Taking the Pain Out of Medical School Applications
Lewis & Clark’s Intent to Apply Program helps students and alumni submit competitive applications for medical school.
by Gabe Korer BA ’23
The Intent to Apply Program is a resource for current L&C students and alumni who are seeking to apply to medical school within the year. Over the course of several months, from fall to spring, participants meet to cover every phase of the application process. The program’s interactive, collaborative design provides participants with valuable feedback and reduces the stress that can come with applying.
Carolyn Zook, associate director of Lewis & Clark’s Center for Community and Global Health. Zook is also L&C’s pre-health advisor, helping students navigate their options as they consider various health careers.The program, which launched in 2021, is led by
Before coming to L&C in August 2020, Zook worked at Oregon Health & Science University in its MD program for 14 years. While there, she helped build an advising program for current medical students and provided one-on-one outreach for students who did not have access to pre-health advisors. She describes this experience as one that allowed her to cultivate a strong understanding of the application process.
“I developed this love of helping students achieve their goals and demystify the process,” Zook said. “I found a really deep passion in mentoring students through the process of the application cycle.”
How It Works
Students and alumni apply for the program, which is entirely free, in late September of their application year. Zook then hosts monthly meetings that begin in October and run through May, when med school applications officially open. She covers every major aspect of applying, from writing personal essays to interviewing.
“What we do is we take the application process and break it down,” Zook said. “We focus on one step each month, so it’s about five or six meetings in total. By the end of the program, participants should have an application that’s ready to go and that’s been reviewed by myself as well as their peers. We also do mock interviews in March, so they get some practice interviewing.”
Zook believes that one of the primary benefits of the program is having students and alumni go through the process together.
“The community experience is important,” Zook said. “I think participants get a lot of valuable feedback from their peers. They’re able to connect and think through why they want to go into medicine by talking with each other. Also, college is stressful, and med school applications are very stressful. I think extending the process over the course of a year helps reduce some of that stress and fatigue.”
A new aspect of the program this year will be the “community of practice,” presented by Alexis Rehrmann, the center’s community engagement coordinator. This is a narrative medicine activity that will allow the participants to reflect on their future in medicine, which is especially relevant for the writing of personal essays.
“Narrative medicine is a practice in which we recognize, absorb, metabolize, and allow ourselves to be moved by stories of illness and health,” Rehrmann said. “It can help strengthen skills of self-representation and lead to new understanding of ourselves and others. In this way, narrative medicine has the potential to strengthen student’s personal statements and make the process of writing them deeper, and potentially more enriching for the writer, too.”
Lucas Heilbroner BA ’19, who currently works in cancer research at Stanford University, participated in the program as an alum during the 2021–22 school year. He’s currently waiting for med school decisions. After graduating from Lewis & Clark, Heilbroner worked in environmental law and health care policy, though he never lost his interest in pursuing medical school. He says L&C’s Intent to Apply Program helped simplify the overall process and reduce much of the stress.
“The program was helpful in a lot of ways,” Heilbroner said. “One of the main ones is that it laid out a very complicated process over a series of months. It made it bite sized, which was great. The other thing is community, having someone who can help be a frame of reference.”
Heilbroner describes coming from a background that didn’t entail an immediate network to medical school, as neither of his parents were doctors. However, the support from Zook enabled him to pursue his goal of applying.
“Having someone like Carolyn to be a general support person was very meaningful,” Heilbroner said. “She’s a very warm, positive person, and that honestly counts for a lot when you’re trying to deal with some of the self-doubt with this process. With the way that she helps guide you through, it instills a lot of self-confidence that’s useful.”
In the future, Zook has aspirations to grow the program beyond what it currently offers to include both in-person and Zoom meetings; preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT); and “vertical mentorship” opportunities, pairing program alumni with current students.
Zook stresses that any L&C student, past or present, has access to the program.
“I always tell students that, even after you graduate, you’ll continue to have access to me as an advisor,” says Zook. “I think that’s pretty unique.”
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