in your essays. What do you think of applicants using ChatGPT or something similar? [22:11]​

That’s the bane of my existence. It’s because I think applicants don’t realize that we can tell when a computer writes something versus something’s authentic. Now maybe I know it’s getting better, and I know certain schools are implementing anti-AI software and so forth, but for the most part we can tell when it’s almost too perfect. And then when it doesn’t really answer the question or it gets into a lot of things that are so specific, especially about New Orleans, why would you even think to put that in your application? And so you can kind of see what it is. But then it also comes very apparent that you AI-ed application when you come in the interview and you don’t sound anything like your application.

Just the different words you’ve used, the tone, what things excite you on paper versus when you get in front of the interviewer and you’re talking about stuff and you seem bored to the stuff that excites you on your paper, but you talk about something totally different that excites you. It really comes apparent that someone else or a computer heavily influenced your application. And so I know people do it. I know our med students tell us all the time, like, “Oh, it’s pretty easy to do it this way, this way, this way.” And in my head I’m talking to them like, “Oh wow, that’s great.” But in the back of my mind, I’m like getting intel on it.

I wish they wouldn’t do it. And I wish they really would do that self-reflection on themselves to figure out this is the right place for them. Is this the right profession for them? So that they don’t think I’m good at science. I should be a doctor. Everyone told me I should be a doctor. And then when you get these self-reflection questions, I don’t know, let me just have a computer write it for you. That doesn’t seem genuine and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to play out well when you actually get a live person doing your interview in front of you.

What makes for a great interview? [24:44]​

I say this at the beginning of every single interview day we have, I say we don’t want robots and be yourself. I know these are super smart people and I know they’ve probably overthought this process a lot. So they’ve practiced and practiced and practiced, which is perfectly fine. And it’s funny because, I start off with, so when someone tells you hello, that’s not the time to jump into your elevator speech. And you see some people’s face, like the eyes light up and that kind of stuff. Because like, oh, I was planning on doing that. So it’s very interesting.

You don’t want to be a robot. Be yourself. Be interesting, because the entire time, we just want to get to know the individual. We don’t have any preset questions that we tell our interviewers to ask. Our students are a part of the interview process just as much as faculty, and we just want to get genuine honest answers, not the canned answers. It’s very easy when you’re doing Zoom interviews to have your answers to some questions, some topics you think about up on the screen.

Please don’t do that because it’s so easy to tell when people are reading questions. And that will certainly be a negative interview. And I’ve read comments from some of our interviewers that said, they read their entire answers. You can see their eyes moving and so forth. So please go over some stuff about the school, but just be yourself. There’s not going to be questions that you’re going to need an encyclopedia, calculator or whatever, look up anything. They’re mainly questions about maybe your experiences, your thoughts, and people are just being curious usually and just be yourself.

That sounds like a good piece of advice. Can you review Tulane medical’s policy regarding updates at different phases in the application process, before interview, after interview, and if wait-listed? [26:40]​

We encourage it through the entire process. We know that when you submit your application in May and June, July, you could be doing stuff when it’s finally get to review part in September, October, November, not a problem. So update it beforehand. Now you can update it after you get an interview, update it after your decision, whether it’s a wait list and so forth. We honestly have people update their interviews because once people are admitted, they’re automatically considered for scholarships. So there’s no scholarship application. And so that’s why we’re like, “Hey, update it even after you’re admitted it, because all that’s going to be taken into consideration during the scholarship review process as well.” So it’s very easy to do and we’re encouraged to do it all the time. Now, we also tell people, don’t be updating just so you can have an update. We don’t need to know that you helped your neighbor across the street and you got an hour of community service for that. We don’t need that. But if it’s anything substantial, please let us know.

How do you view shadowing? I sometimes hear people say shadowing is worthless Other people say you need to have 100 hours of shadowing to apply. For Tulane Medical, what’s your advice? [27:54]​

Oh, shadowing, shadowing, shadowing.

First of all, our committee and I understand that shadowing is sometimes a privileged activity. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, my aunt, she was a doctor, so I went in her office and shadowed her.” Somehow a family connection got a connection to someone, so they allowed me to shadow. Whereas some people who don’t know anyone as a physician, wouldn’t even know how to even go about that besides maybe just asking their own pediatrician or their doctor, “Hey, can I follow you around?” So I know it’s a privileged activity that not everyone has an opportunity for, so I’m not going to penalize anyone who doesn’t have shadowing. And I know shadowing takes on different aspects depending on where you’re doing it and who you’re doing it with. Is it good to get exposure into clinical medicine? Of course, but I and a lot of people here that reviews applications would rather see more hands-on clinical exposure.

