I’m really pleased do have back on the show Dr. Karen Johnson, Associate Dean for Admissions at the Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Jesus Vallejo, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Baylor College of Medicine. When recently looking at our downloads, I noticed that one of our most popular medical school admissions shows was my interview with Drs Vallejo and Johnson almost exactly two years ago. Fortunately, they agreed to come back. Welcome to Admissions Straight Talk, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Vallejo!
Dr. Johnson, can you give an overview of Baylor College of Medicine’s curriculum? [1:40]
Like all curricula, we’re evolving. As medicine changes and grows, we adapt to that as well. We have curricular committees that look at evidence related to medical education and medicine – right now we’re in the midst of a curriculum reform.
Our curriculum is structured with 18 months of foundational sciences, followed by clinical cores, electives and selectives, and time to do study away or study abroad. We’ve had our 18-month foundational science curriculum for almost 30 years. Over the last decade, more medical schools have adopted that model. It gives students more opportunities to explore their other areas of interest.
Baylor shortened the pre-clerkship portion to 18 months long before it was popular and a trend. What are some other innovations that you anticipate with the current curriculum redesign? [3:45]
Dr. Johnson: We’re revamping the curriculum over the next two years, building on what we have now. We’re looking to incorporate new modes of teaching – such as reversed classroom modalities (with more hands-on activities in class).
We’re developing our medical education leadership. The next generation has to be prepared for the big picture – professionalism, policy, population health. We’re mindful of and trying to be ahead of the curve of issues that the next generation of physicians need to be prepared in.
Dr. Vallejo: It’s very important that even in the preclinical years, students need to start thinking like clinicians. We emphasize clinical reasoning very early in the training.
Dr. Johnson: Physicians need to be teachers, but that’s rarely formally taught. We facilitate teaching opportunities – we want our students to learn that skill. That’s something we really are excited about here.
Your website mentions opportunities for students to customize their education. Can you give examples of what that means? [7:45]
Dr. Vallejo: Students come to Baylor with a lot of ideas of what they want to do. We developed the idea of tracks – for example, for students who are interested in public health, or research, etc, they can enroll in a customized track with a set of experiences around that interest.
Of the graduating class, a third of the class were on some type of track – and a few students did two. Examples included medical ethics, geriatrics, etc. So that’s what we mean by customizing your education – there are a lot of opportunities.
A lot of applicants are interested in global health or business. We do have a joint degree with an MBA, but for students who don’t want to do a full additional degree, the healthcare policy and management track is a good option.
What are other examples of tracks available? [10:00]
Dr. Vallejo: Geriatrics, genetics, global health. There are seven tracks total. We’re the only school of tropical medicine in North America, so that’s a special opportunity within the global health track.
Dr. Johnson: Our tracks have developed with our curriculum, based on student interests, and we expect them to continue to evolve. We listen to our students.
What are some changes to the Baylor admissions process, this year, if any? [12:15]
Dr. Johnson: It changes but doesn’t change at the same time. The MCAT is an example. We had to adapt to the evolving state of healthcare: physicians have to learn very complicated systems of healthcare.
We are looking for leaders across the full arc of medicine: the great clinician, but also the great clinical scientist who’s engaged in research. The policy maker.
We truly embrace a holistic approach and embrace diversity – not just ethnic diversity, but experience, background, geographical, where you went to school… Metrics are important, but not the end-all. The committee spends a lot of time.
We don’t just have science majors applying to med school – we look for diverse backgrounds and interests.
The new MCAT is now almost two years old. Are you and your staff now comfortable with it? Do you feel it is an improvement? Any preference this year, between the old and new MCAT? [16:15]
Dr. Vallejo: To say we’re comfortable would be an overstatement. We continue to learn as we review subsections, etc.
We’ll have to see the first class of the new MCAT graduate to see how the MCAT correlates with med school performance. The majority of students this year applied with the new MCAT.
Does Baylor have a preference in admission for Texas applicants? [17:55]
85% of the entering population are Texan. We do get Texas state funding – we’re working to make inroads in the physician shortage, and we’re partnering with the state to train Texans. So we have an institutional goal that the majority of the class will be Texan.
But we’re still very interested in non-Texan applicants. We want everyone who’s interested – Texan or not – to apply.
Should applicants have both clinical and research experience? [19:50]
Dr. Vallejo: We would like applicants to have clinical exposure, because you have an understanding of what a doctor does. But we understand it is getting harder for people to do that in many places.
We would like people to have an understanding of what a doctor does. So it’s important to have exposure to the medical field, even if it’s not clinical experience directly.
What about research? [22:25]
Dr. Vallejo: It’s the icing on the cake. All physicians need to be able to think critically, and research is a great way to develop those skills. If you have the opportunity at your institution, it’s great. But a lack of research won’t keep you out.
