October 2019 Newsletter: Building Relationships

I have decided to dedicate this newsletter to the topic of building relationships. As you assemble a competitive application to medical school, please do not forget that you are not in this alone. You need the assistance for mentors and faculty to get you over the finish line.

Building relationships has nothing to do with studying hard for the MCATS. It has nothing to do with pulling an all-nighter studying for that Orgo test. It has everything to do with dedicating time to meeting people. It has everything to do with networking and building a team or people who know you well.

No matter where you are in the application process, you need to get to know people who are going to help you assemble a strong application. By the time you apply, you will need at least 5 letters of recommendation from people who can give you a STRONG letter of recommendation. Two of the five need to come from science teachers who have taught you (not TAs or Graduate Assistants). Teachers can’t write you a STRONG letter if they don’t know you.

Often times, students underestimate the power of the 5 letters of recommendation. They wait until Junior year and then run around asking teachers to write letters in classes where they got an A. They don’t necessarily know the people well, but they did well in the class. Of the 5 letters, maybe 2-3 would be considered ‘strong’ while the others are just ok. This a lost opportunity.

In the AAMC identified 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students, several competencies cannot truly be exhibited through your experiences or academics. They need to be witnessed but others in the field. Let’s take for example social skills, teamwork, reliability and dependability. As an applicant you can ‘say’ in your application, “I’m dependable,” or “I’m a team player,” but it does not hold any weight. We can think we are a good team player, but are we? Where is the evidence? Having an employer give two great examples describing how you were an outstanding team player in the lab and gave 110% to your project is authentic and ‘proves’ you are a team player. It validates your statement and assumptions made in your application and gives concrete examples that admissions committees can relate to.

Students can put together an application boasting about their own achievements, skills and experiences but a frank letter of recommendation backing up these skills from a full professor can bring a significant amount of weight to your application and can honestly help a tremendous amount. A bland, basic letter will not advance your application at all. A detailed, insightful and sincere letter with multiple specific examples from someone who knows you well can do wonders for an application. What if you had 5 insightful letters such as this? Five people singing your praises. Five people giving different examples that highlight your motivation and preparedness for the field of medicine. This can turn your application from just another driven premed who wants to go to medical school to an applicant each school MUST interview.

Another relationship that you need to exercise is your academic and departmental advisors. Don’t just go to advisors when you ‘have to.’ Don’t just go when you ‘need something.’ Go to pick their brain. They are well connected on campus and can give insight you might have overlooked. Usually students flock to advisors during the busiest times of the year. At this point, advisors do not have time to talk long. They are trying to get through lots of student appointments during whatever crunch time they are currently in (add/drop, registration, graduation). See an advisor just after that crush time or deadline. See the advisor in mid-September/earlyOctober or late January when the rush of the beginning of the semester is done but registration for the next semester has not yet begun. They will have more time to dedicate to your questions and they will feel less rushed. Do this each semester. Don’t leave their office until you have at least two more names of people on campus to follow up with.

Normally your academic advisor will not be one of your 5 letters of recommendation, but they can lead you to the five. Advisors can help you identify better professors to meet, interesting classes to take and opportunities to apply for such as study abroad, research or grant opportunities. If you don’t click with one advisor, seek out another. Honestly, this is where students often seek assistance from Newport Premedical Consulting. Some students don’t feel they are getting the ‘right’ assistance or ‘enough’ help from their advisors and thus seek out a consultant. Newport is dedicated to helping each student excel and often times we can help students build an exceptionally strong network of both on campus and off campus mentors.

Summary

  • Get to know 1-2 faculty/mentors each semester & 1 each summer

  • Meet your advisor during off peak times

  • Spend 1 hour each week networking with teachers, mentors and advisors