“Why this medical school?” is a popular question asked as part of secondary essays and during medical school interviews. It is an important question that can differentiate an applicant from thousands of other students applying.
The key to giving a great response to this critical question is to be specific in three ways:
— Be specific about your interests in clinical medicine and health care. You can talk more about a specialty you are interested in pursuing or you can discuss your desire to work with specific patient populations, such as children with disabilities or homeless individuals.
— Link your response to the specific activities you want to pursue in med school. In your essay, cite specific classes, clinical rotation electives, volunteer opportunities, research projects, student organizations and professors you want to work with.
— Align your response to the medical school’s specific mission and culture. Some med schools value research while others value social justice. Keep a lookout for specialized programs within medical schools like the University of California’s Programs in Medical Education, also called UC PRIME. These special programs have a curriculum designed to address specific needs of varying patient populations.
Below are hypothetical essay responses of three med school applicants with different interests.
Applicant 1: Interested in Oncology Research and Prevention
My mom passed away from breast cancer when I was in high school. I admired how her oncologist sat down with our family at each appointment to answer our questions and educate us to help make the best decisions for my mom. I was inspired to pursue medicine and care for my patients and their families in the same compassionate manner.
In college, I conducted research on genetic mutations that increase an individual’s risk for cancer. In medical school, I want to work with Professor R. on BRCA mutations, which increase one’s risk for breast cancer. Additionally, through my volunteer work at free clinics, I became passionate about cancer prevention in disadvantaged communities.
I want to work with the hospital’s Cancer Institute to organize outreach programs in low-income communities that promote cancer screening awareness. I am excited to pursue clinical electives in women’s health and oncology to learn how to take care of cancer patients.
Applicant 2: Interested in Health Education
I love working with children and I have developed a passion for health education while majoring in public health in college. I founded a nonprofit in which I teach nutrition at after-school programs and orphanages. To better understand the clinical side of pediatrics, I interned at the Children’s Hospital for two summers. During my internship, I worked with the Division of Community Outreach and we educated adolescents and their parents about mental health issues.
At this medical school, I want to create partnerships with the Ronald McDonald House to help families navigate housing and food insecurity. Additionally, I am excited to work with my classmates to grow gardens at nearby elementary schools to educate students about nutrition. This medical school offers diverse pediatric clinical electives, and one of my goals is to understand health issues in rural areas, urban cities and academic medical centers.
Finally, in order to create more longitudinal relationships with chronically ill children, I will volunteer at the Children’s Hospital dialysis unit and mentor young patients.
Applicant 3: Interested in Rural Health
I want to attend this medical school because of its emphasis on rural health. I grew up in a rural area with limited access to health care and with large health care disparity gaps. People either owned acres of farmland or worked minimum wage jobs as migrant farmers.
I shadowed two family medicine physicians near my town. The most common issues patients faced were depression, obesity and drug addiction. At this medical school, I will pursue clinical rotations across different states in the U.S., from rural Alaska to Indian reservations in New Mexico. I believe improving health care in rural areas includes fixing broader systemic health care barriers like lack of transportation.
I am excited about the first-year course, “Rural Health and Health Disparities.” Furthermore, I want to pursue a scholarly project with Dr. M., who collaborates with the local health department. With Dr. M., I aspire to implement programs that address opioid addiction and overdose.
These three case studies show how to answer, “Why this medical school?” Each applicant paints a picture and explains his or her motivations for pursuing specific interests in medicine. For example, applicant 1 became interested in oncology because her mom passed away from breast cancer.
Additionally, each applicant gives specific examples of how he or she will take advantage of the array of opportunities at each med school. The essay reader learns that applicant 1 wants to work with the medical school’s cancer institute because of an interest in oncology; applicant 2 wants to work with local schools and community-based organizations to improve health education among youth; and applicant 3 is passionate about improving health in rural areas, citing specific courses in rural health he or she wants to take at the med school and specific professors he or she wants to work with to combat opioid addiction in rural communities.
Remember, specificity is the key to standing out with your “Why this medical school?” essay response.
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How to Answer the ‘Why This Medical School?’ Essay Question originally appeared on usnews.com