Episode 22: Listener Questions

Joni answers a few common listener questions. (Sorry for the wonky audio; we unfortunately had to rock out with a MacBook Pro mic at the last minute!)

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com.

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[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]

Episode 22 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hey everybody! Welcome to another episode of the Pritzker Podcast, Episode 22 in fact. I am joined as always by Joni Krapec, who is the Director of Admissions–and is it Outreach now, Joni?

Joni Krapec: Yes.

BF: Director of Admissions and Outreach at the Pritzker School of Medicine; sometimes it changes from year to year so we need to make sure. We are excited over here in Chicago because school is starting soon, we’ve got new students arriving shortly. Orientation I believe is starting very soon if it hasn’t already. We’ve got loads of applications coming in so you guys are working pretty hard as I take it, right Joni?

JK: Yes, very hard. We’re having a lot a lot of applications.

§ “What’s with the wonky formatting on the Pritzker secondary?”

BF: That’s what I hear. So we’re going to dedicate this episode to answering some of the questions that have been flowing in about the application process and about Pritzker and about certain other aspects about specific things that people have questions about regarding their application. So, the first one is pretty basic and I think it’s a question that a lot of people probably have when they fill out their secondary applications to Pritzker. And that is regarding the formatting issues that people sometimes have when they submit it, or when they try to print it out to sort of preview, and specifically this question asker is asking about paragraphs disappearing, dashes becoming question marks, other sort of glyphs becoming things that they’re not supposed to be. Is that okay? How can they fix it? How can they sort of get around that?

JK: Yeah. Actually what we’ve been finding is it depends entirely on what kind of word processing software somebody might be using and ultimately it doesn’t bother us one way or the other. So it’s not–

BF: So you mean, sorry to interrupt, so you’re talking about when you’re taking like a word document and copying and pasting it into the form?

JK: Exactly.

BF: Okay.

JK: Exactly. So sometimes the paragraphs get lost or dashes turn into question marks or something like quote marks turn into a question mark. And usually students are very nervous about it because they think we will think that they actually put in a question mark in the middle of a sentence or something and honestly we don’t worry about those things. We read through the content of the essays. We can tell from your essay kind of when you’re trying to do a paragraph break, when you’re meaning to use dashes instead of question marks. So if we see anything that is a clear formatting issue, we assume the problem is with the computer kind of talking to each other not at all having to do with the applicants. So you definitely aren’t kind of thought of as being weird, or it’s not at all the applicant’s fault if that happens so just don’t worry about it. There’s really nothing that a person can do to fix it from what I can figure out. Sometimes students will email us their essay in a word document, that’s totally not necessary. We’ll just read it on your secondary. We know what you’re talking about and it’s never considered to be your fault if the formatting doesn’t come out the exact right.

§ “AMCAS has my letters; why doesn’t Pritzker?”

BF: Okay, good to know. Number two: Someone asked about AMCAS having trouble sort of logging all the letters that people have sent in so that the exact question was, “AMCAS said it received all of my letters”–oh I guess it’s a problem with Pritzker’s end or a perceived problem with Pritzker’s end–“AMCAS said it received all of my letters but you don’t show having received them yet. Where are they? They did get lost in the mail, what’s going on?”

JK: Right. So what’s happening is students are sending their letters to AMCAS for their new letter of recommendation process. AMCAS says to the applicant, “Yeah, we have all your letters, they’re ready to go. They’re available to the school.” Different schools have set up different download schedules. For example, we get the letters every single day, we ask for a download. That download happens in the morning. So if you’ve submitted your AMCAS application at 4:00 in the afternoon or your last letter gets in at 4:00 in the afternoon, we’re not going to get your letter that day. It’s not going to come in until the next day or maybe even the day after depending how long AMCAS takes to process it. So, then the secondary component to it is once we get the batch of letters from AMCAS, we have to sort out all of the letters into the right application and record that we’ve received them so that when students log in to check our applicant status portal, they see that their letters are here. Any given day we’re getting between a 100 and 700 letters so that can just take us a little while to get everybody kind of filed into the right spot. So my general advice is if kind of from the date that AMCAS says they’ve received all your letters, give us about a week to get them all into your application and if you’re not seeing them on our applicant status portal in a week, then be in touch with us and let us know. But if AMCAS gets your letters on Monday, it’s very rare that it would be reflected in our applicant status portal on Tuesday as having been received and put into your application.

BF: Right. Okay, good to know. Did you say 700 letters a day at some times?

JK: The first day that’s what we got. Yeah.

BF: Holy mackerel! That’s nuts.

