Simply put: passion and personality.

While a solid GPA and MCAT score will get you through the initial screening process, medical school admissions officers are ultimately seeking out applicants who demonstrate the passion and personality needed to be a good doctor.

These non-academic traits are conveyed through your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interview. A recent survey of admissions committees at 113 U.S. medical schools (1) reported that after the interview process, letters of recommendation and the interview recommendation carried the most weight when deciding whom to accept.

Supporting your passion for medicine with tangible experiences will improve the quality of your medical school application. Here are a few characteristics that medical schools look for in their applicants:

    1) Clinical Experience. Medical schools want to know that you are dedicated to the profession. A common way of gaining exposure to the medical field is through volunteering at a hospital or clinic. Students who don’t have hands-on experience working with doctors and patients may only be passionate about the idea of being a doctor, and not the reality of it.

    2) Commitment to extracurricular activities. Admissions officers want to see that you stick with your passions, whether it is writing for the school newspaper, working with a community service organization, or playing an instrument. Becoming and working as a physician is not easy, and students who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to their causes may be more likely to commit to a career in medicine, even when the going gets tough.

    3) Strong recommendation letters. Seek out a professor or supervisor who is not only positive, but can truly say something that stands out. Perhaps they have seen you work through a difficult problem in the lab, take on an effective leadership role in an organization, or communicate well with students and faculty alike.

    4) Communication skills. Most physicians must routinely work with patients and fellow health care providers, so people skills are essential. Use your personal statement and interview to let these attributes shine. Also, highlight any teaching or tutoring experience you’ve had that can speak for your verbal communication skills.

(1) Medical School Admissions: More than Grades and Test Scores (2011)

More on your medical school application

How to strengthen your chances for medical school admission.
Understanding the medical school application timeline.
Common reasons why medical school applicants are rejected.
How are med school applications evaluated?

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