The Weather on Your Application Journey

Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Laura Turner

In many literary epics, the protagonists’ journey is adversely affected by the weather or some force of nature. In Odysseus’s voyage home, Frodo’s quest, Dorothy’s journey down the yellow brick road, or Katniss Everdeen’s persistence through the Hunger Games, the environment makes the travel more difficult.

At the beginning of this academic year, many of you will take the next step toward successful matriculation to a health professions program. You and your peers come from different places, but not all have traveled the same road or achieved the same accomplishments. You might not have gotten encouragement or guidance to motivate you to become a better student. While some have taken an uninterrupted express route without traffic congestion, others may have had to navigate their journey without a map through many detours and delays. 

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In the aftermath of the end of race-conscious admissions, many of you anxiously wonder about the storm clouds gathering overhead and the added challenges that may come with the change. In 2023, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion sidestepped the acknowledged “weathering effect” of discrimination, often noted by social scientists, when considering historical causes of health and social imbalances in admissions.

As future healthcare professionals, how can you add to the diversity of the health professions and impact the world’s health needs? To understand their impact and purpose as physicians, applicants must reflect on the challenges they faced on this journey, which I will describe here as “the weather.”

Think about the weather conditions on your application journey

When we reflect on our life narrative, we seldom acknowledge the weather affecting our journeys. You might have had to care for a loved one struggling with a chronic illness or disability. Your family may have moved with waves of refugees assimilating into American society. You could have experienced food insecurity or an interrupted education. Incarceration or financial debts incurred from a house or possessions lost to a fire may have changed your focus from aspirational dreams to daily survival. Each new change requires different strategies to persevere and move forward with dignity, and these adjustments – under holistic review – are of great interest to admissions committees. 

Just as Dorothy had to learn about the power of her ruby slippers, you must embrace your strengths to complete the journey. By experiencing and understanding the “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous” challenges of the world, you demonstrate a connection with other marginalized people and reveal your commitment to alleviating others’ distress in their non-clinical needs. 

Preparing your application

As you begin the application marathon, you are still determining whether you can honor your life circumstances in your personal statements, secondary essays, or interview responses. Starting with the Other Impactful Experiences or similar mission-focused essays, admissions committees want to know about your journey and the significant experiences (weather) and systemic barriers (climate) that affected the route towards preparing to apply. Individual programs may also ask for more details; consider some secondary application essays:

Do you identify as being part of a group that has been marginalized (examples include, but are not limited to, LGBTQIA, disabilities, federally recognized tribe) in terms of access to education or healthcare? (If yes) Describe how this inequity has impacted you or your community and how educational disparity, health disparity and/or marginalization has impacted you and your community.

UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine 2023

American society has been reckoning with a variety of systemic injustices throughout its history. Considering your life experiences up to now, share your thoughts and perspectives about this statement using the lens from which you view the world around you.

Michigan State College of Human Medicine 2023

Servant Leadership is a Core Value and Attribute we deem essential for our students to possess. To us, it is service to others where one possesses personal humility along with a strong professional will. Describe a time where you have practiced this skill or have seen this in another. What traits were exemplified, and how will you apply these traits to your career in medicine?

University of Arizona Phoenix College of Medicine 2023

Describe how your experiences would contribute to caring for patients in under-resourced communities as they relate to addressing health disparities, which is a key component of the mission of the College of Medicine.

Duquesne University College of Osteopathic Medicine 2023

As you see from these prompts, admissions committees want to know how your journey helps you empathize with others who experienced similar “weather” during their lives. By learning and reflecting on how you adjusted to resource scarcities that contribute to social inequities in health (education, food, financial stability, safety, community), you can envision your purpose and impact on marginalized communities.

Become comfortable sharing your journey

During mentoring meetings with peers, advisors, and professors, talk about your story, even if your journey seemed much smoother than your peers. Listen to whether they experienced similar storms, and develop an empathetic ear to find common ground and understand the weather events that others have faced. Begin to question how we can help others thrive despite the weather or even consider specific steps that can make small changes in the climate. 

Show that you continued to let your moral compass guide you through the tough times and when you asked for help. Refine your story by networking with admissions professionals or current health professional student mentors who can give you encouragement on how your journey can contribute to the diversity of their learning communities.

Finally, if you are in a huge storm, understand it won’t last forever. Keep moving and seeking support and community. You will have many sunny days, star-lit nights, comforting clouds, and refreshing precipitation accompanying you to your destination. Be confident that the finish line is ahead, and the weather you experience will make your victory that much sweeter.

HPSA’s Becoming a Student Doctor course is a masterclass in social justice, leadership, and essential competencies for budding health professionals. Lay the groundwork for a future in advocacy and leadership in the healthcare sphere.

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