Imagine that after interviewing with several medical schools, you receive a letter of acceptance, a tremendous accomplishment worth celebrating. If you are among the most fortunate of students, you will have more than one med school to choose from, which presents its own conflict — which one to choose?
Here are some insights and considerations about what to watch for in key areas — some similar to those for selecting an undergraduate school — when making your final choice.
Because you will be studying and perhaps living with other students, a main consideration is at which school you feel most comfortable, enjoy the study atmosphere and feel like you are at home with friends. If you connect well with the students you meet during your interview and don’t feel intimidated by them, you can rest assured that you’ll fit right in because the school will likely select students with similar qualities for the next class.
It is helpful to know how students in each of the current classes feel about their choice. Try to catch them alone or for a phone conversation later. Ask if they would make the same decision if they had it to do over again. The more people you speak with, the better.
If your impression of the students makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to keep looking. On the other hand, if the students make you feel excited to be part of the school, that’s a positive sign. Liking your med school classmates will help you study more effectively and perform better in the long run.
Sometimes your top-choice school may seem too expensive. If that’s the case, beg or inquire about student employment as part of the best financial package they can offer. Note that not all med schools offer federal student loans, and it may be important to you to check this out before deciding. In the end, you will not regret going to a school where you feel happy. If the school is not willing to negotiate on the aid package, you may have better options at other schools where you have been accepted.
Another key consideration is the kind of wellness services and emotional support the school offers, as well as how easy it is to access them. The truth is that the rates of depression and anxiety are high in med school. Although you may not have experienced these issues, you’ll want to know the support is there in case you need it. If students attending the school reveal limited or delayed access to these support services, this is a serious warning sign.
You’ll want to know what kind of preparation for national boards the medical school offers and what options are available for individual tutoring. Again, you may not have needed these services in the past, but it’s crucial to know they exist before you need that kind of help. National boards are tough exams, and the results will impact your specialty choice and residency program options. Lack of support for national board preparation and inadequate time for study are warning signs to consider.
Advising and Tutoring
Be sure to ask how the advising system works and if you will have access early in your training to faculty and residents in specialties to which you are drawn. Ask about personal support if there is an unforeseen illness in your family or an emergency.
You’ll also want to know about the strength of the academic advising program and the availability of tutoring for students who are struggling with their studies. Tutoring programs that are expensive and or not easily available are warning signs.
Once you identify which specialty you want, it will be critical for you to have close contact with faculty and residents in that specialty. You’ll want to know how much say you’ll have in the order of your clinical rotations during your third year, and in choosing your electives and when you are allowed to take them.
Are the rotations crowded with too many students? Do they offer enough time with residents and faculty? Will you train in a broad variety of hospital and outpatient settings? Which patient populations come to these settings, and what options are there to add more variety?
Watch out for schools that schedule too many students for a single rotation and cannot provide broader learning opportunities because of class size or limited facilities.
You’ll want to find out how happy the seniors have been with their residency match results. This is tricky because only the students knows how far he or she dropped down on a submitted residency’s ranking list, as it is confidential. Remember that residency programs submit their own preferred list of candidates and the National Residency Matching Program completes the final selections.
The third-year medical students, also known as MS3s, may have some inkling, and it is worth trying to talk openly to them about this. A warning sign is a large number of graduating seniors unhappy with their residency match results.
All medical schools in the U.S. must meet Liaison Committee on Medical Education, or LCME, Accreditation Requirements. The accreditation ensures that the school is equipped to help students develop the professional competencies necessary for them to become physicians.
Ask the school how they prepare to meet LCME requirements on an ongoing basis. A warning sign is if the med school has a provisional or probationary accreditation after the accreditor’s last visit. Ask about what the issues are and how they are being addressed.
New Medical Schools
According to an announcement by the Association of American Medical Colleges in July 2019, 29 accredited medical schools and 17 osteopathic medicine schools have opened in the U.S. since 2002.
If you’re considering applying to one of these new medical schools, there are many additional factors to consider such as the possibility of curricular changes and the level of career support. New medical schools need to show that their students can be successful physicians. Warning signs include a school’s National Board of Medical Examiners exam failure rate and the number of graduates who failed to match for residencies.
As one who attended a new school and also helped develop another new school, I know that there is both joy and challenge in being a pioneer. I can say with confidence that there is a lot of creativity and learning on the run for both students and faculty. I would do it all over again, but I certainly don’t speak for everyone.
Caribbean Medical Schools
Some students may wonder if there are advantages to attending medical school in the Caribbean. There is a tremendous amount of variation in Caribbean medical schools. Classes may be quite large, and student attrition may be problematic. You would want to know where the students do clinical rotations and what choice students have over their rotations. You would also want to know their rate of residency match for at least the past three years.
Because Caribbean medical schools often have to purchase clinical rotations for their students, the cost of tuition may be higher than you might expect. My position is that it’s more advantageous for students to attend medical school in the U.S.
These considerations and questions are intended to help you get clear answers that demonstrate a medical school’s level of support for its students. If the answers give you pause, then beware.
Anyone who gets into medical school is a star. Remember that. For those of you with options, I wish you the very best and hope you select the school that best suits you. Nonetheless, whichever school you attend, know that all your hard work will be worth it in the end.
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