Dr. Johnson: Next generation physicians need to be able to analyze a lot of information from different sources rapidly. Exposure to research is a way to gain those skills. Research is also a way to show and talk about your teamwork. Medicine is a team sport – when it comes to the best patient outcomes, it’s all about the team, and research is about the team.
From an admissions perspective, what’s the role of the secondary? [25:30]
Dr. Vallejo: The secondary is mandatory. We want to make sure they don’t repeat what they told us in the primary (which is normally about how they came to medicine). In the secondary, it’s about – Why Baylor? Why is Baylor a great fit for you, and why are you a great fit for Baylor?
Dr. Johnson: This is where you make your case – how are you unique with regard to our school and our mission? Don’t miss the opportunity!
Baylor received 7587 applications for the class that entered in 2016 and interviewed 847. When you’re reviewing applications and trying to decide whom to invite for an interview, and the applicants are qualified and competitive, what separates those competitive applicants who get invitations from those who do not? [28:45]
Dr. Johnson: The committee may look at credentials differently from another med school. We’re looking for people who fit the mission.
Now, there are certain thresholds of metrics that say students will be successful. If a student presents an application with a GPA of 2.5 or an MCAT in the 30th percentile, we think they probably can’t be successful here. There’s no cut-off to say what’s too low, but we know what the challenges of our curriculum are. An 18-month basic science curriculum is very challenging.
Once a student is accepted and matriculates, we bring all our resources to bear to help them be successful. But if we don’t think someone can be successful at Baylor, we won’t admit them. We’re looking for people who can do the work and fit the culture and mission.
Dr. Vallejo: There might be people listening who have a 4.0 and a 528 and didn’t get invited. It’s a holistic review – we look at experiences and personal qualities, what the letters of rec say about you, etc.
Dr. Johnson: If we only wanted to look at metrics, we could do that by computer. That wouldn’t show the qualities that will make someone a great physician in the future.
Dr. Vallejo: An experienced, humane committee like we have is very good at looking at those qualities.
I was talking recently with a medical school professor and he expressed concern that students are focused on preparing for the Step 1 exam, given how heavily its weighed by residency programs. In his words “students are just going into test prep mode from day 1 and skipping the whole curriculum. All they want are study tools. What they’re missing is the career prep value in pre-clinical years – things like clinical reasoning and professionalism are at least as important as Step 1 for their clerkships and residencies.” Do you share that assessment and how is Baylor dealing with this concern? [36:45]
Dr. Vallejo: I don’t see that as an issue here at Baylor. Our students score high on Step 1. The fact that we have a lot of small groups early on brings them into our culture. We emphasize to our students that they should engage in other things. Also, the fact that we have P/F in the basic sciences leads to less pressure.
Dr. Johnson: Very early, they’re already very test oriented. But we integrate the humanistic side of medical care very early in the training. We want them to grow in a balanced way to become competent, compassionate, community serving people – and you can’t do that just studying for tests. Our students form strong networks and go out into the community.
And partly because of the 18-month curriculum, they can explore their passion for other topics.
In preparing for this call, I came across the Progress Notes, the student magazine of Baylor College of Medicine, which I highly recommend to anyone considering Baylor. The ones I read focused on maintaining a sensitivity and humanity in the practice of medicine. Do you think that focus reflects Baylor or the individuals who wrote the posts that I saw? [41:15]
Dr. Johnson: I think it shows the admissions committee is doing a good job! We’re looking for a smart person who’s intellectually curious and committed to solving difficult problems, but at the end of the day understands it’s about the person you want to help. That’s what we as an institution want to do.
Dr. Vallejo: One of our recent grads was just featured in a video and he mentioned all those same things – compassion, creativity – it showed the kind of person our institution attracts.
Dr. Johnson: Baylor College of Medicine is open to hearing from prospective students – we want to help people see whether we’re a good match.
Do you have any advice for people planning to apply in the future – say, two to four years out? [45:15]
Dr. Vallejo: Start everything early. Research the schools you’re interested in. Meet with your academic advisor. Get to know faculty mentors, because you’ll need letters of rec. You need strong letters that talk about your academics, community involvement, and personal qualities (not just a letter that says “she was in my course and earned an A.”).
Dr. Johnson: More and more students are opting for a gap year. Some have a gap year imposed on them because they didn’t get in; others choose it. In your application, explain what you’ve been doing during that time – why did you need a gap year and how did it benefit you.
Career changers and non-traditional students need to show they have a motivation for and understanding of what they’re planning to do.
Any advice for people applying now? [53:30]
1. Get the application in early. Spend time with the essays and especially the Baylor supplement. Submit good letters.
2. Stay connected – visit the websites of schools you’re applying to. If your target school has an average GPA of 3.9 and yours is 3.2, it’s a reach for you. But also take the time to learn about the curriculum and opportunities.
3. Do honest reflection on your credentials. Don’t waste time applying to schools where you definitely won’t be a good fit.
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