Premedical Preparation at Emporia State

Emporia State University is a great place to complete your premed studies.  We offer the amenities of a smaller school, combined with a high level of academic rigor that lets our students be among the best-prepared of any who enter medical school.  The advantages of attending ESU are numerous. Premed advising is done by the premed advisory committee.  The committee is comprised of chemistry faculty member Kim Simons  and biology faculty members Dwight Moore and Brent Thomas.  It will behoove you to get to know these people well, as they will be providing a letter of recommendation from the advisory committee on your behalf.

General Information

Although the information here is most directly related to preparation for medical school at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC), to which almost all of our premed students apply, it is generally applicable to other schools as well. However, the student is prudent to check specific requirements for any program in which he or she might be interested. Most ESU students interested in osteopathic medicine consider the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences or the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.   General information can be obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) or the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

What Do Medical Schools Look For?

As you complete your undergraduate education and prepare to apply to medical school, you should continually ask yourself some important questions.

1)       "What kind of person is best suited to be a physician?", i.e.,  "What kind of person are medical schools looking for?

2)       "Am I that kind of person?"

3)       "How can I demonstrate to the admissions committee that I am that kind of person?"

Ultimately, the medical schools will look at your undergraduate record of accomplishment for evidence that you possess the intelligence, the commitment, and the passion for medicine that you will need to be a successful medical student and practicing physician.  They will ask you to demonstrate this in your interview.   In your application materials and in your interview, it is vital that you demonstrate excellence in both academic and non-academic facets.  Here are some things you should know about what the admissions committees will expect of successful applicants.

1)  Quality of Academic Performance as an Undergraduate

Admission to medical school is very competitive;  they turn away many highly qualified applicants because of class size limitations.  During each of the last 10 years, KUMC has received over 1300 applications (sometimes over 2000!) for 175 spots in a matriculating class;  more than 450 of these applicants are Kansas residents and students with Kansas ties.  The average medical school matriculant over this time period has had an undergraduate GPA better than 3.6, both at KU and nationally.  The average scores for KUMC matriculant on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) are between 9 and 10 in each of the three subject areas.   Clearly, you need to begin your preparation for medical school from day one of your freshman year!

     Even one bad semester can drastically hurt your chances. Grades of "C" are not good enough, especially in the sciences.  It helps if there is an upward trend in your GPA as you progress through your undergraduate career.

     Treat every course as if you are studying for the MCAT, because you are.  Courses in general chemistry (1 yr), organic chemistry (1 yr), physics (1 yr), general biology, anatomy and physiology, and biochemistry should be completed before you take the MCAT.   Additional reading/writing intensive literature courses beyond Comp I and Comp II will be useful preparation for the verbal section of the MCAT. 

     In addition to taking the appropriate coursework and retaining that subject matter, you need to prepare seriously for the MCAT during the months immediately preceding your test date.   It is not unreasonable to expect to spend hundreds of hours specifically directed toward MCAT preparation.  Medical schools place a great deal of weight on MCAT scores, and you will have to score at least 10's to really impress anybody.

     The admissions committee notices good academic performances in a semester with a heavy course load.  Take a couple of semesters with 18 hours of rigorous courses, and do well.  Medical school is intense, and they want evidence that you can succeed in an intense environment.

2)  Undergraduate Major

Most medical schools do not require a specific major. They do, of course, require that the student has earned a Bachelor's degree.  Most premed students major in chemistry (either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science is fine), biochemistry, or biology.  However, medical schools appreciate and encourage a well-rounded preparation in the arts and humanities, and other majors are also quite suitable, as long as the student has a strong background in the sciences.  For KUMC, the minimum requirements are:

     General Biology with lab;  2 semesters

     General Chemistry with lab;  2 semesters

     Organic Chemistry with lab;  2 semesters

     Physics with lab;  2 semesters

     English Composition;  2 semesters

     Mathematics (algebra or above);  1 semester

However, much greater preparation in the sciences is strongly recommended.  Other courses that you should plan to take include biochemistry (required by many other medical schools), genetics, and other courses in which biological processes are discussed at the molecular level.  Additional anatomy and physiology is also helpful, as well as statistics.

