Episode 28: Listener Questions

Joni answers three listener questions—including one from our new voicemail line! We talk numbers, single moms, and community college credit.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call or text (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

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

Episode 28 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hey everybody! Welcome to another episode of the Pritzker Podcast. I believe this is Episode 28, and we’ve got Joni on the line and she’s going to be answering a few listener questions again. The first one we’re pretty excited about and was submitted actually on our website through our voicemail link. If you aren’t aware, we have a voicemail link through Google Voice on pritzkerpodcast.com and you can click the link and leave us a voicemail and we can play it on the air. So that’s what we’re going to do for this first one. Here goes:

Hi! My name is Alane. I’ve been listening to the Pritzker Podcast for about probably a month and a half now. I went and downloaded all the episodes and I absolutely love it. The information you guys give is invaluable. My question is I was wondering if you guys have any kind of insight or answers to my situation. I am a 27-year-old single mom and currently completing my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and taking the additional science courses in order to be eligible to even apply to medical school. I was wondering as far as non-traditional students go, do you guys have many single moms that go through your medical school? If so, is there any kind of assistance or program or a network that can help single parents be able to complete med school and succeed? Do you guys have a child care facility at Pritzker? Or is there an office that deals with non-traditional students like myself? Usually when people say non-traditional students they kind of just mean older students so–I’m still under 30 but I’m a mom so that’s kind of makes my situation different on top of the fact that I’m a single mom–but very dedicated and determined to go to medical school and finishing and becoming a great doctor one day. So I was just wondering if you guys know of any kind of resources that were out there and how admissions committees would look at an applicant like myself who has a Bachelor of Science, but in Nursing you know but although I do have the clinical skills from nursing so just a lot of questions. I’m pretty eager to hear some answers, but I will continue to listen to the podcast and I look forward to that. Thank you. Bye.

Joni Krapec: Ok. So basically I’ll try to take this message a couple bits at a time. In terms of being a parent while also being in medical school: that is something that we have quite frequently here. There’s usually several students within each entering class who are parents or who become parents during the time that they’re in medical school. And so that’s something that we’re pretty familiar with. So this is where I think it’s really helpful that we’re located on the main campus of the University of Chicago because aside from just the resources that are available as part of the medical school, all of our graduate and professional programs are here which means that we have a lot of people who are in that stage of life where they maybe having children. They may already have children. And then they’re coming to complete graduate and professional degrees so there is a very strong network of parents at the University of Chicago. There’s an entire email listserv that is university-wide that is across the University of Chicago as well where parents trade information about babysitters, day care, great things to do in the city with your child, all that kind of stuff. So I think from an overall networking standpoint, there’s really a lot that is offered here.

We don’t actually have our own day care center, but the University has an affiliation with two different group day care centers where the University children–so any child that’s from a faulty, a student or a staff member at the University–has preferential admission so they’re more likely to give a spot to U of C kid than they are any other child. And then we also have an affiliation with a network that’s called Baby PhD which is a collection of nanny shares and licensed day care providers throughout the neighborhood as well. So while we don’t have kind of one singular day care center, we do have a lot affiliations where children of the University of Chicago get preferential treatment.

In terms of kind of working through medical school as a parent, I mentioned earlier that we have parents who are at the university. Actually one of our first-years just had a baby a couple of months ago, so it’s certainly something that we are familiar with and we do everything we can to be supportive of you during this time. I think it’s always really important to have a network, whether you’re a parent in medical school or a student in medical school without a child–I think it’s always really important to have a support network nearby that can provide emotional support and potentially support with baby sitting or something like that with the child as well. But we have definitely had parents very successfully work through medical school and are able to complete their degree, and a couple of those parents have been single parents as well.

BF: Yeah, especially in her case, when she is a single parent, she doesn’t necessarily have that other parent to lean on. So it is especially important to have that network of people.

JK: Absolutely. And I think that’s partly true where so many of the parents who are within medical school develop really strong networks across the university with other parents in PhD or graduate school programs. There’s a ton of babysitting trade offs that happen where somebody might work certain hours and somebody else might be in school for a night class and so they kind of swap watching kids. There seems to be a very, very strong network for that here.

BF: Good to know. Hopefully she finds that sufficient. Okay, let’s move on to the second question. There was a gentleman that emailed this question in to us and he said he moved here from Africa for college–I think he’s from Nigeria–and he says he started out on a community college in Chicago, did some prerequisites there took a lot of chemistry and calculus classes and so forth, got involved with some research also in Chicago, and then transferred to a four-year college where he continued some research projects and so forth. And I guess he’s just wondering how his situation might be viewed by you people, you folks at Pritzker, or where he doesn’t have all of his college done at a four-year college. He did some prerequisites early, and will that ding him in your minds, I guess?

JK: Well the thing that interesting–and actually I just got an email about this today from a national organization–is that in the past, basically most medical schools have kind of said that you cannot do your prerequisites at a community college. And part of the reason for that is because there are so many community colleges, it’s difficult to know the rigor at each school. It’s difficult to know are these classes preparing you as well as the courses at a four-year institution might be preparing you because, typically and very generically speaking, four-year colleges are typically regarded in higher esteem in terms of their overall rigor; however, as we all have noticed what has happened with the economy and what has happened with student loans, many, many more students are going to community colleges, and so there is a discussion that has already gotten started now among medical schools about how are we going to look at those courses because if people are needing to go to community college for two years for the finances of it, is it really fair of us to discount the courses that they might have taken there?

