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MentorDoctor: Making Up Lost Time After Katrina

Isabella Finkelstein, Ph.D. Professor of Biological Sciences http://www.sciencemag.

Dear MentorDoctor:

I am an undergraduate premed major attending Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Since my institution was temporarily closed as a result of Hurricane Katrina, university officials plan to fit in two semesters before August 2006. This action prevents me and other premeds from completing summer internships next year. Many of us fear this will weaken our resumés and be detrimental when it comes time to apply to medical school. Do you have any suggestions or know of any medical-enrichment programs that we could participate in during the year that will make us viable medical school candidates?


Slightly Confused

Isabella Finkelstein: I am certain that the admission committees that review your application will be aware of the constraints placed on your academic program this year. They will understand that many students from the area will have to adjust their summer schedules to accommodate. So don’t worry about missing a summer internship. Stay focused on your goal and look for innovative ways to get training in a medical facility, a doctor’s office, or a health clinic. Also keep in mind that opportunities are not always advertised, so contact your pre-medical advisor for possible leads. Another great resource is the American Association of Medical Colleges. A number of programs are linked on their Web site.

Having to evacuate the New Orleans area may have put you an unfamiliar location. If so, contact the health career advisors at the colleges and universities in that area. They will be happy to assist you. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have made a lot of things harder for many people, but the ability to adapt to unexpected events is an important attribute for a physician. Stay the course.

Thomas Landefeld: Missing out on a summer internship is unfortunate, since medical schools consider them along with other factors during the application process. Even though these summer opportunities help students prepare for careers in the health professions, they are by no means a prerequisite, and under the circumstances, not having one is an unavoidable consequence of the Katrina tragedy. But that’s okay. You can use the personal statement on your medical school application to explain the situation.

Personal statements allow applicants to show admissions committee members that they are well-suited for medical school by highlighting their practical experiences and academic qualifications. In your personal statement, you should emphasize your other strengths and experiences and mention that the tragedy prevented you from doing a summer internship. Make sure to work especially hard on the statement and include input from a number of individuals. This is your chance to show your uniqueness and that you would be an asset to their institution and to the medical profession. Remember, committees look at the entire application and the absence of a summer internship is not something that will prevent one’s acceptance. Students have been accepted without summer internships.

Mark Castanares: Although you may not be able to complete an official summer internship, there is no reason why you can’t get some experience. There are many hospitals and universities in the area that are always looking for volunteers. Take advantage of these opportunities and learn as much as you can. Completing a summer internship makes you a better applicant, but it is not a requirement for admission into medical school. The admissions committee looks at your application, recommendation letters, test scores, and personal statement as a total package. They also want to see that you are determined to be a physician no matter what. Don’t be deterred by not being able to complete a summer internship; use it as motivation to become a better student and a stronger applicant. Good luck!

The GrantDoctor: The main value of summer internships to an admissions officer is that they provide evidence of motivation and commitment. You are now in a position to do that in an entirely different way. The flooding after Katrina was tragic, but if you're smart you can use it to your advantage. How? By rising to the occasion and--with apologies for the clichés--overcoming the obstacles Katrina has put in your way. Work hard now, do everything you can, and finish your undergraduate training on a positive note. Keep your grades high--higher than ever--and be sure--via your personal statement--that the people screening your application know your story. You want your application to portray this post-Katrina period as, if you will, a whirlwind of activity sharply focused on preparation for medical school. You want to show that you can swim--not sink--when the water gets high.

Needless to say, not all of them will accept you, so apply to several medical schools; some admissions processes may be too bureaucratic and inflexible to weigh your particular strengths against the strengths of applicants with more conventional recent histories. But if you finish well and apply widely--and if your record to this point is sufficiently strong--you will find a medical school that wants you.

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