Characteristics of the Successful Medical School Applicant [Interview][Transcript]

dr_sylvia_morris_medical_school_applicationGuest: Dr. Sylvia Morris
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. Dr. Morris’s goal is to utilize media to improve our nation’s public health by combining her training in Internal Medicine, Holistic Medicine and Public Health.
Currently, she is a Senior Medical Director on the Revenue Cycle Solutions team at The Advisory Board Company and a contributor for the US News & World Reports Medical School Admissions’ blog. Dr. Morris earned a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley. She gained a Master’s degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, with a certificate in Health Policy and Management. Her Medical degree is from Georgetown University School of Medicine. She completed residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle.

Segment overview: Dr. Sylvia Morris, MD, discusses the characteristics of successful med school applicants and some tips for students considering medical school.

Health Professional Radio – The Successful Med School Applicant


Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, thank you so much for joining us today. Our guest in studio is returning to speak with us Dr. Sylvia Morris, she’s certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. And she’s with us today to talk about some of the characteristics of the successful Med School applicants and some of the tips for some students who may be considering medical school. Welcome to Health Professional Radio Dr. Morris.

Dr. Sylvia Morris: Thank you very much, it’s great to be here.

N: Thanks for coming back. Talking about some of the, I guess the characteristics of a successful med school applicant because all applicants aren’t that great at being doctors. So talk about what makes the successful applicant? What is it about the applicant that’s going to make them persevere and be the best doctor in the future that they can be?

M: Absolutely. It’s sort of an alchemy, certainly people who apply to medical school are uniformly really bright people but we don’t just want really smart people, we also want people who are able to communicate with patients, with their colleagues, we want people who are empathetic, we want people who are lifelong learners. So there’s lots of different ways in which applicants can demonstrate that in their application but really it is about the sort of designing your best part of you and having a clear vision as to why you want to go to medical school.

N: Now you’ve written an article that talks about some of these characteristics of that well, for lack of a better term, that model student. Talk about this article that you’ve written as a contributor.

M: So the medical school application process certainly starts long before someone decide to take the MCAT or before they start to write their personal statement. Typically people had a, somewhere in undergrad they identify that this is a great passion and it’s something that they wish to pursue. So when they start off by working out at volunteer opportunities so that they get an inkling as to what it is like to work in the medical profession, there may be opportunities at local hospitals, some people work in labs, some people do study abroad where they have international health care experience there but that all goes to form an applicant who is well-rounded, who has been able to experience a number of different environments such as they understand that there certainly pressures that go along with being in medicine which helpfully helps to kind of really form a really great individual as well as physician.

N: Is there an aspect of these traits that are simply, well just behaving as someone would expect a medical doctor to act and behave? I’ve seen doctors that act like cops or doctors that act like basketball players and talk like hip hop artists or rock stars. Is there an aspect that says, hey like they tell the president, ‘Be presidential?’

M: Yeah, it is always speak in respect for your patients and your colleagues and certainly respect but there are different ways in which to communicate and to reach your patients. So when you talk about sort of hip hop or perhaps there are other colloquialisms depending upon what part of the country that you live in, being able to speak in the language of your patient is important because then they understand that you are there with them in the room and that reduces the amount of separation between patient and physician because my job as a physician or any physician is really to hopefully encourage, cajole, push your patients to hopefully do what is in their best interest. We are in essence enforcers, certainly we are charged with prescribing the right medications and treatment plans and giving the appropriate advice but all I can do is advice and give you the prescription, the patient in fact has to go and pick it up, the patient has to comply with exercise and to follow-up and all of those other things. So whatever I can do to be sort of in alignment with the patient in being their advocates so that they understand me and get that I care about them and their health then that’s what you have to do. So when you ask about is there actually to be presidential behavior or atypical doctor behavior I would say ‘no.’ What I would say is whatever you must do that is respectful of the patient and reaching the patient where they are.

N: Then I guess when it comes to being aware if you move from say North Carolina to Los Angeles you have to be able to adjust to the culture from that you find yourself in and not necessarily hang on to the culture that you leave?