So whether that’s, and I would say the same thing with scribing too, but scribing, depending on where you’re scribing, you might be the medical assistant essentially. So you got to really describe that in your application. But we really much rather see some type of clinical exposure that is hands-on. Whether it’s EMS, whether a lot of people are now being certified nurses aides or nursing assistants, medical assistants, volunteering in certain clinical settings. So one, you’re not only just seeing what the physician does, but you’re also getting other aspects of the medical field, the interactions, the collaborations that go on between different medical personnel. And so not to say if you don’t have that, it’s going to be a detriment to your application, but shadow is not the end all be all. I’ll just leave it like that.

What about virtual shadowing? Does that have any value? [30:04]​

Virtual shadowing can be an asset. It can give you a glimpse of medicine, especially since a lot of healthcare now is going to virtual visits, set an appointment over the phone. I’ve even done it a couple times. I thought it was a little weird at first, but I got used to it. So it can have some value for it. But once again, not the end all be all

Maybe it’s a place to start exploring clinical medicine, but a poor place to end it. [30:44]​

Correct. If that’s your only exposure to medicine, it’ll be hard for you to understand all other aspects of medicine.

And it is passive, as we both have said. [30:56]​

Very, very much so.

We’re getting calls from many applicants who are, at this point, concluding that they are rejected to cycle. They’re thinking about a reapplication. How would you recommend they approach the reapplication process? [31:01]​

One, please don’t call or email. I always tell people that. It’s not because we’re a big, mean medical school. It’s because if you think about it, we get 15,000 applications. We can’t possibly give advice to 14,500 of them or whatever the case may be. But for the most part, it goes back to that self-reflection. Why did you pick our school? What was the rationale behind that? And does your wants and needs out of a medical school education actually matches up what we can offer you in a medical school education? If you’re just kind of throwing a dart board and like, oh, because the average number of schools people are applying to know is 20. I think that’s ridiculous. I mean, those are all probably 20 different schools, so it can’t possibly match up your needs to that particular school. And so do that self-reflection and then be brutally honest with yourself. So many times, and I see it when people email and they still email and call our school, and I glance to see is there anything I could tell them?

And I just pull up their application. Right off the bat, I’m like, “Well, one, why’d you apply at deadline?” That’s a big no-no. Every medical school will tell you, don’t apply. Don’t submit your application, whatever the deadline is at the deadline, that doesn’t show any interest in us. Second, I hate to put everything on stats, but if you have a significantly lower GPA, MCAT than just our average, then that should be a clue as well as what you could have done or improved on. Especially if you’ve struggled with your science GPA, yet have maybe done a post-bac program or got a master’s program or just taken any other additional classes to prove that you can handle upper level sciences.

That could be a clue as well, and sometimes I don’t think they do that. I think they want people to tell them what to do, and if they do that, they’re going to medical school and there are no guarantees in medical school. I don’t care if you have a 525 and a 4.0, that’s still not a guarantee. So just overall reflecting on what you want to get out of this process, what do you want to get out your education, and then being honest with yourself as far as looking at the application and saying like, oh, well, this is probably the reason why.

So first would be evaluating what went wrong, essentially. And then step two would be fixing it. [33:43]​

Trying to do whatever you can to fix it. Most of the time people rush the process as well. It might take two cycles to go through or maybe sitting out a cycle to get whatever you need fixed on your application, whether it’s just being more exposure to medicine, clinical experiences, whether it’s retaking classes or doing a master’s or doing a post-bac program, or taking the time to really study the MCAT and do well on the MCAT instead of just, “Oh, I did bad. Let me sign up for the next month to do it.” That’s usually a recipe for disaster.

How do you view multiple MCAT scores since we’re on the topic? [34:27]​

Well, for us, we don’t care. We just take the highest score. We don’t super score or anything. We don’t look at sub-scores. We’re just looking at the highest score. And I know that’s different from other schools, but for us, we just look at the highest score.

