Students listening while getting a tour.
Atlantis students listening while getting a tour (Genoa, Italy, 2019).

Show Competencies in Med/PA School Apps/Interviews

Competencies are a key pillar of med/PA school admissions, and Atlantis lets you refine and showcase most of the 15 that medical schools use to assess candidates.


Competencies Are Crucial And Atlantis Alumni Progress On Them

Competencies are crucial to show in applications and interviews, and 93% of a large sample of Atlantis alumni claim that they have progressed on the AAMC competencies. Atlantis focuses on these AAMC competencies for prospective MD students, but similar ones are sought after by DO and PA programs as well, and our alumni have been successful in many tracks.

The pre-health advising office at Cornell University (and many others) specifically encourages students to choose activities that highlight these competencies (even though this is not an endorsement of Atlantis or any other program).

As you plan for activities, consider […] how these activities help you demonstrate core competencies such that schools in the field of medicine look for.

Cornell Health Careers Advising

If you’d like to learn more about competencies from an academic perspective, see this study (Academic Medicine, 2013).

Atlantis’ Mission Aligns with AAMC’s Goals

What the AAMC says matters, especially when it comes to understanding admissions, and their list of competencies reflects decades of wisdom on the question, “How do we put the right people into medical school?” The AAMC does not endorse any specific program (including Atlantis), but the AAMC’s goals align with Atlantis’ mission, which is this: we help build a world where healthcare professionals love their jobs and their patients can sense that; we do this via programs that (a) help put the right people in healthcare and (b) help these people thrive in their field.

Ninety-three Percent

In a PhD-authored outcomes study of over 1,000 Atlantis alumni, 93% of them progressed on the AAMC competencies that medical schools use to assess candidates.

15 Core Competencies

15 Competencies = 9 Soft Ones & 6 Hard Ones

The AAMC has 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students, and it’s helpful to divide them into 9 “soft” ones (the first 9) and 6 “hard” ones (the last 6). The 360 Shadowing model directly helps you refine and showcase most of the 9 soft ones, and indirectly helps you develop the 6 hard ones.

Briefly on the 6 hard competencies: 360 Shadowing, due to its quality and concentrated model, allows you to focus on academics, and the 6 hard competencies are naturally tied to college academics. If someone can focus on coursework during the school year, that person will improve in areas like scientific inquiry (AAMC competency #12), living systems (#14), and the other hard competencies.

Atlantis’s shadowing programs, which use a model called 360 Shadowing, also help you develop – and show through stories – 6 of the 9 soft competencies: service orientation (AAMC competency #1), social skills (#2), cultural competence (#3), teamwork (#4), oral communication (#5), and resilience & adaptability (#8). Let’s address each in turn, below.

How Atlantis May Help Hone The “Soft” Competencies

Read below about how Atlantis may help hone 6 of the 9 “soft” AAMC competencies and may prepare you to demonstrate them in applications and interviews.

Service orientation

Relative to doctors in the U.S., European doctors receive lower financial incentives than other professionals and often therefore can naturally be more motivated by a spirit of service in order to do their job. This offers a unique opportunity for Atlantis students to witness service-driven healthcare professionals, be inspired to a spirit of service themselves, and convey that to med/PA schools through stories. It is of course the case that many U.S. doctors are incredibly service-minded, and more service-minded than many Europeans; it’s just that, in Europe, in a world where the gap between a medical doctor’s salary and that of (say) a teacher isn’t as high, you may often see service as a bigger component in the mix of what motivates doctors.

Social skills

360 Shadowing, with its high levels of depth, breadth, and quantity of hours, exposes pre-health students to far more medical situations – and therefore more social situations – than you would see with regular shadowing or many other forms of clinical experience. Atlantis’ 360 Shadowing model allows you to learn about your own social strengths and weaknesses, predict how they will play out in a healthcare setting, and have a chance to improve on them now. You will have more lessons to draw from in your essays and interviews and will be better able to show social competence to med/PA schools.

Cultural competence

360 Shadowing, because it takes place abroad, fosters far greater intercultural perspective. Study abroad programs in general are proven to boost cultural competence more than just about any academic exercise, including attempts at relative immersion into, for example, immigrant cultures inside the US. Study abroad is much more impactful, and immersion into a foreign culture is all the more valuable inside a healthcare setting. Atlantis alumni consistently report growth in this area and can leverage a wealth of examples in their essays and interviews.


Atlantis alumni have witnessed much more teamwork in a professional healthcare setting than someone who has done regular shadowing, because Atlantis offers greater depth, breadth, and quantity of hours. By seeing more teams work well (or perhaps less well), Atlantis alumni are better equipped to build on this competency and to show that to med/PA schools.

Oral communication

Most of our alumni do not speak the local language in their Atlantis program location, and that doesn’t take away much from their experience. However, with 360 Shadowing, typically there are some partial language barriers; there will be enough English being spoken in order to make the shadowing experience very valuable, but also enough language barriers to allow pre-health students to appreciate the importance of good oral communication. Atlantis alumni will, in their careers, often be in situations where they are communicating with people who may have a language barrier, or who struggle to comprehend their medical viewpoint. These alumni will know firsthand how that feels, which hopefully propels them to keep improving in oral communication. Atlantis recommends that alumni highlight their cross-cultural experience with communication in both application statements as well as interviews.

