Understand Your Applicant

Time to Let Go

We expect applicants to medical school to be independent, responsible, and capable of making decisions. They should recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and be able to function in stressful situations.

As concerned family members, you do not help your favorite applicant by calling the Admissions Office trying to advocate on his or her behalf with regard to the admissions process, the initial site selection, or to find out why he or she was not offered a position in the medical school class. Applicants’ files are confidential and we can discuss the process only with the applicant. Although we do not keep official records of these inquiries, we wonder about the maturity and readiness of applicants whose parents are making inquiries on their behalf.


Ways to Be Helpful


Family members are typically positively biased toward the applicant, but also know the applicant’s weak spots. They are likely to be either not critical enough or too critical. Feedback sessions with family members can quickly become emotionally charged.

Therefore direct your applicant to the Getting Feedback section below.

Family can be helpful in these ways:

  1. Help your applicant identify his or her strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Brainstorm about ways to address the weaknesses.
  3. Introduce your applicant to people in the medical field you know so that he or she can increase his or her exposure to physicians and get a better understanding of the medical profession.
  4. Increase your applicant’s awareness of medically relevant events you hear about, read about, or know about (like health care financing, the latest epidemic, your friend who got laid off and no longer has health insurance).
  5. Suggest looking at the website for the American Medical Association.
  6. Suggest that your applicant look at the website for the American Association of Medical Colleges, the University of Washington medical school's website, or sites for other medical schools of potential interest.
  7. Our website has a number of resources listed in the applicant section that can help applicants think about the way they prepare for a career in medicine and how they express their preparation and motivation in their application:

Getting Feedback

  1. It is helpful for applicants to practice explaining their motivation for a career in medicine to someone who doesn’t know them well and who is willing to provide feedback as to the clarity of the explanation.
    For example:
    An applicant who talks only about his or her love of science might seem minimally compassionate. Whereas a family member might know that the applicant truly is compassionate and therefore not be looking for that when listening, someone who doesn’t know the applicant well can provide feedback suggesting it is not obvious the applicant actually cares about people.
  2. For applicants who are uncomfortable with public speaking and therefore might have problems during an interview, Toastmasters is a helpful activity for learning to express ideas clearly and with confidence.
  3. Applicants who are still in college should consult with the pre-health career advisors present in most undergraduate institutions.
  4. Applicants should get feedback from peers about how they come across to others. A question we often ask in an interview is, “If we asked your best friend what your strengths are and where you needed to improve, what would s/he tell us?”
  5. Applicants should get feedback from people they have worked with either in voluntary or paid positions. These people do NOT need to be in the medical field.
  6. The University of Washington School of Medicine’s Office of Admissions presents focus group sessions in the spring.  These are informal presentations given by the Dean of Admissions, open to potential future applicants and to those who were not accepted, that review in detail what we are looking for in an applicant and what the common pitfalls are in the application process. There is ample opportunity for questions and feedback during these sessions.  You may view the recorded sessions from past years, and our Frequently Asked Questions section for helpful information.
  7. Our Office of Admissions provides opportunities to meet with either the Director of Admissions (for those who have never been interviewed) or the Dean of Admissions (for those who have been interviewed but not admitted). However, we strongly encourage all to attend the focus groups, or view the recorded sessions from past years, and visit our FAQs before making these one on one appointments.

What to Expect from Medical School

The following section is adapted from:
“What to expect from Medical School” by Alan J. Kent, PhD., ABPP

Medical School is the first step toward becoming a member of an esteemed profession that provides career stability and the opportunity to make a difference in the world. Tremendous learning occurs in scientific subjects, ability to work with others, understanding ethics, and in personal growth.

The stage is set for independent lifelong learning. Medical school also creates rewarding experiences and lifelong friendships.

Medical Students Training  

  1. Stages of Medical Education
    • Medical School:
      Medical education generally includes a number of stages. The first two years of medical school are devoted to understanding the sciences that are basic to the practice of medicine as well as learning interview and physical exam skills required to gather information from patients. Medical students also start to practice putting all this information together to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan in their first and second years. Their newly acquired knowledge is reinforced and put to work during the third and fourth years of medical school, the “clinical” years, in which students care for patients in supervised settings.

