Just about everyone who applies to medical school has top grades and test scores. So who gets in and who doesn’t?
Often it comes down to “miles traveled” — experiences outside the classroom that show an applicant’s abilities beyond technical knowledge and skills. That could be a stint in the Peace Corps or Teach for America; volunteering at a clinic; shelter or soup kitchen; fundraising for a cause; tutoring; or giving companionship and comfort to someone who’s dying.
“In what way can you demonstrate to us that you’re actually interested in taking care of people?” says Michael Collins ’77, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Holy Cross has an excellent track record of being a place for students to start putting in the miles, while getting the solid science background they need for medical school and the broader education that will help them succeed there and beyond. Over the past decade, more than 80 percent of Holy Cross graduates who apply get into at least one medical school each year, twice the national average.
While there is no formal premed program at Holy Cross, the school’s health professions advising initiative (formerly known as premed) helps students choose their curriculum and provides access to internships and opportunities to do research, volunteer and shadow professionals. The goal is to give students a well-rounded experience, in keeping with the Jesuit emphasis on ethics and the humanistic side of education, and help them make the right career decision.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, students heading to medical school need a semester each of biochemistry, psychology and sociology; a year each of biology, mathematics, physics and English; and two years of chemistry. Miles Cahill, a health professions adviser and a professor of economics, says Holy Cross science majors are also steeped in the liberal arts after taking courses in philosophy, religious studies, art and literature.
But to get into medical school, students do not need to major in science. Cahill points out as just one example that Anthony Fauci ’62, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was a classics major.
“The job of a physician isn’t just to apply sciences,” says Cahill. “They have to connect with their patients very, very quickly, and be able to understand people from all kinds of different backgrounds, so they can make them comfortable and get the information they need.”
Students are assigned an adviser from the Health Professions Advising Committee, made up of faculty from a number of disciplines and five Holy Cross graduates who are currently clinicians. The adviser helps with the medical school application process, and the committee evaluates the candidate and provides a letter of recommendation that is included in the application. As part of the evaluation process, students write a lengthy essay reflecting on their experiences inside and outside of the classroom and how that impacts their intended career, instead of sitting for an interview with the committee, and must be able to articulate why this is their chosen path, explains Cahill.
Deirdre Reidy ’18, a biology major from Northford, Connecticut, says her liberal arts classwork has taught her to communicate her ideas and thoughts without being afraid to disagree, and to look at the bigger picture. “These courses taught me how to think about people rather than just thinking about the science behind things,” she says.
Outside the classroom, she has interned at Hartford Hospital, shadowed a radiologist/oncologist at a Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center site, tutored biology students on campus and sat with dying patients at UMass Memorial Hospital to offer support through the Power of Presence program.
Gordon Farley ’18, a chemistry major from Northvale, New Jersey, decided to go into medicine, in part, because a younger sister had lymphoma. (She’s now in remission and doing well.) He is president of Holy Cross for a Cure, which raised $9,000 for cancer research last year, and he went on a medical mission to a village in Honduras, doing triage for people in need of dental care and eye care.
He found his biology courses greatly helped him pick up complex genetics while doing an internship in a Massachusetts General Hospital lab last summer, and notes he might not have taken one of his favorite courses — a history class on World War II — had he gone to a traditional university with a greater primary emphasis on science.
“It really made me a diverse candidate for medical school,” he says of his education at Holy Cross.
And that, according to Collins, boosts a student’s chances for acceptance. “In today’s world, where it’s not just the sciences that people are focused on in medicine,” he says, “the Holy Cross applicant becomes even more attractive.”
Learn more about preparing for a career in medicine, dentistry, and other health fields at Holy Cross on the Health Professions Advising page.
Written by Dave Greenslit for the Winter 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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