Practicing Storytelling to Find Meaning and Convey Competencies in the Medical School Application

Practicing Storytelling to Find Meaning and Convey Competencies in the Medical School Application

Jennifer Rodriguez (Stony Brook University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9617-3.ch014
OnDemand PDF Download:
No Current Special Offers


The medical school application process is lengthy and competitive and requires careful planning for students to present a strong application. The application comprises many components, including an opportunity to describe the extracurricular activities that have prepared the student for a medical education. Some applicants are challenged to effectively articulate the skills and competencies they acquired in these extracurriculars, while concurrently defining the activities' relationship to their medical ambitions. This chapter introduces self-authorship theory as an approach advisors can use to help students develop a strong personal narrative. Through this lens, the author offers strategies to coach students through the process of “storytelling” to demystify the application process, help them ascribe meaning to their experiences, and equip them with new techniques to write about their experiences and prepare a competitive application.
Chapter Preview


When students apply for graduate studies in the health professions, they engage in an extensive and competitive application process. As with many graduate school applications, there are quantitative and qualitative components of the admission process. While specific admission requirements vary across disciplines, there exist many similarities within the healthcare fields. For example, most graduate health professions programs consider grade point average and admission test scores as quantitative markers of a student’s academic ability and potential for graduate study. These programs also review qualitative factors such as a personal statement, recommendation letters, and extracurricular experiences to assess a student’s motivations for pursuing a health profession. In disciplines such as medicine and dentistry, applicants submit their applications a full year in advance of their intended matriculation. Notably, prospective students begin filling out the online application portal in May with the goal of matriculating the following August—a full 15 months in advance. In order to craft a well-written and strong application, many applicants start preparing their application materials early, drafting their personal statements and studying for their intended health professions’ respective admission tests even prior to May. A significant component of a health professions advisor’s role is to educate students about this timeline and guide them in preparing for the competitive application process. For the purposes of this chapter, the author will focus primarily on the medical school application process, but similar strategies can be applied to other health professions as well. In particular, this chapter will focus on the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) for students applying to Medical Doctor (MD) programs.

A variety of services exist for most components of the medical school application, such as entrance exam preparation classes or personal statement editing. Yet fewer resources are designed to help students effectively write about their extracurricular activities in the medical school application. Therefore, the goal of this chapter is to present a strategy that pre-health advisors can use to engage their students in reflective practices and prompt them to write more compelling descriptions of their extracurriculars. Self-authorship theory is introduced as a lens through which both advisors and students can view the medical school application process. Additionally, the practice of “storytelling” will help students learn how to define and refine their personal narratives in their applications. The chapter will also outline specific approaches which academic advisors can employ during advising sessions to help their students practice storytelling. In particular, academic advisors can pose targeted questions to facilitate students’ self-assessment and critical thinking about their extracurriculars in the context of their medical career goals. Varied examples of guiding questions to use during advising sessions are offered and a suggested model for coaching students through the reflection and writing process is proposed. Story-building and storytelling are ongoing processes, and academic advisors can begin conversations about them with students as early as the onset of their college careers. In sum, when students engage in this ongoing process of reflection, meaning making, and storytelling, they can find value in all of their experiences and prepare themselves to articulate their competencies and suitability for a medical career in a more authentic way.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Clinical (or Health-Related) Experience: An extracurricular activity, in a healthcare setting involving direct patient care or patient interaction, that fosters development of clinical skills and may or may not require certification or licensure (e.g., hospital volunteering, physician shadowing, emergency medical technician, medical scribe).

Work and Activities Section: One aspect of the AMCAS medical school application portal where applicants detail up to 15 extracurricular activities and designate up to three as being the most meaningful in their pursuit of a medical education.

Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students: Fifteen essential skills outlined by the AAMC that are expected of students beginning their medical education. A student’s application to medical school is evaluated by the extent to which they demonstrate proficiency in these 15 competencies.

Extracurricular Activity: An activity a student participates in, outside of academic classes, that fosters learning and can be related (directly or indirectly) to a student’s future medical ambitions (e.g., positions in paid employment, volunteer, teaching assistant, research assistant, leadership, clubs and organizations, physician shadowing).

Transferable Skills: Skills, competencies, and abilities that are learned or developed in one setting but can be applied to other settings (e.g., interpersonal communication, teamwork, critical thinking).

American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS): The centralized application portal for prospective students pursuing a Medical Doctor (MD) degree. Students submit application materials including their background information, grades, entrance exams, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, personal statement, and more via this portal.

Nonclinical Experience: An extracurricular activity that does not involve direct, clinical interactions with patients in a healthcare setting, but that fosters development of transferable skills (e.g., community service, course teaching assistant, club participation).

National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP): An organization that supports the health professions advising community by educating, developing, and connecting health professions advisors at colleges and universities across the country. The NAAHP communicates information about best practices, trends, and changes within the field of health professions advising.

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC): An organization that leads the medical community by promoting the advancement of medical research, education, and health care. This organization provides reference materials to prospective medical students and administers the MCAT exam and AMCAS application portal.

Storytelling Practice: A structured approach that advisors can use to help students conceptualize the medical school application as an opportunity to “tell their story” and their path to medicine.

Self-Authorship Theory: A framework for developing an authentic, personal narrative to define personal values and goals while limiting the influence of external pressures.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: