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A Compilation of Essential SDN Wisdom – Updated for 2022

Last Updated on August 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

Originally posted in 2016, this article was adapted from an SDN forums thread provides quick links to the most useful information on the forums. It has been updated with the latest versions of these links and threads. Thank you to Lawper for creating the original thread!

I wanted to begin 2016 with a positive start by organizing all essential tips and advice from respected members and admissions committee members (adcoms) on SDN into a valuable collection. Much of the essential advice is overshadowed by the endless volatility and stress flowing through these forums, so a master article is necessary to remind us of our primary objective: to get into medical school. The thread will be regularly updated with new advice and tips.

About the Ads

Before exploring the compilation, please review the AMCAS Tools and Tutorials to be familiar with the application process (and essentially a required reading when you actually begin to apply). The guide has everything you need to know, such as whether courses are classified as science/non-science, what institutional actions you should report, how the schools view your grades, MCATs, essays, etc., and a lot of other important information.

The compilation is organized as follows:

The Official AAMC Survey on What Adcoms Care About

This AAMC survey provides a list of various metrics, experiences, demographics, and sources of applicant information that medical schools generally find to be important based on a priority scale. Please take the time to carefully look into this list on page 15 to have a general understanding of what schools are looking for.

Also, note that the priorities (measured by mean importance ratings) are organized in descending order according to the above Footnote 2. In regards to academics, the AAMC survey highlights that
science GPA > MCAT total score > upward/downward GPA trends > cumulative undergrad GPA > performance in a post-bacc program > MCAT score trend > Completion of medical school prerequisites

Curiously, the 2015 AAMC survey lists undergrad selectivity as of the lowest importance, unlike the 2013 AAMC survey (no longer available; see the thread for chart) that shows differing medical school interpretations (i.e. for public schools, undergrad selectivity matters little, whereas for private schools, undergrad selectivity matters a lot). Generally, attending a competitive undergrad (i.e. HYPSM/Ivies, etc.) may help for medical school admissions, but an undergrad name doesn’t excuse for poor GPA/poor MCAT. Likewise, attending a state school or subpar undergrad doesn’t exclude you from medical schools.

For experiences, the priority ratings are Healthcare experience > community service/volunteer experience > leadership experience >> research experience

Note crucially that healthcare and community service experiences are required. Without these experiences, you cannot get accepted into any medical school. As @Goro likes to say, “You need to show Adcoms that you know what you’re getting into”. The 2015 AAMC survey also lists physician shadowing as the highest importance. Usually, 50+ hours of shadowing with experience in primary care settings is ideal.

@gonnif has pointed out that research experience is listed as medium importance (as noted in both AAMC surveys). So research is not a required component in a successful medical school application, although it’s always good to have some experience understanding how the scientific method works.

The information/guides/tips/advice below provides powerful insight into each of the categories highlighted in the above survey.

LizzyM Heuristics

These are the useful rules of thumb provided by the sage @LizzyM. The hallmark metric used to assess academic quality is the LizzyM score.

LizzyM’s Guidelines for Extracurricular Hours (arranged as suboptimal, decent, exceptional):

  • Clinical hours (work or volunteer): 99, 150, 1,000+ (employment)
  • Non-clinical volunteering hours: 99, 150, 1,000+ (full-time gap year)
  • Shadowing hours: 8, 40, 80
  • Keep in mind that my estimate of exceptional clinical hours includes paid employment and non-clinical volunteering at the exceptional level would be full-time gap year service (City Year, etc.)

LizzyM’s Advice on What NOT to Do if You Want to Attend Medical School

LizzyM’s Clinical Rule: If you are close enough to smell patients, then it is clinical experience

  • Concrete examples of the clinical rule are outlined by the Goro Guidelines: “Not all volunteering needs to be in a hospital. Think hospice, Planned Parenthood, rehab facilities, crisis hotlines, camps for sick children, or clinics.”​
  • Nursing homes are a gray area. Safe bet is to call it nonclinical (see example)

LizzyM’s Filter Rules for School Lists (these work well with WedgeDawg’s WAMC Outline)

  1. Look at each school on the list. Ask yourself, “If this were the only school I was admitted to and if I were offered only loans to attend, would I go here?” If the answer is no, strike it from the list.​
  2. Imagine that you are invited to interview at all of the schools but can only attend 20 interviews. Which 20 would you want to interview at? That’s your list.​

LizzyM’s Holiday Rules for AMCAS Timeline: The earlier your application is complete, the better you will be (but do NOT submit haphazardly just to be early)

  1. Independence Day (4th of July): complete your AMCAS application​
  2. Labor Day (first Monday in September): have your letters in (including committee letters) and finish your secondaries; your overall application should be complete by now​
  3. Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November): if you don’t have an interview invite by Thanksgiving, start thinking about what you’ll do if you need to reapply (this so-called turkey rule was substantiated by Lucca’s SDN Survey of 2015 and LizzyM’s June 2016 Survey)​
  4. Mardi Gras (a Tuesday in February): if you don’t have that waitlist turn into an offer by Mardi Gras, drink heavily and start making a contingency plan when the hangover wears off (source)

LizzyM’s Description of Good Interviews

LizzyM’s Staircase Analogy for Determining Interviews and Acceptances

LizzyM’s Summary of Academic Medicine

Goro Guides

gyngyn’s Axioms

mimelim’s Keys

gonnif’s Analyses

Med Ed’s Insights

HomeSkool’s Guides

Additional Advisor Feedback and Information

Credit to @Catalystik@Doctor-S@aProgDirector@SouthernSurgeon@Crayola227@Perrotfish@Law2Doc for providing substantial guidance.

Additionally, please read and explore the following threads: