Preparing for the AMCAS and Applying to Medical School

May 8, 2014

A Gap Medics Student Spotlight

Meeting with senior hospital staff Fresh out of college and degree in hand, beginning the medical school application process was my first priority. No more exams, homework, or meeting with professors outside the classroom; the perfect time to sit down in order to formulate my personal statement and fill out the AMCAS had finally presented itself.

Applying to medical school is all about putting yourself forward as the best applicant for the program, selling medical school committees on the fact that you are one of a kind. From detailing your academic successes to displaying your non-academic achievements, the most important aspects of your application can be summarized by these three simple categories: academics, volunteer experiences, and clinical experience. 

As most of us know, academics make up the bulk of the application. Some would say that this is the easiest category to complete, as it simply involves plugging your academic history. Your academic record provides the first point of reference that medical schools will use to measure your ability to endure a rigorous medical school curriculum, but will not be the only criteria for selection. Volunteer and clinical experiences are used to further indicate an applicant’s interest in healthcare and the community, and these are the sections students most often use—and are encouraged to use—to set themselves apart from the remainder of the large applicant pool.

I, for one, volunteered at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in addition to other small projects in the area during my undergraduate career. While these were enriching experiences and helped me gain insight into direct patient care, I found myself to be at a crossroads. After filling out the volunteer section of the AMCAS, I took a moment to look through the overview of my experiences and found it to be a bit shallow, honestly lacking in first-hand clinical exposure. I had only set up one shadowing experience with an individual doctor, which took place at UIHC’s Neurology Outpatient Clinic, on top of the experience that I can accredit to my personal work as a Nursing Assistant in the Respiratory Unit at UIHC. As a result, I decided to take a gap year in order to gain further volunteer and clinical experience and to improve upon my future medical application.

I began searching the web for volunteer projects, everywhere from the Red Cross to Doctors Without Borders to local volunteer groups. After a few weeks of researching, nothing really seemed to catch my attention or match-up with my medical interests. Taking a break from my research, I came across a friend’s photo album on a social networking site, featuring a recent medical trip he had taken abroad. Right from the start, pictures of him standing in on surgeries caught my eye. Therefore, I contacted him and formally enquired about the company that had arranged his trip; that is when I became familiarized with Gap Medics.

Mentors teaching students new skillsAs soon as I was given the name of the company, I went online to the official Gap Medics website, where I found the two things I had been looking for in a program: first-hand shadowing and clinical experience abroad with insight into a developing country’s healthcare and medicine. I was sold on the spot. Not only was I offered the chance to choose from two very different and exciting destinations, but also the chance to work with doctors individually in direct patient care hospital settings.

From taking part in morning rounds to standing in on surgeries, Gap Medics offers an engaging medical learning opportunity to students seeking an interactive observational experience. Gap Medics also offers the chance for students to put their interests to the test, whether they are deciding if they should continue on their current career paths or finding out which medical specialties are of the most interest to them.

I chose a Gap Medics placement over other projects because it gave me a chance to get a first-hand look into tropical medicine, being able to take part in assessing patients with HIV, typhoid, and most often malaria. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to assess and diagnose certain patients alongside my assigned physician mentors. Consequently, it amplified my awareness of the daily workload and situations a physician must deal with on an everyday basis. The Global Health Tutorials arranged by the program really helped me put the learning experience together, as different topics pertinent to the area’s medical challenges were targeted to further enhance my learning journey while on placement.

As a whole, Gap Medics gave me the chance to partake in an unforgettable learning experience. It gave me the necessary tools to set myself apart from the rest during the interview process, as I now have the capability to present real-life experiences rather than those where all I could do was to stand on the sidelines. Gap Medics is a great tool to kick-start a career in medicine for those seeking real-life, direct patient care exposure and the reason why my application stands strong against the rest. 


Article by Gap Medics Alumna Nicole L.P.