Advice for Premeds

A blog about the medical school admissions process

The Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 and Medical School Admissions

by Janet Snoyer in COVID-19 Advice No Comments

Your life’s dream has been to get into med school. And now you’re facing hard questions about the timing and feasibility of this dream due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Remember: we’re in this together. Whenever there’s a catastrophe that involves everybody, then EVERYBODY understands. That includes admissions officers, who are humans and who will be as accommodating as they can. If you face problems with online courses or transcripts, admissions officers will understand. If you have to reschedule your MCAT because of illness or family emergency, admissions officers will understand. Admissions officers will do their best to help everyone this cycle get their applications in.

This is your chance to step up.  We expect our doctors to give selflessly for the rest of their lives, and now you find yourself:

  1. With most of your extracurricular activities cancelled
  2. With time to spare since all of your classes have moved online
  3. With an urgent need right in your own community

You’re young. You’re healthy. You are much less likely to have complications from this disease.

Yes, you have to be careful not to infect your family members.

Your Most Pressing Concerns About COVID-19 and Medical School Admissions

How will the medical school admissions timeline change? Will there be significant changes either in the current 2020 matriculation cycle, or the next 2021 (applying summer 2020) cycle?

Most of you are feeling heightened uncertainty now, for reasons beyond all the changes related to COVID-19. You may have questions about how the social distancing protocols will affect medical school admissions systems: MCAT administration, waitlist procedures, and other topics. 

Medical school fairs are a critically important way for you to introduce yourself to admissions offices. Unfortunately, schools are canceling their spring fairs, which is unfortunate, but here is the light! According to the AAMC: “We endeavor to support…prospective applicants with meeting your respective goals amid uncertainty.”

The AAMC has decided to hold a Virtual Medical School Recruitment Fair on March 27th from 11 am – 8 pm ET. Mark your calendars. This is your chance to connect with admissions officers, to learn what others are wondering and to get your own questions answered.  

The details are being worked out now; this is all we know. You should take advantage of this opportunity. It is very likely that nearly every medical school in the US will participate this time, a far more complete list of schools than attended the February 20th virtual fair. 

There is an action you can take, and I hope you will. It’s quick and it will help all premeds: Write to the admissions offices of medical schools of interest to you and ask them to please hold a booth at this fair. They do not have to pay as they usually do to have a booth at this fair, so please encourage them!

All medical school fairs on college campuses are closing. For example, the UCLA med school fair will be held virtually.  This may mean that you can attend fairs that were formerly open only to a school’s own undergraduates! Silver lining!

Will I be able to shadow a doctor?

Probably not. People considered potential virus carriers in the clinical setting who are not essential to treatment are the first people to be excused. 

But the shortage of doctors and nurses projected can give you the opportunity to put on your hazmat suit and rubber gloves, if you are permitted, and pitch in. 

For example: You could call your local Public Health Department now and volunteer to assist staff at the drive in testing centers that are slated for Walmart, Walgreens and Target parking lots. 

Now is the time to provide service ––and show you are a leader. You could invite your friends virtually into an organization that provides care and attention to the most Coronavirus-vulnerable populations. Educate, bring groceries or medications to a shut-in. Reach out to the isolated. Teach them how to use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime. Generate a list of ways to help, just like we generated this tip sheet.

Oh, and by the way, you can write about it in your med school applications.

Is it bad that my extra-curricular activities are getting cancelled?

Yes and no. It is not bad for two reasons. First, since this is happening to many people, if not most premeds, you can rationalize that the expectations will be lower in the coming cycle. Second, you may be able to find a way to carry on your activities virtually. You may be able to institute new ones, as mentioned above.

It is bad because you need extra-curriculars to have a multi-dimensional, strong application. If your particular set of extra-curriculars are cancelled, leaving you with few to none, you ought to look for others. As your advisors, we can help you brainstorm this. 

Med schools cancelling second-look days

Okay, this is a true bummer. Look for virtual substitutes and form connections with everyone you can to enlighten you about the school. Ask the admissions office to put you in touch with M1 and M3s in particular. 

Will I be able to take all the courses I need to apply to medical school?

Many colleges have moved classes online, so the obvious concern is whether you will be able to complete all of your pre-requisite courses in a timely fashion.

We want to remind you of a critical insight: admissions offices require that courses be complete prior to matriculation, NOT prior to applying.

For example, let’s assume the following dates for your application process this cycle:

  • May 1, 2020 – TMDSAS, AACOMAS may be submitted
  • May 28, 2020 – AMCAS may be submitted
  • August 2020 – First interviews held
  • October 2020 – First acceptances go out to applicants
  • May 2021 – Most candidates pick their final medical school
  • July 2021 – Most medical school classes begin

Under this case, your pre-requisite courses are due by July 2021. You can continue to take those courses while applying, and there is typically no penalty to your application.

Which colleges have cancelled classes or moved classes online?

226 colleges and counting as of this writing. Maybe you can hook into some new online courses because of this!