M: Exactly. It’s really kind of peppering the conversation with for some people with sports, I had a patient yesterday and he was a big football fan so we talked a little bit of football and I used an analogy with his favorite sports team as to how he’s going to do well. And he was like, ‘Oh, okay yeah. I get it, I get it.’ So it’s really yes, it’s funny I’m from Los Angeles but I work in… so there are all these kind of southern…that I hadn’t been directly exposed to until I moved here and then you quickly kind of pick up on the dialogue, the… and football obviously is very big here, they tease me because I’m a Raider’s fan so you bring everything that you are to where you practice. Hopefully all the good things.

N: As patients, we expect our doctors to be, well a little bit better at managing than we are. What about on those days when you get a flat and the dog has to go to the doctor and one of the kids is sick at school but you still have patients? What about addressing, you’re human and you have to be the doctor for the patient, how do you get through those days that aren’t great but you still have to be great as far as the patient is concerned?

M: Right, my responsibility is to be present in the exam room or in the hospital with the patients. The patient cares not that my dog died. If I’m not able to be present then perhaps I should consider taking a day off because what I do is important obviously, I make life and death decisions all the time. So when there are moments when my life sort of intrudes on what I do for a living, when you get to work I…myself, take a few breaths in the car, maybe I’ll listen to my favorite song that’s on the radio, I finish that out, some people pray or meditate. But when I hit the door I am only there, I cannot worry about anything that is sort of outside the purview of that particular patient or patients for the day and then I also really try and create an environment that is optimal for working, so I say ‘good morning’ to people so civility is important, my staff. I say that ‘Okay today we’re going to have a good day because we’re starting the day with taking about all of the patients.’ I wish everyone ‘good morning’, I wish them ‘a good day’, I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ There are little things that really go to the tone of the room and it really does sort of change I would say the mental temperature sets in it makes a better environment. So yes, there are times when there are things going on in my personal life but I cannot let that impact my care for the patients and what I will say is that certainly we all need places to unload stuff. So whatever that means to each individual physician, it’s important sometimes it is their spouse, sometimes people, we talk to other people, we vent to our colleagues in a safe space so we have to have that balance.

N: You mentioned in the beginning of our discussion that the application process starts long before you sit down and write your initial statement as to why you want to become a physician. Give us three tips, really briefly on how to prepare for making that decision.

M: Definitely. I think really the biggest thing is sort of the middle preparation, once you decide, ‘Hey, I want to go to medical school’ what you have to do is to realize that you are already a physician. So whenever it takes for you to become a physician then that’s what you have to do. And it is about surrounding yourself with people who are supportive, that may be your pre-health adviser, that may be your parents, that may be some of your colleagues or friends at school but you also have to remember there are people who do not dream necessarily as big as you do, so in those instances then you must protect your dream and maybe you can talk to… about your dream of being a physician because she cannot see beyond the fact that no one in your family has been a physician or perhaps there were issues of your academic record beforehand that she can’t get past. Whatever happens to be you have to protect your own personal dream and you have to embody it and believe it. So that brings me to the next recommendation that you must do what is necessary, so if the volunteer work, figure out what volunteer work resonates with you, not everyone wants to work as a volunteer in a hospital in radiology or wherever it happens to be, there will be other opportunities for you to contribute to your community and yet and still add to the diversity or the complexity of your application. So find something that you love and do it as far as volunteer work is concerned. And then certainly it is about the academics, so all of the premed requisites, I encourage everyone to take a look at the website, the American Association of Medical Colleges website to find out the requirements to apply to medical school, you do not have to be a science major but you must take the required course work as well as take the MCAT which is the entrance exam.

N: Great. Well it’s been a pleasure talking with you today Sylvia.

M: Absolutely, thank you.

N: Thank you. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard talking with Dr. Sylvia Morris about some of the tips for preparing for med school and some of the characteristics of the successful Med School applicant. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at, you can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

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