So it’s a very timely question and I think based on the Pritzker experience. And what I have seen in the past, I can tell you what our committee does have a problem with and what the committee does not have a problem with. So what the committee does have a problem with is if, for example, an applicant goes to a community college and completes all of their science prerequisites at that community college, then transfers to four-year institution and does not take any science courses at that four-year institution. That is very difficult for our committee to reconcile, partly because we don’t really have a lot to compare against. We certainly operate most with applicants who are coming from four-year schools and so we get to know those and those curricula very well and we don’t necessarily know that as well from a community college. And you never want to give the impression that you’re trying to sort of pad your GPA by taking all of your sciences at a community college where you might be more likely to get higher grades because of the overall rigor of the class.

Now that being said, we have had students who have successfully completed community college, whether it’s a couple of years of courses, whether they’ve gotten their associate’s degree, there and then when they transfer to a four-year school, they take upper level science courses at that four-year institution and as long as those courses are done successfully, the committee really doesn’t have a problem with doing that. So for example, you might take a semester of intro bio at a community college, and then when you transfer to the four-year school, you’re continuing to take a full curriculum and now you’re taking neurobiology or you’re taking genetics or something like that and continuing to perform successfully in those courses. That is certainly something that the admissions committee appreciates seeing. So I would say for this applicant, in reading their question, it’s not entirely clear to me that he or she has taken any of the upper level science courses at the four-year institution. So I would say you definitely want to do that. So if you do go community college and then transfer to a four-year college, you want to make sure that you’re taking upper-level sciences at that four-year college and performing to the same level that you had been at the community college.

BF: Okay, and then the last one was sent in by a guy also via email, and his question basically deals with numbers and how numbers compare to extracurricular activities and how those two things are viewed. He say’s he carries a 3.4 overall GPA, 3.5 science. At first glance, potentially people would not see that as a very competitive applicant, but he thinks that his application is somewhat bolstered by a lot of research and clinical experience and community service. He played a varsity sport. I think he also said he had a job for a good part of college. And so, I guess the overall question is how much extracurricular activities and research and community service and things of that nature make up for, for lack of a better term, a subpar GPA?

JK: Well, this is actually a question that we got pretty frequently so let me kind of tell you how we look at a GPA. One thing that we definitely look at is to see are there overall trends in performance. So for example he’s saying that he has about a 3.5 in the sciences; that 3.5 could be a progression of grades where he started out at a 4.0 his freshman year, and every year thereafter he has had lower and lower GPA performance. It could be just the opposite. And so obviously we always like to catch students when they are on the rise, so that as their courses have been getting more difficult, they’ve been able to do better within those courses. So one of the things that we definitely looked at is the overall grade trend, and are you basically getting stronger as you go or is the opposite happening? The other thing that we’re looking at is what the overall rigor of your courses? So are you taking a full academic course load? Are you potentially balancing two science courses at the same time? What is your major? We know that some majors, for example engineering, typically have much less grade inflation than other majors might and so we try to take GPA into consideration with that as well.

And then the other thing we’re looking at is what else are you doing while trying to perform academically. So for example this applicant played a varsity sport. We know that that is a very heavy time commitment. We also know that many applicants also need to work while they are in college and so that again is a heavy time commitment. So a 3.5 when all you’re doing is your courses versus a 3.5 when you’re a varsity athlete or you’re working 20 hours a week to put yourself through school: We definitely look those two differently because we’re looking to see what you’re able to balance as you’re going through college. So a couple of things that we look at particularly pertaining to sport is, for example, if you have a sport that is a fall sport, typically what we’re used to seeing is your grades in the fall might be little lower, but your grades in the spring when you don’t need to concentrate as heavily on your sport are a little bit higher. So that’s something that we pay attention to. Same thing with overall work schedules or extra curricular involvement. Are you basically striking a balance where you’re doing well in your courses and also participating well with extracurriculars or with a job, but not to the tipping point.

We will have applicants who apply, who have straight C’s in the sciences and they say, “But I worked 3 jobs and I did all of this extracurricular stuff.” You can’t directly substitute one for the other because the number one concern that any medical school admissions committee is going to have is, can this person fair well in our curriculum? Can they make it through medical school academically? That is not to say that somebody with a 4.0 is the only person that we have confidence in, but it is to say that we’re looking to see what you’re able to balance and if you are prioritizing in a way that seems to make sense to us and that would continue to kind of support the belief that you would be able to strike a similar balance while you’re in medical school and be able to perform well.

The worst thing that we can do to somebody is bring them in to a medical school when we’re not certain that they could handle it academically. Now you’re a year and a half in and you’ve taken out sixty to seventy thousand dollars on student loans and you might not make it through medical school. That it is a really, really difficult situation to put someone in, so the admissions committees are certainly–we definitely air on the side of caution when it comes to that. So I think it’s important when you look at your overall GPA to see what is the grade progression? Am I getting stronger? Am I getting weaker? Are there some things that I could do to potentially help my balance, so that my GPA is as strong as it can be within the confines of what else you’re trying to accomplish while you’re in college?

The other thing that you might want to think about is instead of applying after your junior year of college, apply after your senior year. Give yourself one more year of strong grade performance and that certainly can be helpful as well. And then you basically need to also be looking at universities or medical schools where your GPA is in line with who they seem to be looking at. And so the best resource for that is a book that is produced by the American Association of Medical Colleges which is called the Medical School Admission Requirements book, and part of the reason why I like that book compared to–I mean there are countless other “best-of” medical school books that many, many people publish–the MSAR which is what we call it is the only that is done by the AAMC, and so every medical school is required to submit to it, so you know the information is accurate. The other thing that that book does which I find very helpful is that they not only give you the median GPA and MCAT for the entering class or for the accepted class, but they also gave you a range, so from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile, what GPAs and MCATs did accepted students have for these institutions? So I would definitely take a look at that to just get a better idea of where you might be a reasonable applicant with an overall GPA around the 3.4 and a 3.5 in the sciences and they break that down for you.

The other thing that I think is always a great idea is if you have a pre-medical office within your undergraduate college. many times they keep stats for who their graduates have–what medical schools they have gone to and with what GPAs and MCATs have they been accepted. And I think that can be really helpful for a lot of students as well to just kind of know other people from my same college with this GPA and this MCAT score were successful at these institutions–that can be a really good benefit for you as well to–when you make that list of the medical schools that you’re going to be applying to–to kind of gauge if those schools are within your reach or if they’re not. And typically most students will apply to around 15 to 17 medical schools and so I think that’s something that is good to have a range where you’re applying to a good number of schools where your GPA is in the range of GPAs that they have accepted and same thing with MCAT. I know this person hasn’t taken their MCAT so we can’t really comment on that, but I think it is something to think about that if as you’re doing this research, you don’t find your GPA listed really anywhere, then that might be a signal that your GPA is in a low enough range where you might need to do postbacc work or some other type of kind of additional academic enhancement to again meet that initial question that’s held by the medical school which is can this person successfully navigate our curriculum and what evidence do we have of that?

BF: And Joni, if I could just ask a follow up question. You mentioned that you guys take into consideration different majors and different varying levels of difficulty of course loads for example, and I think we’ve talked about this on the show before, but it’s always worth the refresher I guess: To what extent does Pritzker and do medical schools do that for the schools that people are coming from as well?

JK: It’s I can speak for Pritzker and more broadly I guess for other medical schools. I think it’s something that we absolutely pay attention to. We know most of the universities that our applicants are coming from. And I think that’s pretty common for medical schools, particularly for example if you have a medical school at your undergraduate campus or you know your university that you’re currently an undergrad at has a medical school, they are going to know your school inside and out. So we know, for example, there is a school that recently within the last three or four years decided to very conscientiously battle grade inflation. And so the graduates from that college are presenting with lower GPAs than we we’re seeing five or six years ago because of this change in policy at the undergraduate institution. It’s something that we’re aware of. It’s something that our committee is aware of and so we usually know pretty well where students are coming from and are able to kind of assess that student within the context of others from that same institution.

BF: Sure, and does that consideration–is it typically based sort reputation among the Office of Medical Education or is there some data set that you guys are working off of as well?

JK: It’s a mix of both. It’s definitely–for example we can have a conversation where members of the Admissions Committee will say, “You know, I remember student so-and-so from that university who’s now a third-year with us had a very similar academic background and is doing just fine in school.” That’s something that we know, it’s a mix of anecdotal information as well as data that we have from various undergraduate institutions.

BF: Cool, very informative. Good to know.

JK: Sorry, I was just going to say I think our single mom had also asked a question about being a BS in Nursing.

BF: Yes, she did.

JK: I didn’t want to forget that one. Just in case we have other BS’s in Nursing who are listening.

BF: Bachelor of Science, of course.

JK: Yes. Bachelor of Science, not any other translation of that acronym. Yes, I would say our committee, we have graduates of nursing programs who are currently enrolled in our medical school and they’re doing great. And certainly from a clinical standpoint they have amazing experiences that they bring to the table.

BF: Mary is one of them!

JK: Yes, yes. Our podcast co-hoster Mary has her degree in nursing and so I think that’s something that the committee certainly looks upon favorably and basically the question that will be asked is, why do you want a medical degree after being already being a part of the health care system in the role of a nurse? Why are you wanting now to become a physician? And so that’s kind of the main question that will get asked. But otherwise, you know we certainly love seeing nursing students and they really add a lot to our environment here.

BF: Cool, good to know. Great, thanks Joni. I think this will help all those askers of the questions and we certainly encourage everybody to go pritzkerpodcast.com if you also have a question. Click on the big Google Voice “Leave a Voicemail” box on the right. And hopefully we’ll be able to use it in the show sometime. Thanks again Joni.

JK: Sure. Thanks Ben.

BF: Take care.