JK: And I think this past Monday we got 460 in a day, so…

BF: That is nuts.

JK: Yeah.

BF: That’s a lot of processing.

§ “Can I apply to Pritzker before my MCAT scores are back?”

BF: Okay, good to know. All right, let’s move on to number three. A student asked a question regarding sort of the timing of her application because she hadn’t yet taken the MCAT.

JK: Okay.

BF: Or hadn’t yet retaken the MCAT and therefore didn’t have an MCAT score to offer, so she’s wondering whether she should just apply to Pritzker right now and send in the MCAT score later and whether she’ll be able to sort of proceed with the secondary process and have her application processed properly without the MCAT score, or whether she should wait for the primary application, wait till she gets her MCAT score in, and then just send everything in as a big happy package. What do you recommend?

JK: We always recommend that students get their application in as quickly as possible even if they’re waiting for that MCAT score.

BF: Okay.

JK: So as soon as they check off Pritzker School of Medicine on their AMCAS application, they will get a link to our secondary the next day.

BF: Even without an MCAT score.

JK: Even without an MCAT score.

BF: Okay.

JK: We don’t pre-screen the applications to cut off a certain number to say that MCAT is above this or below this you get our secondary, we don’t do that. So every single applicant receives our secondary and I always think it’s best to have your secondary back in, your AMCAS verified and ready to go, all of your letters here. Then as soon as we get that MCAT score, we can immediately send your application to review.

BF: Okay.

JK: If you wait to do the secondary or to send in your AMCAS until you receive your MCAT score, then your application being reviewed is going to happen several weeks later depending on when all of the rest of that information comes in.

BF: Right.

JK: So I would do it early. We do not review applications until we receive an MCAT score. If you tell us you’re taking it again, we will not review your application until we get that second score.

§ “I did my volunteering a long time ago; is that okay?”

BF: Right. Okay, good to know. Let’s move on to number four. There’s a non-traditional student who is applying to Pritzker, or thinking about applying, and she said while she was in college she did a lot of volunteering. She had a lot of clinical experience, but since college she has held a steady job and really doesn’t have enough time to do those extracurricular things like college students do. And she’s wondering if that might present a problem since she hasn’t had any sort of recent volunteer experience or recent clinical experience because of these limitations in her life currently. So, how do you guys look at that? Do you prefer sort of consistency throughout the time leading up to applying to medical school or is it sort of okay to do it in chunks like that I guess?

JK: Well, it kind of depends on what the person’s overall background is and what they’re currently doing for work.

BF: Okay.

JK: So if we can see from an application a very clear and conscientious effort to explore the healthcare field, we can see that somebody has dedicated time to getting clinical experience and they know why they want to become a physician, and we can get a sense that they have an altruistic spirit because we see record of volunteer work, then somebody for example working for a year as a consultant with crazy hours isn’t going to throw us off, that would be okay. Additionally too, we have a lot of people that ask that question and they’re currently working in the healthcare field, or they’re currently–their job is 50 hours a week being a receptionist at a doctor’s office; obviously that’s fine too. The only time that we really, really think that people need to be working on extracurriculars while they’re working is if we can’t see anywhere else in their application that they have done this work of figuring out why they really want to do this. Why do I want to be a doctor? Why do I want to dedicate my life and my career to being of service to other people? If we’re never seeing that in an application, that exploration, then we’re getting concerned. And I think too, and not to say that this is the person that we’re talking about, but especially given the current economy we know that a lot of people might start coming into medical school or applying to medical school because maybe things aren’t happening in their current career. Maybe they’ve already thought about being a doctor and so now they feel like this is their chance to come in and do it. We need to make sure that people ate making this decision for the right reasons. So I would encourage anybody to kind of look through their application and see where they see, “Okay, I’m proving that I understand the field of healthcare. I’m proving that I know what it’s like to be a doctor because I’ve shadowed, I volunteered, etc. and I’m demonstrating a commitment to being of service to others.

BF: Okay. Even if happened to have happened a few years ago?

JK: Exactly.

§ “Is it okay to get outside letters in lieu of a committee letter?”

BF: Okay, good to know. Okay, let’s move onto number five. This question is concerning someone who is also a non-traditional applicant and while a student as an undergrad student, she didn’t really find it all that important to get a letter from her pre-health advisor’s office, mostly because she thought that they weren’t necessary giving her the best advice. They were sort of discouraging regarding her application and telling her that maybe this isn’t necessarily the right thing to do, which is okay advice for some people. But she felt that she might not have gotten the strongest letter from these folks just because they were sort of on pages, but instead she has done a lot of work with people outside of her advisor’s office who have been willing to write her letters and so forth, and she’s wondering if those letters are an acceptable alternative to her advisor’s letter or how do you guys sort of view that.