Resilience & adaptability

Most pre-health students elect to shadow (or engage in other forms of clinical experience) close to their home or university, in a setting that is comfortable and familiar, whereas Atlantis participants cross timezones, cultural divides, and other challenges to see healthcare outside of their comfort zone. Medical schools are looking for candidates with resilience and adaptability, and if you had to choose between a student who had spent part of a summer abroad versus someone who had stayed comfortably at home, all else being equal, you would likely choose the student who had gone abroad, at least as far as the “resilience & adaptability” competency goes. There are of course many other factors at play, but there’s no question that study abroad fosters this competence, and all the more so study abroad that takes students to a different healthcare setting instead of to a simple classroom abroad.

Alumni Show Competencies through Stories

Competency Atlantis Alumni Story in Interviews
Orientation (#1)
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor to help people. While shadowing in Europe I saw
a system where doctors are paid well, but not 10x what a bus driver gets, as in
the US. Doctors in Europe have to be motivated less by money and more by
service, and I’m attracted to that because…”
Skills (#2)
“I have never been exposed to as many social situations in a healthcare setting as I
had with Atlantis due to the sheer quantity of hours and diversity of specialties.
I’ve now been exposed to many social situations in a clinical context, for example…”
Competence (#3)
“Even though I volunteered in an inner-city clinic in the US, which opened my eyes,
that setting still had the same cultural, social, regulatory, and technical
environment as any other healthcare experience in the US. In going to Europe I
saw the same “level” of healthcare sophistication as the US, but in an entirely
new cultural environment; for example…”
Teamwork (#4) “In my 6 weeks with Atlantis I shadowed over 15 doctors, in 6 specialties, across 2
countries. If you asked me to list all all the examples I have seen first-hand of a
doctor working in a team, I think that list is many times larger after my
experience in Europe. Here are some examples…”
Communication (#5)
“Atlantis does not require language skills, and I had the best of both worlds: there
were enough doctors speaking great English for me to learn, but naturally there
were some language barriers here and there. When I become a doctor and my
patients can’t speak English I’ll be better able to relate…”
& Adaptability (#8)
“I thought of staying in my hometown and volunteering at a clinic, but opted to get
out of my comfort zone by shadowing in Europe: new country, new culture,
new timezone, new healthcare system…”
Other Soft
(#6, #7, #9)
(Atlantis contributes here but less meaningfully so.)
“I spent more time honing my critical thinking, writing, and quantitative skills
because I focused more on academics (and a bit less on extracurriculars)
during the semesters.”

Alumni Explain Atlantis’ Impact On Their Med School Applications, Specifically on “Cultural Competence,” A Key AAMC Competency

View of the city street for students to explore.
The city street in Barcelona, Spain for students to explore during their program (an Atlantis site).
A student smiling in a wing of the hospital.
A student in the wing of hospital while shadowing (Genoa, Italy, 2019).

Overall, 93% of alumni reported that they had progressed on the AAMC competencies.

It’s not surprising, then, that our alumni in med school have told us things like, “This was always a topic of conversation in interviews” (Thomas C., UVA School of Medicine, ‘22) and, “I think a lot of schools found my experience unique, which contributed to me being accepted into medical school directly out of undergrad” (Leila Yazdi, USC School of Medicine, ‘23).

Med Schools Want 3 Things; Great Healthcare Exposure with Atlantis Can Help Drive The Other 2 (Stats & Competencies)

A chart illustrating the admissions pillars and how Atlantis contributes.

In Conclusion: To Come Full Circle:

  • Atlantis’ 360 Shadowing model gives you quality and quantity in healthcare exposure (pillar #1)
  • That healthcare exposure promotes competencies (pillar #3) in two ways:
    • It promotes soft competencies directly (as detailed extensively on this page)
    • It promotes hard competencies (which require studying) indirectly by freeing up time for academics (pillar #2)

The Proven Value of Study Abroad in General, and of Atlantis in Particular

Studies have clearly shown the value of study abroad for forming students in valuable skills, and many of these overlap with the competencies that medical schools value.

We validated these findings among our own students, but we chose to focus specifically on the AAMC competencies. As mentioned above, as part of a PhD-authored study, over 1,000 Atlantis alumni rated their progress on a range of core competencies, and the responses were very strong (view study data).

For example, 97% of alumni strongly agreed or agreed that they had a greater appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity, and 93% said they were better able to adapt effectively to stressful or changing environments or situations.

Take the Quiz: Is Atlantis For You?

We’ve built the “Shadowing and Extracurricular Readiness Score” (SERS) calculator to allow you to look at several expert statements and track to what extent your current extracurriculars follow best practices. We believe this exercise to be very useful regardless of whether you end up considering Atlantis, but is also extra helpful if you’re consider our programs.

Watch Video: 20+ Alumni Now In Med School Explain:
Atlantis Is a Major Reason I Got In Here

Explore the Other Admissions Pillars