It’s March 19th as we’re recording this, and we are roughly two and a half months away from the opening of MCAT for the 2024-2025 cycle. What should applicants be doing now in order to get that application in June, which is ideally when they should be doing it? [34:47]​

Correct. Have that deadline on your date, whether it’s June 1st. I mean, you don’t have to be, I hate to pick on the California people, but you don’t have to be like the most of the California people at 12:01 right after midnight, hit submit on it. Please get a good night’s sleep, you can do it the next day. But for the most part, right now you should be focusing on your strategy on what schools do I really want to apply to? I mean, you’re going to have most of your primary application done, that’s the same regardless. But really doing that once again and figuring out what schools I want to apply to, where can I see myself at and be once again, really honest with yourself.

I mean, to the point where I know people want to get in medical school, but if cold weather makes you miserable, why are you applying to only schools that are in cold weather. Medical school is far enough already. You should know yourself enough to know that, hey, maybe I don’t thrive in an environment that is a big city, or I need to be somewhat close to a family setting and so forth. And those are things that may seem superficial at first, but if it’s going to help you succeed in medical school, it’s important. And your choice is where to apply. So think about those things. Don’t try to jam in 50 different activities right now.

People reading applications are going to see through that. Now, compared to when you’re in college, and I used to be an undergrad admissions person and in their junior year of high school, you see they join every single club and organization because it looks great on a college application. People do that for medical school as well. And so this is not the time to try to jam in all that stuff. Really focus on the things you’re passionate about and continue to do in the things that you’re passionate about. Quantity is not always the greatest thing. Quality is better.

Looking at the process overall, whether we’re talking about a first-time applicant or a reapplicant, what do you think is the biggest challenge they’re facing? What causes the most problems or digs the deepest rabbit holes for applicants? [37:09]​

I’m going to get a little philosophical right now, and I’m going to say this because I was interviewing with someone a couple of weeks ago and they mentioned this and I wrote this quote down, and I think it’s very important. “The thief of joy is comparison.”

Oh, that is good! [37:46]​

So many times when people, whether they’re first-time applicants or reapplicants, they spend most of their time comparing themselves to others, and they’re not valuing the things that they can bring to the table. They’re just realizing like, oh, I don’t have this because someone else did this.

And I was at the AAMC National Conference in November in Seattle, and I was giving this talk to a bunch of pre-med students, and I quietly said, all of y’all lie. You’re lying to people on the internet. You’re lying to people. Oh, I’ve done this research or done that. You’re over exaggerating things. You’re lying. And all that is making the people who are trying to compare themselves to those people freak out so much because they don’t have that experience. They don’t have thousands of hours of research, a thousand hours of clinical experience.

And so just stop comparing yourself to others. Be happy about the things that you’ve done. Once again, brutally honest, did you do the things you did because you genuinely enjoy them, you genuinely liked them and genuinely curious about them, or you’re just kind of following the crowd, and then you’re not standing out. So figure out what brings you joy and stop comparing yourself to others. And like I said, it gets a little philosophical, but I wish people would realize that throughout this entire process.

That’s a fantastic piece of advice, and getting back to your point earlier about self-reflection, the time that you’re spending comparing yourself to Joe and Sally is not time you’re spending figuring out what’s important to you. [39:13]​

Correct. It boggles my mind that you waste that energy trying to chase others’ accomplishments and not worry about the things that fulfill you and your own accomplishments and looking out and seeing like, all right, I’ve done this. Even if it’s non-science related, non-medicine related, it can still give you skills and attributes that will make you a successful physician. Our Dr. Chakraborti here, he’s our Dean of Education here, and he says it best, sometimes just being the best bartender, waitress, retail sales person, just focusing on that and focusing what you get out of that is transferable skills. And so many times that people are like, “Oh, well, I didn’t do that, so I can’t apply to medical school, or I’m not going to put that in medical school application.” When he will tell you, he’s an internal medicine doctor, his only job is to talk to strangers and get them to talk to him and trust them about certain things. You learn that from doing those other occupations, other activities, so focus on the things that you do well in this entire process and stop comparing ourselves to others.

I sometimes post on the Student Doctor Network forum, and there was a post about a year ago, and it really bothered me. It really bothered me because the fellow posting was basically saying that he had been rejected and he knew he was a better applicant than some other people who got accepted, and it’s very unfair, and he thinks he’s going to go for a PhD instead. I actually responded. I said, “If you want to go for a PhD, great, fine, but it’s not going to be an easier process than medical school. It’s demanding in its own way, but you’ve got to stop comparing yourself. You don’t know what those people put on their application. You have no idea what they wrote. You have no idea what are the priorities of the schools.” He might have some idea that they applied to as opposed to what you applied to, even if it was the same school, he’s still making those priorities, but that’s a different problem. But the idea that he was so convinced that he is better. The opposite problem actually of what you were describing, you’re describing people who basically have imposter syndrome because they’re comparing themselves to others. This guy was convinced that the others were the imposters. But again, the quote you started with, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” is 100% right. Take pride in what you’ve done. Focus on that and focus on fit with the schools. [40:44]​

You said it perfectly.