JK: We feel that the premed advisor letter–if there is a committee that writes a letter, because that doesn’t happen at every university–but we feel as though if there is a letter from that university then the applicant needs to seek out that service and needs to provide that letter.

BF: Okay.

JK: We actually have a place in our secondary that asks that exact question. Is there a pre-health advisor committee letter from your home institution? Are you making use of that service? If the person answers no, we ask them to explain why that is.

BF: Okay.

JK: And sometimes it’s as simple as, “I’ve been graduated for six years, they don’t work with alumni.” That’s understandable. That happens sometimes but if it’s kind of the reason is, “Well, I just didn’t get along with them very well or they were discouraging me from pursuing this path,” what you don’t want to have happen is for our committee to have any questions that you maybe avoiding the office or that you maybe avoiding a letter and I hate to say it this way but when we’re looking at medical students, we need to make sure that everybody is very strong and wanting to come into medicine for the right reasons. And often the premed advisor letter is also telling us about any disciplinary issues, any academic probation things like that so–

BF: Ah, I see.

JK: You just don’t want to be seen as dodging that letter.

BF: Okay.

JK: Because as this applicant is saying, it may seem very innocent and they just didn’t get along with me, I don’t want to submit a negative letter.

BF: Right.

JK: But you don’t know if an admissions committee is going to think, “Okay, is that really the reason or is it because you were expelled for a year for cheating and you’re trying to hide that from us.”

BF: Right, exactly.

JK: So, I would go ahead and get the letter but that being said, I would also then send in the letters from the people that this applicant has worked with recently from some of the health professionals that she’s worked with or he’s worked with. So that we have an understanding of who this person is in the present time and what their motivations are, and most premed offices especially if you’ve been graduated for a little while, they’ll want an update from you. They want you to make a phone appointment or to even come in and talk to the premed advisors. And most advisors can see where there is growth and understand that and write a letter that’s reflective of that too.

§ “Should I have a chosen specialty to talk about during my interview?”

BF: Sure. Okay, let’s see, let’s move on to number six. The question is as follows: “I was wondering if at medical schools it is a good idea to have a few specialties of interest to mention when that question comes up. Will the interviewer ask these sorts of things? I was always given the impression that as an applicant I should keep an open mind about specialties and I have definite plans because my choice can always change.” How do you guys feel about that? How do interviewers typically feel about that–an applicant having sort of a predefined specialty of choice versus no plans at all?

JK: The question is a really good one. Basically what we’re looking for is a combination of enough knowledge about the medical field so that we feel like you know what you’re getting into, along with keeping an open mind and knowing that there are things that you don’t yet know and so your decisions, your ideas might change. So it’s not uncommon for someone who maybe was an athlete all growing up to want to go into orthopedics. Maybe they had a lot of injuries and things like that and so they’re coming and saying, “I know I want to be an orthopedic surgeon,” and that’s fine motivation to have. We just always encourage people to keep a little bit of an open mind about it and say, “Right now, based on my experience, this is the field that is most compelling to me but I’m also interested in learning more about other fields.”

Kind of the opposite extreme is when we talk to an applicant and say, “Generally, we’re just asking a question to kind of get a better idea of what aspects of medicine is motivating the person.” So for example if I ask somebody, “Well, tell me what you’re thinking about? Do you have a specialty in mind? What might you be thinking about with the field of medicine?” And they say, “I don’t know, I’m open to everything,” and the answer stops there. That’s not helping me to really understand that they know what they’re getting themselves into. So an answer that might be, “You know what, I’m really interested in possibly considering primary care opportunities. So I’m thinking maybe about internal medicine. I’m thinking about family medicine, I’m thinking about pediatrics because I personally really am drawn to medicine because of the opportunity to work with an entire families and see an entire family’s health unfold.” Or, “You know what, I was an engineering major, I’m really interested in mechanics and in technology and I think I would be drawn to surgery for those reasons but I’m going to keep an open mind and see what else unfolds.” Those answers are perfectly fine to give. We’re just trying to get a sense of what about medicine is motivating you and often times the specialties that you’re interested in kind of help to demonstrate that.

BF: Sure.

JK: But you don’t want to come in and say, “I’m totally open-minded about it. I don’t know what field I’m going to go into. I have no idea where I might be leaning,” because that unfortunately can translate into “I don’t know enough about any medical specialty to even give you a guess.”