3)  Other Important Qualities

Medical school admissions committees look at much more than just whether or not an applicant earns good grades and scores well on the MCAT.  Successful applicants must demonstrate motivation and professionalism.  Such qualities should be emphasized in your application materials and at your interview.  Consider the following characteristics as you contemplate applying for medical school.  Can you demonstrate:

       Motivation for medical school

Who are you?  What do you stand for?  What do you value?  What is your demonstrated commitment to serving others?  These questions should guide you in showing the screening committee why you want to go to medical school. 

       Health care experience

You must demonstrate by action and experience that you have some firsthand knowledge about what the medical profession is like.  Shadowing a physician or spending significant time working in a healthcare setting is a "must".  How do these experiences impact your desire to become a physician? You should also demonstrate that you've thought about, and have knowledge of, the issues you will face as a practitioner of medicine, e.g. ethical questions, current events related to health care, etc.

       Significant Accomplishments Outside of the Classroom

Be involved in multiple extracurricular activities.  A good physician is a successful multi-tasker who is active in multiple arenas.  Carry out an undergraduate research project and present your work at professional meetings.  Participate in intercollegiate athletics.  Perform in plays, a choir, or a band.  Active participation, and better yet, leadership roles in other extracurricular activities, such as clubs, community service, etc., all demonstrate that you can do more than just sit in a classroom and get good grades.

       Service / Altruism

The health professions are service-oriented.   Demonstrate a desire to serve to others.  Volunteer at the soup kitchen.  Be a scout leader.  Coach a soccer team.   Volunteer to work with disadvantaged people.  Join a service organization.  To say that you “want to help people” is cliché, and it is not enough.  You need to establish a record of actually having done so.

       Professionalism

Professionalism is critical in medicine.  A recent AAMC report outlines the components of professionalism.  Show how you exemplify these attributes.

Additionally, if you can truthfully apply them to yourself, some other considerations that might work in your favor and could  be discussed in your application materials or during your interview include:

  •        academic success while holding a job during the school year
  •        family responsibilities beyond that of the "traditional" college student
  •        contribution to cultural diversity
  •        first generation college student
  •        breadth and depth of life experiences (e.g. military service, peace corps)
  •        significant accomplishment in research, the arts, athletics, etc.
  •        potential or desire to practice medicine in underserved areas
  •        explain any obvious deficiencies in your application (e.g. you got a 2.5 GPA one semester)

Timeline for premed students

Freshman year

  • Begin academic preparation 
  • Take your classes seriously from day one.  Keep all of your notes and textbooks, especially from your science classes.  (Yes, class notes are valuable resources.  Time spent learning to take good notes is time well spent indeed!) You will need them to prepare for the MCAT.   Also, pay attention to course sequencing.   
  • Get involved with extracurricular activities 
  • Caduceus is the premed club, and is a must.  Also, consider the American Chemical Society Student Affiliate, Tri-Beta, and other campus service organizations.  You might also consider off-campus, community activities.  And remember, involvement means active participation!

Sophomore Year

  • Continue academic preparation
  • Continue extracurricular involvement
  • Consider attending a KUMC Open House, or participating in a KUMC Primary Care Workshop.
  • Very good students should consider applying for the Scholars In Primary Care Program, which provides a 2 year shadowing experience and practically guarantees admission into KUMC!
  • Start thinking about a shadowing experience, or some other way to get experience in a health care setting.

Junior Year

  • Continue academic vigilance and extracurricular involvement
  • If you haven't been to a KUMC open house or participated in a Primary Care Workshop, you should do so early in your junior year.
  • Continue your shadowing or volunteer experience in a health care setting.   Yes, you should be involved in this by now.  Not doing so puts you at a big disadvantage relative to  the other students with whom you'll be competing for admission!
  • Prepare for the MCAT
  • Do not take MCAT preparation lightly!  It is a challenging and exhausting exam.  Students that perform well usually spend hundreds of hours reviewing biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • April – take the MCAT

Summer Before Senior Year

  • Begin the medical school application process. 
  • The application to medical school takes a significant amount of time to complete.  To do a good job on the essays, you will need to write, then rewrite, then rewrite again.  You must start early in the summer to have a professional-looking and persuasive set of application materials together by the application deadline.
  • If you have very strong academic credentials (GPA > 3.5 and MCAT ~ 30 cumulative score) and a strong extracurricular record, including significant experience in the health care setting, consider applying to KUMC through the early decision program.  This application needs to be submitted early in the summer.

