ADCOM Q&A … (an introduction)

by Lorien E. Menhennett

ADCOM (ăd´kəm) n. An abbreviation that refers to a member of a medical school admissions committee. Can also refer to the medical school admissions committtee as an aggregate. ADCOMS are, essentially, the gatekeepers to medical school. It is their decision–based on a student’s application, GPA, MCAT score, and interview–whether the student will be offered a slot at that medical school. Thus pre-medical students refer to ADCOMS with, alternately, fear, derision, and respect.

The above definition (my own) is the way most people think about the ADCOMS: cold and impersonal. And in a sense, they are. They have to make dozens of decisions, based on established criteria, in a limited amount of time. To do that effectively, you have to be a bit calculating and unemotional. (That is not meant as an insult, rather as a compliment.)

On the other hand … ADCOMS are people. In fact, I know a handful of them personally. They smile, laugh, eat, sleep, do all the things we “normal” humans do. I have even found them to be helpful, if you can believe that. No, they are not the enemy. In fact, it would behoove more pre-med students to make ADCOMS their friends. But that is a topic for another day.

Right … ADCOMS are people. Which means that, essentially, they respond as people, at least on some level. They possess curiosity and emotions, for example, which no amount of established criteria can completely wipe away. (That’s my belief at least, however naive.)

Why do I care about all of this? The reason is simple: in a couple of years, the ADCOMS will hold my fate in their hands. So I need to understand what that means. And what that means is that I need to affect them — to stand out above my peers — in some way that says “Look at me! Choose me! I’m different! I’m the ONE!” I need to do this both on my application and during my interview. (Um … in a slightly more subtle, professional way, of course.) Because there will be, literally, thousands of people just as qualified, on paper, as I am. And not all of them will get in. I want to be one of the ones who gets in.

So how do I do that? Well, there’s no sure way, of course. The best way I can figure (other than do well in school, do well on the MCAT, volunteer, and get clinical experience, which are givens) is to get into the right mindset. No, I haven’t gone all New Age-y. What I mean is to think about what the ADCOMS will likely want to know beyond my statistics, what types of things they are likely to question me about during my interview, and have my answers ready. And no, I’m not trying to predict the future and conjure up a list of questions that I will be asked.

My plan is two-fold: to prepare for common questions (i.e., “Why do you want to be a doctor?”) and for common categories (i.e., medical current events), using sample questions to jump-start — but not contain — my thinking. Because the sample questions I have found online (and believe me, there are hundreds) are only a small slice of what could potentially pop up. I then plan to use this blog as a sounding board for some of my potential (but certainly not final) answers.

You might be wondering why I am giving away my strategy, and why I plan to give away some of my answers. After all, couldn’t the ADCOMS, then, just ask me different questions than the ones I’ve prepared for?

To address the first issue: My strategy is not brilliant. It is common sense. So why hide it? In fact, I’d kind of like the ADCOMS to know that I can analytically approach something and realize it has a real-life, common-sense solution (as opposed to a nebulous theoretical one). There are plenty of pre-meds I’ve met — very smart people, to be sure — who have exactly zero common sense. I understand theory; I also understand real-world application. To be a doctor, you need to be able to understand both. So read on, ADCOMS!

To address the second issue: I don’t plan to write a blog post about every single question or question type that I prepare for. That would take for frickin’ ever. So I am not worried about showing my whole hand. Showing part of it, though, I don’t think is such a bad thing. The medical school interviews I will (hopefully) have will be short, and there will be no way for me to communicate to the ADCOMS everything I want them to know about me. If they stumble upon my blog and discover some more pertinent information that puts me in a good light, even if it means they throw in a few more difficult questions during the interview, it is worth it to me.

As I see it, the ADCOMS and the interview are not what keep you OUT of medical school (which is how a lot of people seem to look at it), they’re what get you IN. So best to embrace them, early and often.