BF: Right exactly, where on the other hand, you’re not necessarily going to hamstring yourself by choosing one specialty, as long as you provide some reasoning for it.

JK: Exactly, and as long as you’re ripping on other specialties in the process.

BF: Right.

JK: Because unfortunately people stumble into that as well and you never know who’s interviewing you and what they might do for a living or what their spouse or child does for living, so…

BF: Yeah, I’ve interviewed a lot of people who say, “Oh, I’m pretty open but I definitely don’t want to do psychiatry or pathology because blah, blah, blah, those people are just weird or something.”

JK: Right.

BF: And I don’t know about that.

JK: Yeah.

BF: Okay.

JK: That doesn’t show the diversity and tolerance that we’re looking for.

BF: Right.

BF: I mean you’ll never know. A lot of people fall in love with those sorts of things so it’s good to keep an open mind in that respect.

JK: Exactly! We did kind of a rough poll at some point and kind of measured the first year students we had coming in, what they decided that they knew that they wanted to do versus what they actually did their residency programs in. The original idea held about 10% of the time.

BF: I’m telling you, it’s like college major, some students change all the time and even while you’re applying to residency programs, you’re always changing.

JK: Absolutely!

BF: So, who knows? I think for everybody who is listening who is applying to medical school right now and will eventually end up in the medical school, I think you’ll find a vast majority of your class who want to be orthopedic surgeons.

JK: Yes.

BF: Or something illustrious like that but it never works out like that.

JK: Yeah.

§ “Can I list an informal but health-related interest as an experience?”

BF: Okay, let’s move on. This is kind of an interesting question. This gentleman who emailed me says that he’s sort of finishing up the activities section and experiences section of the AMCAS. And one of his sort of personal life passions is learning about health care policy, health care costs, the whole debate about where ObamaCare is going to go, for example, and sort of just reading up about that stuff and knowing about it on a more personal level as opposed to being in sort of a formal program of study. And in fact, he tried to apply to this internship for health policy in DC but it unfortunately didn’t work out. But I guess his overall question is whether he should list that as an experience as sort of an area of passion for him, or whether he should maybe just instead bring it up during the interview, or what should he do with that? That thing that’s obviously taking up a lot of his time but he doesn’t necessarily have any letters after his name to show for it for example.

JK: Sure. I always appreciate seeing personal passion listed as an experience or an activity within the AMCAS application. And it could be something like what this applicant is saying about kind of an intellectual field of interest that he spends a lot of time thinking about or working on. We’ve had people write about marathon training that that was something that they put a lot of time and energy into or travel; things along those lines. And I think ultimately the first thing to think about is is putting this experience in–you only get 15–so is this going to knock out your volunteer work at a hospice?

BF: Something that’s more tangible.

JK: Exactly! So I wouldn’t put it in to knock out something else that we might find to very tangible and kind of more “official.” But assuming you have the room for it, I always appreciate knowing these kinds of things about applicants. Then the only second thing to think about is if you’re going to kind of say that this is a huge passion of yours and you spend a ton of time working about it or thinking about it, then your answer to health policy type questions during an interview had better be really, really good.

BF: Right, exactly!

JK: Certainly we talk to applicants a lot about current health care and what applicants might think about going to a more government-based system or kind of a socialist system of health care. We don’t expect a PhD-worthy the answer to come out of the applicant’s mouth. If someone is telling us, “This is my greatest passion and I do all kinds of reading about it,” then our expectation for that person’s answer is honestly going to be a little bit higher because they’re admitting that this is something that they spend so much time with. It would be kind of like if your major is in Russian and I ask you something about the former Soviet Union and you can’t answer me, that kind of raises a concern. And then obviously to the other thing whenever we talk about health care policy, whenever we talk about what is the “right” or “wrong” way to practice medicine, it’s always good to stay as balanced as you can and to kind of admit that you’re not a doctor yet. You don’t know every single nuance of the program but based on what you’ve read, based on what you’ve heard, here’s what you’re thinking about.

BF: Right. Well, I should mention too that while you sound kind of lenient about putting those sorts of things into the application if you’ve got the space, don’t make a habit of filling up the rest of your space with tiny things that you have done. “I spent a day thinking about health care policy.”

JK: Exactly!

BF: “I spent a day looking at the outside of a hospital and wondering what was inside or something.” Those are just examples of things that you don’t necessarily want to use your space to talk about because they’re not very significant at all. So make sure it’s really a passion of yours and that you’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff and doing it.

JK: Right. Good point Ben.

