Everyone Has Great Scores So How Do You Standout

by Jason

I don't have to tell you how competitive it is in medicine. Don't think that you'll begin to coast once you get into medical school because it never ends. Once admitted there's a ton of work to do.


Medicine is a constant climb up the ladder with hurdles and barriers at each rung.

My football coach used to say, "The film don't lie". The same analogy can be used about grades and scores, "The numbers don't lie." Your numbers paint a picture of how much you know and you're going to be judged based on your numbers. It's nothing personal but the easiest way for a medical school or residency program to decide if you should make the cut.

No matter what strive for top numbers in everything you do. I remember when I was applying to graduate school and one of the physicians told me, "Protect your GPA at all costs". You have to do the same no matter where you are academically because that grade point average can make the difference between receiving a congratulatory letter of acceptance or sulking with your head down and not knowing what your plan B will be.

I'm going to assume plan B isn't in the works for you so I can tell you about how to take things to the next level.

Cosmetic Surgeon Words to the Wise
But before doing so, I spoke with a cosmetic surgeon and I told him I'm studying for the Boards he goes, "Score in the 99th percentile". Now that's a tall order but it's what doctors expect of you. He went on to say everyone has great scores so you will need to distinguish yourself otherwise.

Even in medical school this surgeon told me I should be volunteering. He said you have to do things to set yourself apart from everyone else and volunteering is one of the easiest ways to do this. Now volunteering does not have to take a lot of time it could be as little as every other week for a few hours.

Also, volunteering does not have to be medically related.

Suggestions included volunteering at a soup kitchen, tutoring high school students and simply getting involved in something outside of medicine.

If you're applying to medical you'll want to have in-depth involvement and make your committment weekly at a minimum because you're going to have more free time as a premed student. Besides when you apply your American Medical College Application Service has space for 15 distinct activities.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said it best, "You don't have to use all 15 spots if you don't have enough activities, but I can guarantee the students who we accept have all 15 activities filled out."

Be sure you do the same if you want to get into medical school.

Now I'm always being asked about particular activities that you should get involved in.

Exracurricular Activities for Premeds
You will need clinical experience to show you have some understanding of what medicine entails. I personally am not a fan of volunteering at your local Emergency Department and for good reason. Many of the admissions officers say they know you won't be doing much in the ER so it only looks good on paper but doesn't show anything meaningful.

Why because there are the doctors, the medical students and the support staff so very little room for you to get involved.

A way to skirt this problem would be to volunteer at a nursing home.

These skilled care facilities are typically short on volunteers and the pace is not so fast paced where the staff has no time to interact with you. Matter of fact it will be the complete opposite. If you play your cards right and ask the right questions while showing a level of maturity I'm confident the staff will let you participate in the care of the nursing home residents and it will be a remarkable experience.

You'll walk away with experiences and memories that are deeper, more personal and will allow you to master your medical school personal statement by the time you're ready to apply.

Okay, you may be a few years out from applying.

A Reflection Journal is Priceless Because Memories Fade
What you need to do is keep a reflection journal where you record all your medical, clinical and volunteering experiences. Be sure to include your thoughts, feelings and the impressions the event has made on you. You'll need an intense level of detail so that when you're writing your personal statement it actually is a personal essay and does not read like a resume in prose.

Research, But I Hate Riding the Bench
Do you need to do research? No it is not a must but the more competitive applicants will have done research.

I want to let you in on a little secret your research as a premed does not have to be bench-side in the laboratory. Medical schools want to see that you are inquisitive and went beyond the classroom to pursue a project of scientific rigor. For instance research if you were a Political Science like me during my undergrad years investigating how money influences election outcomes would be a fine form of research.

As you can tell it doesn't have to be in the hard sciences.

Here's to thinking ahead though.

When speaking with the cosmetic surgeon he actually asked about my research background, remember I'm a 3rd year medical student and my research is being questioned. I told him I conducted research as an undergrad through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Mass General Hospital and the doctor told me that will definitely be good for applying to residencies especially since it was bench-side research.

So if you have the opportunity to do benchside research while an undergrad go ahead and do it because it may actually help you when you are applying to residencies after medical school.

I'll be honest and say I'm not the best medical student when it comes to research I'm not highly interested in being in the lab. But I may pick up a research project this year to build up my resume which will give me an advantage when applying to more competitive medical specialties.

You're in a great position because you haven't already started and have lots of time to plan and plot your future in medicine.

Remember how I told you I'm studying for the boards and using a tutor to give myself every advantage possible...well I was surprised when my physician tutor requested a copy of my CV aka resume.

He said he wanted to know more about my background and I also needed to make sure I'm on track for applying to residencies. Basically, he stated you always want to have an updated CV so he would also be helping me in this area as well.

I'm actually, getting tired of speaking about extracurricular activities but you can tell by now that is very important and not something you will be finished with once you get into medical school, instead it is going to follow you everywhere you go. Now is the time to start building your strongest CV so you will access to any door in the world.

Here comes the bombshell...

You Don't Have to Be Well-Rounded, Just...
Medical schools want a well-rounded class but that does not mean they want you to be well-rounded. That was not a typo.

Medical schools want diversity in each class but you won't standout against the competition by being diverse. You need to become a specialist.

Let's say you are premed and you play an instrument. For all the medical schools you apply to you want to paint a picture as the musical premed. This means you play in a symphany of some sort, you teach music lessons and you volunteer at an after school music program. Now when the AdComs take a look at your application they are going to be really impressed by what you have done because you are now the expert in music that the school would love to have.

You can do this in science too. You become the one who wins science competitions, you have papers published, you tutor in the STEM subjects.

With these two examples you are not promoting yourself as being well-rounded instead you are an expert in one particular area and you have a breath of knowledge/experience in this domain which doesn't make you one-sided because you participate in a number of activities surrounding your topic area.

This is how you make the impression that AdComs love and will gladly send you an offer of acceptance to medical school. If this rocks everything you've know about being competitive it should. This is what the top performers who have multiple acceptances do. They position themselves as an expert while also having the awards and recognition to back it up.

Because in today's day and age having top scores means very little...everyone is doing it and the numbers won't make you standout. The numbers give you a first look but won't help you climb to the top.

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