Question of the Week: Med schools that emphasize work with underserved populations

Friday, Apr 23, 2021

Q: I’m about to apply to medical school and I know that I want to dedicate myself to working on issues like equalizing access to healthcare and caring directly for underserved patients. Every medical school seems to say they care about this, but how can I tell which ones really do?

A: There’s an interesting parallel here to how medical schools look at their applicants—everyone says they love science and want to help people, so admissions committees also have to look more deeply at their applicants, just like most med schools say they care about work with underserved populations, you may have to do more digging in your school research. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Language / emphasis in their presentation: Admissions committees will read your application looking for your values, vision of your future, and just the way that you talk about what you’re passionate about. As you read their materials online, you can also look for the attention paid (or not) to health equity and work with underserved populations. From the mission down to the news articles on the website and what they present to applicants, you will get clues into what they value the most.
  • Geographic location(s): Schools will consider the ways in which you’ve left your comfort zone / bubble and put yourself in locations that help you understand the lives and concerns of individuals from different backgrounds. Similarly, look into the school’s location and the other locations you can access (some schools have satellite locations, or partnerships in the US or abroad) and what patient populations you’re likely to encounter there.
  • Curricular opportunities: Maybe you’ve shown your dedication to learning about social determinants of health and health disparities through your classes or research. At medical schools, you can look for electives or scholarly tracks with this focus; faculty research in these areas; teaching hospitals or other sites where you can work with your populations of interest. Some students may seek a graduate degree with a focus in this area (MPH may be the most ubiquitous, but even within an MPH, is there a way to focus on access issues?).
  • Examples of ways that students have gotten involved: Med schools will read your application looking for the evidence that you’ve worked with underserved populations, you can look for what students have done / have access to at schools. Student organizations with this focus; opportunities to work / run free clinics; student profiles that mention activities that you’d be interested in.
  • Talking to school representatives: Medical schools will really get to know you during interviews; similarly, you’ll have chances to talk with their community directly. Attend info sessions to hear from admissions reps and talk to students if you have access to them. You’ll have more access to conversations once you’ve been invited to interview and especially as you make final decisions on where to go. Start by being as specific as you can about what you’re looking to gain in your medical education around your interests and then ask others what opportunities there are to do so.
  • Talking with Princeton alums in medical school who share your interests: Reach back out to peers from classes or student organizations or your general network. In your application year, you’ll have access to a group of application peer advisers who can talk with you about where they applied and what schools they feel may align with your areas of interest based on