Spring 2016
Why Great Students Choose Us and How We Choose Them

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Students in the William N. Pennington Health Sciences Building lobby

Learning Together: Students discuss lectures between classes in the William N. Pennington Health Sciences Building lobby. Photo by Edgar Antonio Núñez.

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

As societal demand for health care professionals rises, the University of Nevada School of Medicine strives to continue to attract the best student applicants in order to produce the best doctors for the future.

How are the "best" applicants identified? The School of Medicine takes a holistic approach, going beyond numeric test scores to look at the applicant as a whole person. What are their life experiences? What health care work have they done thus far? What is their background and personal story?

The holistic approach to admissions assesses and folds in the applicant's experience in health care settings, his or her personal attributes such as communication, motivation, persistence and adaptability in addition to undergraduate course work, grades and test scores.

One method the School of Medicine's Office of Admissions and Student Affairs uses to get a holistic view of applicants is the multiple mini-interview, where applicants rotate through a series of timed mini-interviews or stations, during which they meet individually with an evaluator. Used for the past three admissions cycles at the School of Medicine, this process replaces the more familiar panel admissions interview.

The multiple mini-interview helps the admissions committee gather information from applicants about the important characteristics needed to work effectively with patients and members of health care teams. These include communication skills, ethics and integrity, professionalism and problem-solving skills.

Skills are assessed through a series of 10 encounters, a mix of acting scenarios and discussions, of seven minutes each to evaluate applicant competences in the desired areas.

Research has also shown that the multiple mini-interview, which eliminates bias by separating the evaluators from the admissions committee itself, is a good predictor of clinical performance and abilities in medical students. It is a more fair process for applicants, giving each applicant multiple opportunities to excel when rated by nine evaluators, rather than just two interviewers.

According to Lisa Kornze, the medical school's multiple mini-interview coordinator, the nine evaluators are selected from School of Medicine and University of Nevada, Reno faculty, from letters of recommendation submitted by applicants, community partners such as Renown Health and from knowledge from community members who are involved in health care.

Multiple mini-interview evaluators are not members of the admissions committee, but provide the applicant input needed for the admissions committee to make its decisions on whom to admit.

Another approach to identifying the best medical school applicants addresses diversity.

"By looking at things beyond the metrics, the admissions committee looks at the whole person in terms of their socio-economic background, the opportunities for health care experience and the path they traveled to get to us. Did they care for an aging or sick family member? Are they a first generation college graduate or learn English as a second language?" explains Pat Romney, admissions coordinator.

She went on to add that a homogenous class is not a desired outcome of the admissions process, because throughout their four years at the School of Medicine, students continuously learn from each other's diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Throughout the admissions process, Romney is the primary point of contact for applicants, offering guidance and encouragement, while being firm in terms of deadlines and requirements.

"I'm honest in a kind way and outline their path for success, even if it is a difficult path," she said, adding that she tells applicants: "My goal is to see you be successful; we do not accept applicants to see them fail as medical students."

And, judging from notes she's received from applicants, her approach is a good one.

One applicant wrote: "Thank you so much for believing in me… having someone like you cheering me on has given me motivation and hope to make the impossible possible."

Another added: "I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple mini-interviews and believe the School of Medicine is an exceptional medical school. Thank you for making me feel welcome."

Maureen Choman, Class of 2019, who successfully went through the multiple mini-interview last year, has high praise for the process. She had also applied to medical schools that had the traditional panel interview.

"The multiple mini-interview is better because it is more holistic and views the whole person. You interact with more people and are forced to think in different medical situations. If you do poorly, you can recover."

Once admitted to the School of Medicine, students in all year-groups offer a variety of opinions on what makes the school the right choice for them. While the opinions are varied, they fall into three themes: small class size offers learning benefits, accessibility of faculty promotes learning and early clinical experiences put them ahead of the game.

These themes are essentially the same ones anecdotally repeated by alumni over the past 30 years.

Emma Garcia, Class of 2018, said the smallness of the school has allowed her to connect with fellow students, administration and the community-at-large.

"My class has 73 students and we have been close from day one of medical school," she said, adding that she can't imagine her first two years of medical school without her small study group of eight classmates. "I love them all."

Interaction between classes is also a strength of the School of Medicine, according to Garcia.

"As first years, we interacted with the second-year students and as a second-year student, we interact with first- and fourth-year students." Fourth-year students often serve in a teaching role to her class.

Garcia said that the school is small enough to allow precepting experiences with patients since her second semester on campus.

"Seeing patients early on helps me understand the patient-doctor relationship."

Accessible faculty also has been a strong selling point for Garcia.

"There are no barriers between professors and students. They have an open door policy and really help you understand the subject matter."

Daniel Ignatiuk, Class of 2016, said the school's relative small size plays to the advantage of students in terms of relationships with faculty.

"Faculty answer your questions in office hours and outside office hours. You are able to form a mentorship with faculty who help guide you through the process to find out what kind of doctor you want to be."

For Ignatiuk, the opportunity for summer research projects also promotes ties with faculty and alumni: he completed a cardiovascular research project with alumnus Kim Eagle, Class of 1977.

Ignatiuk also is taking advantage of the Artist-in-Residence fourth-year elective and writing trumpet music that mimics heart sounds for a public performance during graduation week.

For Nolan Mischel, Class of 2017, the clinical exposure is an opportunity to get involved early on in the learning journey.

"I had 15 deliveries during my obstetrics clerkship in Las Vegas; you don't get that at other schools," he stated, adding that medical students are an integral part of the health care team and are known to their attending physicians, and patients, by name.

"I believe our quality of education is better than other schools because our competency is high going into our internship year. We have operated independently and at high levels of critical thinking due to our direct involvement in patient care and the high expectations to which we are held."

He tells the story of being on his obstetrics clerkship for literally five minutes when a resident came out of the delivery room and asked for him. "The resident's first thought was to find a medical student… I find that unique."

Choman believes that School of Medicine faculty and staff are a strength of the school because they genuinely care about student success.

"You know you are supported and not just a face in the crowd. We are getting a quality education because faculty are into their research and know the material."

As a BS-MD student, Jake Enos, Class of 2019, came to medical school by a slightly different path, but still gave no other medical school a thought.

He learned he was accepted to the University of Nevada, Reno for his undergraduate studies and the School of Medicine for his accelerated medical degree as a 17-year-old in Sparks, sitting in his high school Advanced Placement Psychology class.

"The BS-MD program made my life; it was amazing because it was all set up for us. If we did what was asked of us, we were in," he said.

"They fast-tracked me through the undergraduate program and guaranteed me a spot in medical school; that was too good to be true," said the exuberant 22-year-old, who added that the trust the medical school places in the maturity of its students is amazing.

"We have 24-hour access to our buildings. And the medical school builds in us trust in the process that at the end of it, we will be knowledgeable and responsible enough to make decisions that affect people's lives."

Amy Lilly, Class of 2017, said the small school size has given her individual attention and better learning opportunities. The strong resident matching list was an indication to her that the educational experiences were strong as well.

Lilly believes that fewer students per class has allowed for more patient contact for each of those students because there is less competition.

"The School of Medicine can take you where you want to go if you work hard," she said.