People reach out about why they didn’t get in, and they might have friends there that got in, and the first thing they say is, “Well, my MCAT score is better than their MCAT score. How come they got in and I didn’t get in?” And I try to let them know, if you only focusing on the stats, then you’re missing out on the entire thing that what we’re looking for in general, but overall, what medicine’s about and a medical education’s about. And honestly, granted, there’s some schools out there that just look at stats. That’s fine, everyone has their own mission. But for the most part, schools want to see human beings. They want doctors who can relate to patients, whatever patient population they plan to serve, and just having a high MCAT score is not going to do it. I’ve never been to a doctor’s office and says, “Excuse me, Doctor, what’s your MCAT score? What was your MCAT score?” I’ve never said that.

Great point. We’ve had applicants come to us, and sometimes they became clients. “I got rejected despite my high GPA, despite my high MCAT. What did I do wrong? What went wrong? I wrote good essays.” Well, no, they really weren’t quite as good as you thought. [43:31]​

If they lead with those two statements, the rest of the application probably sounds like those first two statements.

Exactly. Maybe a little arrogant. [43:59]​

You said it, not me.

That’s right. And considering your emphasis on teamwork throughout our conversation, arrogance just will kill it. [44:05]​

It will. And especially at a school like ours where we value collaboration. We don’t want this cutthroat atmosphere with our students. We value community. We don’t want people talking down to patients, talking to patients. Just because you know more about medicine than the patient, it’s still a partnership in their health, and you got to meet them where they’re at. And so getting people to realize that and understand that and arrogance is not going to get you that.

Maybe pride in what you’ve done, but without the arrogance is kind of the balance that will get you where you need to go.​

What would you have liked me to ask you? [44:43]​

We covered a lot today.

I will say that if people want to know more, I’ll just go off with the number three question people ask me during the interview is like, oh, when I say, “What question do you have of me?” “What is it like living in New Orleans?” Because they have this perception of what they see on Mardi Gras day, which one? Mardi Gras as a whole weeks long festival. It’s not just one, it’s not just Fat Tuesday. It’s a weeks long festival and it’s more family, fun, entertainment, t’s great. But living in New Orleans is a city like no other.

I’ve lived in a couple different cities throughout my life, and it’s unique because most cities, they have their identity, and if a newcomer comes in, they might be somewhat welcoming, but if you don’t know about this little thing, that little thing, you’re not going to have too many people that maybe reach out to try to explain it to you. But here in New Orleans, everyone’s trying to get you to be a part of them, whether it’s different traditions, whether it’s culture, whether it’s different foods. It’s such a welcoming city. It’s a laid back city. It’s funny how a lot of our students that may come from Caribbean countries were like, oh my gosh, this reminds me of home, so laid back. Sometimes it’s a little too laid back for most people, that’s fine. We still like it.And so that environment really does seep in our school, which lends to the non-competitive environment here with really overly trying to reach out and make sure people succeed.

It’s not weeding out. It’s not like, oh, well, if you didn’t get this first exam, you’re not going to be a good doctor. No. It’s really trying to reach out and help people, and then also with that being with the city being in the school, the school being in the city, really focusing on that, I guess the new term might be out there is that value-based care that we’re trying to instill into our students. And that value-based care is really helping out and looking for our community once again, healing communities, and so living in New Orleans, it’s great. I mean, today it’s cold. I’m using quotation marks cold because it’s only supposed to be in the 60s. It’s cold here, but it’s a fun city. It has everything big cities have to offer, but in a smaller version, and everyone is just very welcoming here in the city. So I enjoy living in the city. Our students love being in the city, and they’ve embraced the city as well.

Where can listeners learn more about Tulane University School of Medicine? [47:31]​

Perfect. You can go to our website, try to make it easier. That’s medicine.tulane.edu. They can email me anytime. I’d rather talk to people than stare at spreadsheets and applications all the time, so they can email me at [email protected], and we try to make our website very interactive, as interactive as it can be, so there are lots of videos with students. Please visit our Student Life page because that will kind of give you a good picture of what it’s like to be a student here at Tulane.

This article was originally posted on blog.accepted.com.

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