      The variety of clinical settings also provides opportunities to assess one’s interest, skills, and suitability for a variety of medical specialties and sites of practice.

      USMLE; "The Boards"
      Along the way, medical students are tested for their level of knowledge and proficiency with national exams that must be passed in order for the student to graduate with an MD degree. These exams are called the U.S. Medical Licensing Exams and nicknamed “The Boards.”

      Part I of this exam is taken at the end of the 2nd year of medical school.
      Part II is taken sometime after the 3rd year of medical school
      Part III is taken toward the end of the first year of residency training after medical school.

      Failure to complete Part I may postpone progressing into the 3rd and 4th years of medical school.

      Some students choose to complete a dual degree with an MD and a PhD, (MSTP- Medical Scientist Training Program) in a related field. These students may take 8 years to finish both degrees. Other students graduate with an MD and then decide to take a year or two to do research before beginning their residency training.

    • Residency:
      In the year prior to graduation from medical school most students decide which specialty they would like to pursue further training in. That training is called “residency” because until the mid 20th century this training required that newly minted doctors live full time (take up residence) in the hospitals in which they were training. Currently residents in most specialties are required to stay overnight in the hospital only a few nights per week. Some residents “take call” from home, meaning that they are responsible for care of certain patients, but don’t have to be on site. They do have to respond to the calls they receive and bear responsibility for decisions they make with or without seeing the patient under discussion.

      Applying for residency positions is a time consuming and anxiety provoking experience that requires applications and interviews. Notices of acceptance are usually in the spring just prior to graduation from medical school. Residencies vary from 3-8 years depending on the specialty chosen. Residents are supervised and assume gradually increasing responsibility for the care of their patients as they progress through their training. Although residents are still training, they no longer pay tuition. In fact, residents are paid!

    • Fellowships:
      Surgery FellowshipSome physicians choose sub-specialization after residency and again apply and compete for “fellowship” slots. Fellowships can also range from 1-3 years and are paid positions. They generally include research time as well as experience in a specific niche within their specialty. An example of this sequence of training is someone who decides to be a surgeon and then decides to become a cardiac surgeon. General surgery residency comes first followed by a few years in fellowship training in heart surgery.

  2. Unique Challenges of Medical School
  3. Time Management:
    Medical school requires long hours in the classroom in addition to enormous amounts of study time outside the classroom. These time requirements often limit the time available for recreational activities and family life and require that medical students recognize their personal limitations and hone their time management skills.

    Psychological Challenges:
    Debt may create additional stress. Further psychological challenges may arise from dealing with death early in medical school when students learn anatomy by dissecting bodies of people who have died and graciously donated their bodies to the medical school to help others become doctors. In the process of clinical teaching, often at the patient’s bedside, medical students start to understand the culture of medicine including privacy issues, responsibility, the training hierarchy, working with diverse patient populations, and dealing with others’ pain and emotions. Some students suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when patients call them “doctor” and expect them to have answers. Others may have to check their egos and avoid thinking that MD stands for “M. Deity.”

  4. Ways to Support Your Loved One During Medical School
  5. Understand the demands of medical school and recognize that routines may have to change to allow sufficient time for studying vast amounts of material. Realize that medical students can not respond to cell phone calls or text messages while they are seeing patients. Learn to accept “no” as an answer and recognize that it is not a personal rejection. Allow your loved one to set his or her priorities and know that you are still loved even when your favorite medical student isn’t around as much as she or he used to be. Schedule “date nights” or “family nights” and offer to help out with errands during high stress periods. If you live nearby, consider bringing over a prepared dinner during exam week. For those living further away, consider sending an occasional “care package” and don’t expect long responses to emails.

    Resources for UW Medical Students

    The Medical Student Counseling Service offers an active wellness program as well as free confidential counseling for students, their spouses, or significant others. Free couples counseling can be provided. For students needing ongoing longer term psychiatric services, referrals will be made.

    Other support personnel available at the UW School of Medicine include a learning specialist, tutors, a research advisor, financial aid and debt counselors, career counselors and the college mentors. If you call one of our counselors to discuss your family member, please realize that what our counselors can talk about with you is limited by privacy regulations. Nevertheless, you should feel free to call and share your concerns.

    In addition, The School of Medicine Financial aid office works specifically with University of Washington medical school applicants and students in the UW MD Program.