This spreadsheet has the latest data (though, due to demand on the spreadsheet, it doesn’t always open smoothly).

Will med schools accept online classes to satisfy their pre-requisites?

It used to be that med schools did NOT accept online courses to satisfy admissions requirements.

“I polled more than a dozen medical school colleagues, and nearly all reported that they did not accept online courses for the required sciences. Some schools do not accept even non-science online courses.”
Kathleen Franco, M.D., U.S. News

This will change for this cycle. While med schools have traditionally been skeptical of online courses – worried that they lacked the rigor of in-person classes – we’ve never seen an entire applicant pool whose science classes have been moved online against their will.

If you spot such language on a med school’s website, understand that it’s a vestige of old policies that will not be continued through the present.

Nevertheless, you want to take reputable online courses. The most reputable courses require that you be tested in person with a proctor whom the school approves. This probably can’t happen during the social isolation period of spring 2020, but it will remain the gold standard to preserve the integrity of the examination.

Will I be able to take my MCAT?

This uncertainty about the MCAT is happening for all the physicians-to-be who signed up to take the test during this interval. If you cannot test until May, June or even July, August, it will be to protect all our lives, which is at the very root of why you want to be a doctor. 

When AAMC rolled out the current MCAT in January 2015, there was a huge surge in requests to take the retiring exam in the last few administrations.  AAMC was able to accommodate that surge and provide additional testing sites to meet that far less urgent (but strongly felt and expressed) need. 

You are now able to reschedule your exam for free. Keep studying – the extra time may help you raise your score. Remember to take a few full-length practice tests as part of your preparation.

One real concern is that your existing score will hurt you if it is the only score that you have when you submit your application. Some schools will give you the time you need to submit a better score. You can attend the March 27 virtual fair to humbly ask whether your schools of interest do or do not have the ability to give you a fair screening should you not have a new MCAT score by July 15.

Test center cancellations are posted here.

Information from AAMC is posted here.

Will the application dates and deadlines change?

Anything is possible, but nothing will move earlier, only later.

Will my schedule be disrupted?

Most pre-meds are planners: they fill their days and weeks with studying, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, and more. You crave routine and stability. You need it to accomplish your prodigious set of goals. The currently chaotic climate could be a test of your resilience and adaptability, and it’s time to flex those muscles. Talk it over with a good listener, and take it one small step at a time to reset your schedule and your routine. One great thing about social distancing is that it frees up lots of time.

I’m worried about moving home

Home can often be chaotic and distracting. You may not even get your old room back if you move home. You may worry about infecting your grandparents.

Remember that home may be worried about having you back. Practice kindness and good communication to come up with the best solution.

How to stay productive while working virtually

Just think back to the time when you transitioned from high school to college and you probably felt that you had so much more time under your discretionary control. Then “WHAM!” You were busier than ever…how puzzling it was.

Working from home is similar. You may feel lonely, tired, or distracted. Many students have conditioned minds that tell them the thing to do when they get home is just to “sleep it off.” Sleep off the stress, the sleep deprivation, the ever so slightly dysthymic feeling of being in that constricting (and comforting) container you sprung from to go to college.

You have developed skills to work in a disciplined way from anywhere. It’s best to write them down on your first morning at home and systematize them so you can develop new habits with efficiency. 

Will I be able to get letters of recommendation?

You probably won’t be able to ask for them in person (or probably shouldn’t). But you can definitely use FaceTime Video or another videoconferencing app to ask face-to-face. It’s worth scheduling this because it’s just warmer and friendlier than email. Be professional: Prepare to make the ask, don’t just wing it. Have all the background info you need and want them to have at your disposal, and be ready to send it in the way the writer prefers (google drive link, email attachment, messaging attachment, for example).

Will I be able to start med school on time?

Unanswerable questions about the future ought to be stored on a list. You have enough in the present to occupy yourself. 

If you attend the virtual fair on 3/27, you can ask all the medical schools this question and create a great body of data for our next blog posts!

Will this affect traveling for the medical school interview?

Yes. Here is a list of schools that have postponed interview days and cancelled second looks. Make sure to offer to interview via videoconferencing software. 

Taking another year off just got more advantageous

If you are already concerned about whether you’re going to be able to complete all of the application requirements and are now dealing with the disruption, this is another reason to wait. Also, you are more likely to have Step 1 be pass/fail!

Study up on the latest developments in Coronavirus

Applicants will need to know the latest developments about COVID-19, since that will likely be asked about in your med school interview.  

Here is an interesting website: flattenthecurve.com

If there’s a recession, what will happen to med school applications?

Medical school admissions application numbers usually weather recessions. The competition is just as robust because the job of a doctor is seen as economically secure. I wish the number of applicants went down, but not likely. 

This blog post is the collaborative creation of Janet Snoyer and Elyse Perruchon from The Mentoring Alliance, and Rob Humbracht and Ryan Kelly from Passport Admissions/Savvy Premed.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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