Senior Year

  • Complete medical school application. Most medical schools require that applications be submitted through AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service).  You should plan to submit your application in early September.
  • Prepare for interviews.  Kansas residents with respectable academic credentials (GPA > 3.2, MCAT total > 24) have a very good chance of being offered an interview at KUMC.  Non-residents with no Kansas ties will have to be much stronger to be considered.
  • Continue to excel in academic work and complete your Bachelor's degree.

The Application Process

As usual, be sure to check any specific requirements pertaining to each school to which you will apply.  Information about KUMC application procedures and deadlines is available.  As indicated above, applications are submitted through AMCAS, and are due by mid-October at the latest, but early September is strongly recommended in order to allow time for any errors to be corrected.  AMCAS reviews your application, verifies that the information you submit is accurate, and forwards it to KUMC (or any other medical schools you designate).  KUMC will then send you a supplemental application, which asks for some additional information and solicits recommendation letters.  Supplemental applications are due back by mid-November.  Your application file is considered complete and will be reviewed when KUMC has received:

  • AMCAS application
  • MCAT scores
  • Supplemental application
  • 5 letters of recommendation
  • verified that you have taken the course prerequisites and are on track to complete your bachelors degree by the matriculation date

The Medical School Interview

Review of your application file by one or more members of the admissions committee will determine whether or not you will be offered an opportunity to interview.  KUMC will typically interview 400 or more applicants for 175 slots.  A good interview is thus critical.  Also, be reminded that, while it is rare for a good interview to make up for inferior academic numbers (GPA and MCAT scores), a poor interview can easily negate good academic numbers!  Thus, you need to prepare well for your interview if you are offered the opportunity.

  • Have a professional demeanor   Dress up, act mature, and show a pleasant and confident disposition.
  • Know what is in your application, especially the essays   This may sound silly, but your interview can be weeks to months after you have prepared and submitted your application materials, and you may not remember everything.  Yet, they may ask you to elaborate on anything contained in it, so you need to be intimately familiar with its contents.  
  • Know health care issues   A medical practitioner must be up to date on current issues, as should anybody who aspires to be one. Be ready to discuss any of a variety of issues pertaining to health care.  Examples might include the state of health care costs and insurance coverage, the ethics of cloning or stem cell research, the significance and medical potential of the human genome project, or other current "hot topics".
  • Practice interviewing   Ask your advisor to arrange a mock interview.   Practice thinking "on your feet" and being comfortable in such an atmosphere.  Be able to look people in the eye when you talk to them, and speak with confidence.
  • Give a lot of thought to how you might respond to some of the obvious questions, like:
  • Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • Why to you want to come to KUMC?
  • What is your biggest weakness (or strength), and what have you done about it?
  • What field(s) of medicine would you like to practice?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Be sincere in your responses; don't say anything you can't justify or elaborate upon
  • Be able to articulate how you have achieved growth from personal experiences, both health-related and not.
  • Anticipate follow-up questions regarding anything you say. For example, if you say that part of your inspiration for becoming a physician stemmed from positive experiences you gained while working in a nursing home, some follow-up questions might be:
  • Give a specific example of one of those experiences and describe how it affected you.
  • Discuss the ethics of some of the end-of-life issues faced by individuals in nursing homes.
  • What do you think are important qualities that physicians working with nursing home patients need to have?   How do you exhibit those qualities?  

There are a number of websites that provide a plethora of sample interview questions, such as this example, or this one.  These will give you practice, and food for thought.

  •     Have some questions for the interview committee   Many interviews will conclude by giving you an opportunity to get your questions answered.  You should have some. 
  • Be ready to concisely sum up why you should be given a spot in medical school  Many interviewers will wrap up with a question something like "Is there anything about yourself that you want us to know that we haven't yet discussed?"  This is your opportunity to passionately demonstrate why you deserve a spot.  You should have spent a lot of time prior to you interview thinking about this.