BF: So since you have recommended to this gentleman that he can include it if he wants, how would you present that as part of the write up for his experience?

JK: Usually it’s listed just as something like “personal exploration of health policy”. You can kind of give it whatever title you want and then the contact name is obviously going to be yourself. And then in the paragraph or the written summary, I would just state what are the types of things that that you’ve been involved with. I probably wouldn’t say I tried to get a health policy internship and failed at it.

BF: Right.

JK: For whatever reason, not necessarily saying that his fault that he wasn’t able to do that, I probably would stick with the stuff that you’ve actually done. “I’ve read six books about it. I’ve gone to programs or presentations in my town when they have brought people in to talk about this.” Those kinds of tangible things I think are good to list.

§ “Where can I find out more about Pritzker’s chats and social networking?”

BF: Right. Okay, good to know. Okay, and then the last question is just a really quick one. Someone asked how will she know when the next available chat sessions are, the online chat sessions that Pritzker holds for applicants or people who have already been accepted? How can she register for those?

JK: We don’t need to register for chats so that’s not something that anybody needs to worry about. What we will do is when we’re getting ready to have a chat we will send an email message out. So sometimes we do chats for everybody whose coming to interview, for example, so we obviously know who those people are and we can email them and let them know that the chat is coming. For prospective students who we might not have your application yet or you might still be debating whether or not you want to finish your application, there are a couple of ways to kind of let us know you exist. One of those is to go to our website and within the Admissions & Financial Aid section of our website, it’s a big blue star that says register now and you can send us your name and your email address. And then when our next chat is scheduled will send you an email and let you know what the time is so that you can come in for that. Also if you haven’t yet found our page on Facebook, you can just look up University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine on Facebook and we have so far close to about 300 fans of our group in Facebook. And so I’ll put a posting up there as well saying, “Here’s when our next chat is.” And then we also have a Twitter–is it a Twitter page Ben?

BF: Some people call it a Twitter. Some people call it a Twitter account. Whatever.

JK: We have one of those. Clearly Ben helps me with all things technology. So we do have a Twitter as well and you can follow us: It’s @ucpritzker_adm (like the start of admissions) and we’ll post on there as well. We’ll probably not do a chat until likely late August; as Ben mentioned our next entering class begins in less than a week, they’ll be here on Thursday. So, that will obviously taking up a lot of our time for the next couple of weeks but then we hope to do a chat for our prospective applicants for our interviewing students towards late August.

BF: Fantastic! And if I could just make a quick plug, the podcast itself is also on Twitter.

JK: Yes.

BF: We are @pritzkerpodcast. And then another way that we tend to make announcements about the chats are also through studentdoctor.net, so we’ll typically make announcements prior to those chats as well and maybe in the future we can just push out really quick podcast announcements about when the next chats are coming up so people can stay abreast.

JK: Absolutely! And we may, depending on how many people are out there, we may kind of have different chats based on where you are in the country, only because when we’ve done this in the past and just kind of invited the world, we had so many people that the questions were coming in so fast we couldn’t even see them, let alone answer them.

BF: It’s hectic.

JK: So we try to stagger them a little bit so if we invite everybody currently living in the northeast to chat and then a week later invite everybody currently living on the west coast. Try to stick with region if you can only because we’re doing that as a crowd control kind of mechanism.

BF: Right. Yeah, I mean if you can imagine having, what, eight people from Pritzker and then what’s the highest we’ve got? Maybe 200 people in the chat room at a time?

JK: Exactly!

BF: All talking amongst each other. Imagine a cocktail party within a chat room it’s just too much, so crowd control is definitely important.

JK: Yes because we want to answer your questions. We don’t want you guys to get frustrated too because you keep asking the same question and it flies off our screen so fast that we don’t’ even see it.

BF: Exactly! And the other thing to mention is that if you happen to miss the chat session, then they are posted on Pritzker’s site so don’t feel like it’s the end of the world if you miss something.

JK: Right, exactly.

BF: Alrighty, sounds good. Thanks very much Joni.

JK: Oh, you’re more than welcome! Thanks everyone for sending in your questions too.

BF: Take care.


BF: Thanks again for listening to the Pritzker Podcast. To hear more, search for us in iTunes or visit pritzkerpodcast.com. We hope that this is an informative resource for you and if it is we welcome you to contact us at pritzkerquestions@gmail.com, or you can comment on our podcast page directly in iTunes. We’d also love for you to suggest questions or topics so that we can address them on the air for the rest of our listeners. To keep up with the Pritzker Podcast, follow us on Twitter at @pritzkerpodcast.