Choosing to attend a particular medical school is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make, with lasting consequences for your professional and — in many cases — personal life. As you move through interview season, reflecting on factors like reputation, connections with residency programs, faculty mentorship, quality of advising, location and class size can help you choose a school that fits you best.
Four or more years is a long time to spend in an area or institution that does not cater to who you are as a person or learner. Interviews are the best way to get a feel for a med school and are often your only opportunity to have the undivided attention of current students and faculty before you make a decision about where to attend.
Use interviews to your advantage by asking questions and making observations about individual school factors that are most important to you. Here are four key factors to consider:
I went to medical school in a rural setting, passing no fewer than two farms on my way to the hospital during my clinical years. As someone who detests large cities, Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine could not have offered a more ideal setting for me in which to learn. However, for some of my classmates, four years in Hanover, New Hampshire, felt uncomfortably disconnected from the urban settings they loved.
Whether you interview virtually or in person, finding out about the area in which the school is located is key to deciding whether it is right for you. During your interviews, ask what students do for fun and where students live. Ask important logistical questions, too: “Will I need a car?” “Is public transportation available and affordable?” “What is the cost of living like?”
Be sure to also ask about the physical spaces in which the med school is located. Is the school near an undergraduate campus, and are medical students able to use undergraduate facilities like the gym? Are there enough study spaces? Is there an outdoor space? Are there any upcoming projects planned to improve the physical space?
Colleagues and Mentorship
During med school, you will spend a lot of time with classmates, especially in your preclinical years. Class sizes vary widely, and some schools have the reputation for being more cutthroat than others.
On your interview day, pay attention to how student tour guides and interviewers talk about their fellow students. Does it seem like everyone gets along? Do the students think the class size is too big to get to know people, or so small that everyone is in everyone else’s business?
Do not be shy about inquiring about competition between students. Some people thrive in very competitive environments and feel like they push them to perform better, but others prefer a friendlier atmosphere. You might also ask what kinds of students fit in best at the school to gauge whether you complement their overall feel.
Finding out about relationships between students and faculty members is another important task on interview day. Good mentorship in med school can open doors to research and volunteer opportunities, as well as a potential boost for your residency applications.
Ideally, faculty members would be accessible and excited to engage with students. Even if an institution has experts in your areas of potential interest, not being able to connect with those experts does not help you learn more about those fields. Ask students and faculty members how easy it is to approach faculty, and ask students whether they have easily found mentors at the school.
While you will primarily learn about the on-campus community during your interviews, finding out about the surrounding local community can also help guide your decision about where to go.
One of my fellow premed students had spent some time volunteering with Haitian Creole communities and wanted to continue working with that population while in med school. During his interviews, he made sure to ask about the cultural diversity of patients served by the local hospitals.
But more than exploring what kinds of populations you will work with, consider how you will socially fit into the community. For me, it was important to have access to outdoor recreational groups, and I broadened my social contacts beyond the walls of med school by ski racing and running with a local running club. Explore whether you have shared interests with the people you will be rubbing elbows with at the grocery store.
Support and Guidance
Navigating your medical education is nearly impossible to do without the guidance of those who have already been through it. Ideally, the med school you choose will have academic and professional advising from day one until graduation day.
Ask what formal advising processes are in place and how they positively contribute to the residency application process. If you are able to interview with senior students who have already applied to residency, ask if they would change anything about their advising process up to and during residency application.
Finally, gauge how supportive a prospective school is of your development not only as a learner, but as a person overall. How does the school support learners who become ill or have a family crisis? Are mental health resources available if you need them? Ask students if they feel comfortable approaching administration when they are having difficulties.
Finding a medical school that views its students as complete and complex people, not just seats in classrooms and clerkships, is essential to nurturing your success.
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