In 2022, there were more than 55,000 applicants to allopathic medical schools in the United States. Just 22,712 applicants were lucky enough to gain a spot, putting the acceptance rate at 41.2%. One of the most competitive medical schools is one of the newest programs: Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (KPSOM). It enrolled its first class of medical school students in 2020 and has continued to grow in popularity. During the 2021-22 application cycle, KPSOM received more than 11,500 applications and accepted 50 students. That means just 0.4% of applicants were accepted.
1. Where did you attend undergrad? What was your major and what activities were you involved in as an undergrad
I attended undergrad at Stanford University, where I received my B.S. in Human Biology with a concentration in Cancer and the Brain of the Developing Child. I was grateful to have been able to create my own major and choose classes focused on topics that I was passionate about like autism spectrum disorders and global child health. I volunteered with Kids with Dreams where I taught children with disabilities how to ice skate, performed neuroscience and neurosurgery research in three labs, held leadership positions in my sorority, played on the Women’s Rugby team, and worked as Teach For America’s Campus Ambassador where I led our recruitment efforts at Stanford. I also worked as a decal specialist at an auto body shop and as an assistant store manager at Brandy Melville. Lastly, I studied abroad in Australia where I did my targeted research project on “Increased Cancer Mortality in Australian Aboriginal Children.”
2. Which extracurricular activity do you think was most influential to your medical school journey?
Teach For America has been absolutely monumental in my medical school journey. Not a day goes by where I don’t notice how my teaching experiences have enabled me to be a better student-doctor. It has made me a stronger advocate and taught me how to be an effective change agent in both education and medicine. Through listening to the stories of students, their families, and community partners, I understand that educational and medical distrust comes from previous negative experiences or past historical marginalization and mistreatment. It is our responsibility as future physicians to help address that distrust through acknowledging the historical context of distrust, improving communication and empathy, and dedicating ourselves to civic engagement, which allows us to better advocate for our patients.
3. What type of experiences do you encourage pre-med students to have?
With the rise in medical school applications, I encourage pre-meds to choose unique experiences that will help set them apart from other applicants. Studying abroad and volunteer work are just as important as having research and clinical experiences because medical schools value traits like altruism, compassion, and cultural humility. My time with Teach For America prepared me for medical school by maturing me as a leader, teaching me how to think clearly under pressure, and endowing me with advanced interpersonal skills that allow me to build rapport with patients from all walks of life when I am in the clinic. At the same time, it is important to choose activities that you are genuinely passionate about, rather than choosing things that you think medical schools want to see – because your authenticity will shine through during your interviews.
4. Do you think your major choice adequately prepared you for medical school? Would you
recommend students choose an untraditional major?
Human Biology (HumBio) definitely adequately prepared me for the MCAT and for medical school. The rigor of the entry-level HumBio classes gave me a taste of what medical school would be like, and every topic on the MCAT was covered at some point during the curriculum. After seeing the diversity of the educational backgrounds of my classmates at the Bernard J. Tyson Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine (KPSOM), I would recommend pre-med students choose whichever major they are passionate about, regardless of whether or not it relates to medicine. Being a Biology major won’t help you get in any more than being an Art History major, and you can take the required prerequisite courses for applying to medical school at the same time as your other courses.
5. How did you approach the med school application process? How many schools did you apply to and what were you looking for in a medical school?
I started by separating medical schools into dream, reach, target, and safety categories based on their admissions criteria. Then, I began eliminating schools based on the following traits: mission statements, location, tuition and costs, teaching style, and residency match rates. Understanding the way that I learn, I opted for integrated curriculums that combined preclinical and clinical education because I felt that being able to apply what I was learning in class, in real-time at the clinic would help solidify my learning.
One aspect that I believe warrants more attention is location because it dictates costs, weather, and climate, and most importantly – distance from social support networks, which is critical in medical school. Ultimately, I applied to 33 schools because I had read that medical school applications were at an all-time high and knew that I could not afford to re-apply in a second cycle. Every journey is different, but the main piece of advice I have for those applying is to turn in your applications as soon as possible, preferably the first day it is open. Pre-writing essays using the previous year’s prompts is also helpful if you are applying to a lot of schools since the turn-around times for secondary applications are often two weeks or less.
6. Tell us about your experiences at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.
I have loved my experience at Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine (KPSOM) so far and much of that is thanks to the amazing group of classmates that I have had the pleasure of getting to know on a deep and personal basis. There are many benefits to being in a class of 50 students. Small class sizes allow students to connect more closely with peers and feel more comfortable sharing their personal experiences, enable more one-on-one attention from faculty which facilitates learning, and ensures that no student gets left behind. The collaboration from our small group learning sections naturally leads to collaborating outside of school hours. Many of us study together in groups where we can bounce ideas off of each other and take our learning to the next level. For those who prefer to study alone, the school is designed to provide students with many options for personal study spaces.
The main aspect of KPSOM that brought me here is their dedication to ensuring that money is not a barrier to accessing a quality medical school education. For example, due to personal life circumstances, I never had a chance to learn how to drive. Fortunately, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine provides rideshare vouchers for students for travel to and from our clinic sites for the first two years of school. Accounts for every health education platform like Osmosis and Boards and Beyond are provided free of charge to every student to ensure that we are able to learn in a style that suits us personally. We have an outstanding school psychologist that provides students with weekly therapy sessions per request, and one-on-one tutoring sessions are available on a weekly basis. The best part of being at a small medical school is our accessibility to faculty members, who are almost always available to answer questions and provide support.
7. What advice do you have for high school and college students aspiring to be a doctor?
Do your research and have a clear understanding of what you need to accomplish before you apply. For example, mandatory prerequisite classes, MCAT topics and available testing dates (it is not offered in February or between the months of October and December), extracurricular activities, opportunities for shadowing and clinical experiences, and the cost of the entire application process. Having a plan and timeline is always beneficial, but keep in mind that plans can always change and that there are more pathways to medicine than the traditional path of undergraduate [school] straight into medical school.
8. On your journey to medicine, if you could do anything over, what would it be?
I would emphasize to my younger self that everyone is on their own personal journey. It’s hard to stop comparing yourself to others when you’re competing against such an accomplished pool of people, and every day it seems like someone else has a higher test score, more research hours, or more leadership positions than you. However, you are accomplished in your own right, and it is important to be confident in your own qualifications because a candidate is more than just their numbers. Your personality, maturity, and lived experiences matter just as much, if not more.