Anna was a first-year medical student who came to me seeking advice for success in medical school.
She was surprised when one of the topics I touched upon was medical school scholarships and awards.
I find that this is a common reaction from students.
Apart from the distinct financial benefits, though, scholarships and awards may provide a significant boost for future success.
What are the biggest mistakes that I see when counseling students on awards?
Create a plan
Many students just don’t realize that they’re eminently qualified for many of these awards, and therefore they don’t create a plan. Students who create a plan have a significant leg up on the competition. The best time for advance planning is before the start of every academic year, since that’s the time when the demands of medical school have eased.
I advise students to think of these major questions:
- To which programs should I apply?
- What will I need for the application?
- Who will support my application?
By researching opportunities well in advance of deadlines, you’ll understand your competitiveness for the award. Most importantly, if you find that you’re not yet the ideal candidate, you have the luxury of time to become that ideal candidate.
Understanding award purpose
Once you’ve identified potential opportunities, you need to ask yourself one important question. Do I really understand the purpose of the award? There’s a reason this organization has sponsored an award, and it’s up to you determine what the organization hopes to accomplish. In most cases, the answer will be obvious via review of the website and an Internet search. Don’t be afraid, though, to contact the organization if necessary. Students who grasp the organization’s mission are better able to tailor their application to meet the needs of the sponsor.
Finding faculty support
Another important aspect of this process is the fact that winning scholarships and awards often requires support from faculty mentors. It can definitely be challenging to develop strong relationships with faculty, and this often deters students from initiating and cultivating these relationships. However, it’s well worth the effort.
“I learned about the Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship through a long-term mentor of mine from UT Southwestern,” says Dr. Anandita Kulkarni, an internal medicine resident at the Baylor College of Medicine. “He was an administrator for the Doris Duke Program and proposed the idea of applying for the program during my second year of medical school.”
The first award Dr. Alexander Gallan, a pathology resident at the University of Chicago, received was the ASCP Academic Excellence and Achievement in Pathology Award.
“It is awarded annually to 10 medical students across the country based on academic excellence, leadership ability, and a strong interest in pathology. I worked hard during my second and third years of medical school to spend time with and develop relationships with the pathology attendings at my institution,” Gallan said. “One of these attendings heard about this award, encouraged me to apply for it and even wrote me a letter of recommendation.”
Do your research
Some scholarship programs post information about previous winners. Detailed profiles are sometimes available, and you may be able to identify common threads among winners. You can also use this information to contact these award recipients. In conversations that I’ve had with past winners, I’ve found that this rarely occurs, even though this effort can yield powerful information. After all, who better to guide you than a previous winner?
-By Dr. Samir Desai, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and author of Medical School Scholarships, Grants & Awards: Insider Advice On How To Win Scholarships