Choosing a Medical School As A URM Student

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner

Congratulations! You survived the MCAT, AMCAS, secondaries, interviews, and months of waiting. If this cycle did not not work out for you, then keep your head up and check out some of the reapplication resources on this website. However, if this cycle did work out for you and you’re lucky enough to have multiple schools to choose from, that decision can be daunting. For underrepresented students in particular, there are a number of additional things to think about when choosing a medical school or any other health professional program.

Personally, I can’t believe that it’s already been a year since I had to make my own decision. I want to use this piece to share my thought process from last year along with the insights I’ve gained during my first year of medical school. These thoughts generally apply to anyone, but I’m also including many things that particularly apply to underrepresented students. I’m dividing considerations into three categories: the professional, the personal and the practical.

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The Professional

Obviously, this is a professional degree so professional considerations instantly come to mind. When thinking about this, I think it’s unimportant to consider what specialty you want to do later. Mostly any US medical school can match you into a wide variety of specialties. What’s more important is the kind of career you want to have. Do you want to be a community physician in a rural setting? An urban setting? Do you want to engage in advocacy or policy? Do you want to do cutting edge research? Do you want to teach? Are you interested in entrepreneurship? Generally medical schools that are in large academic centers can better prepare you for a career in academia/research. Schools that have strong connections to a larger university can be a great option for people with interdisciplinary interests. Questions of this sort are often best answered by speaking to faculty at that school about your interests and goals.

As an underrepresented student, I was also really interested in schools that have faculty of color (and women!) in a variety of roles. This signals to me that I would have many options for diverse mentorship and role models. Also, it shows that the university is invested in diversity at all levels. The school I chose has a robust and active organization for minority physicians that includes everyone from residents and fellows to senior leadership. We had opportunities to meet dozens of them during our second look weekend and it was clear to me that there would be available mentors of color at all levels. The school also had a large and active SNMA whose members of all years came out to meet us. This showed me that I would be joining a supportive and active community of people of color.

The Personal

Personal considerations for choosing a medical school are, of course, highly personal. I think it is important not to discount the fact that medical school is challenging. Distance from friends, family, and significant others might only make it harder. Personally, I was also really interested in going to school in a city I could enjoy. As a woman of color, I wanted to make sure I was in a location where I could feel comfortable not just at school but in the larger community. I wanted options for nightlife and culture that spoke to my interests. I needed to be able to feel like a whole person in their twenties, not just a medical student. If balance is important to you, don’t discount that! As my first year has progressed, I am constantly grateful that I’m in a fun city, at a bustling university, and close to my family. It has really made a huge (positive) difference in my transition.

The Practical

By practical, I mean financial. There seems to be two camps when it comes to considering money during your decision. One camp feels strongly that everyone should automatically choose the cheapest option. They believe that all medical education is generally similar so there’s no justifiable reason to take on avoidable debt. On the other hand, there is a camp that believes you should just choose your favorite school without much or any regard to the cost. You’re going to be a doctor anyway, so you’ll be able to pay off whatever debt you incur. Right?

I was really committed to going to the school that would leave me happiest and best prepared for an interdisciplinary career, so money was not on the top of my list. However, if I had different career goals or debt from undergrad, it would have been more important. My top two options presented similar financial packages, so I ended up making my decision because of the personal factors I mentioned before. Overall, money can be one of the hardest factors to consider. Generally, I’d say consider what would stress you out more each day: looming debt or going to a school you don’t prefer. This aspect of the decision will stay with you long after medical school is over (repayment!) so it’s important to think about this seriously.

Maximize Second Look!

I really wanted to share some tips about maximizing revisit weekends or “second looks”. For me, second looks were key to making my decision last year. Here are some questions I asked myself:
● Were the underrepresented students happy? Were they excited to recruit me to their school? Were there only first years or upperclassmen as well?
● When and how was diversity discussed? What was the structure of the diversity office? Does this school even have a diversity office?
● How were students supported when they struggled? Do students discuss this freely? Could students cite resources that they used?
● What did students do for fun? What did their daily/weekly/monthly schedules look like? What did they wish they could change?

Finally, I recommend everyone use second looks as an opportunity to learn whatever you need to learn about an institution. They are trying to woo you so this is your chance to ask the tough questions including a re-evaluation of your financial aid. They won’t rescind your acceptance because you asked questions, so make sure you ask anything that comes to mind and connect with whoever you think would be helpful.

Choosing a medical school (or another professional school) can be a thrilling and daunting experience, especially for underrepresented students. I hope the tips I’ve shared above can make this decision easier. Remember, just being able to make this decision is a privilege and regardless of how you decide, you’ll be a doctor! Congratulations again and happy deciding!