Learn more about how we are approaching the pandemic.

Students listening intently while shadowing in a hospital.
Atlantis students listening intently while shadowing in a hospital (Athens, Greece, 2019).

What Do Med/PA Schools Want?

Here we break down the 3 pillars of med school admissions. It all boils down to demonstrating ability + passion: “can do” + “will do.” We also detail how Atlantis impacts certain parts of the actual medical school application.

Med Schools Want 3 Things (The 3 Pillars)

Med schools want applicants to have three things: (1) exposure to healthcare, to show commitment; (2) a high GPA/MCAT, to show ability; and (3) certain personal competencies, also to show ability. The point of focusing on these three pillars is not just to get in anywhere; the goal is to have choices, ideally multiple offers, and even better, with some scholarships.

A very helpful page on this topic is this section of the AAMC website; the entire AAMC website has a wealth of knowledge that every pre-med should be acquainted with. Here in our website we also detail why Atlantis brings great healthcare exposure, helps you focus on your stats, and refines/highlights competencies for applications and interviews. Here on this page, in the below sections that follow, we describe more on why medical schools work the way they do, and, later on below, how Atlantis impacts the actual sections within the AMCAS application (and similar applications for other healthcare programs).

Healthcare Exposure

Compared to typical clinical experiences, 360 Shadowing with Atlantis means far greater depth, breadth, quantity, and intercultural perspective.

Focus on Grades

Most students don’t prioritize GPA/MCAT enough. Doing 360 Shadowing over break accomplishes so much extracurricular-wise that you can cut out some of your other activities during the year.

Show Competencies

360 Shadowing lets you refine and showcase most of the key AAMC competencies for entering medical students, creating powerful stories for your applications and interviews.

“Can Do” and “Will Do”

If you were to put yourself in the shoes of a medical/PA School, you would want students with both “can do” and “will do.” You would want students who can actually do the job – “can do,” shown primarily by grades and the MCAT, but also by certain personal competencies) – and you would also want students with a passion for healthcare – “will do.” Without that deeper motivation, a student may easily drop out, or worse, be stuck as a doctor or PA who doesn’t love their job – unfortunately, a rising trend. Motivation is often assessed by an applicant’s level of clinical experience, such as shadowing.

Medical schools may talk about other things they would like to see in applicants, but for most schools, including top ones, everything else is subordinate to or less important than the three pillars showing “can do” and “will do”: 1) exposure, 2) stats, and 3) competencies.

It is very important to understand and to have confidence in your knowledge of what med/PA schools really want. Tune out Reddit and tune in to your pre-health advisor; or, if you don’t have one, look at the pre-health advising sites at elite undergraduate institutions, such as Princeton.

Watch Video: 20+ Alumni Unfiltered:
What Role Did Atlantis Play In
My Med School Interviews?

  • We asked Atlantis alumni to answer the questions “What about Atlantis did you highlight in your med school interview?” and “How helpful do you think Atlantis was in the actual med school interviews?”
  • We asked alumni to describe this in their own terms in a video made at home through their phones!

 

How Atlantis Impacts Key Sections
Of the Med School Application

 

Nine Sections

Here we focus on the example of the MD track, but keep in mind that what we are saying here applies also to applications to other healthcare degree types. The AMCAS has 9 sections. Atlantis helps with all of the ones that require more effort – the ones that capture who you are on a deeper level.

The AMCAS application showing the different sections that need to be submitted.

1. Identifying Information

Here you’ll list your name, ID numbers, and birth information.

2. Schools Attended

Here you’ll list your high school, college(s), majors and minors, and whether you’ll need to request transcripts.

3. Biographic Information

This section asks for addresses, demographic information, and details about your family background.

Students speaking to a medical professional in the hospital.
Atlantis students speaking to a medical professional in the hospital (Athens, Greece, 2016).

4. Course Work

Atlantis can impact your course work by (1)bring some of your extracurricular life away from semesters and into academic breaks and (2)increasing the overall quality of your extracurriculars. This frees up time and energy to study during the semester that would otherwise be spent doing other things, including lower-level clinical experience, or trying to find such experience, or (especially) doing less impactful extracurricular activities. This doesn’t mean you should avoid U.S. clinical experience or even non-clinical extracurriculars. But everyone agrees that nothing beats more “A”s on your transcript. It’s also good to have the space and energy to enjoy your classes.

Students working on notes at a table.
Atlantis students working on notes at a table (Athens, Greece, 2016).

5. Work/Activities

Atlantis can play a large role in the Work/Activities section. You can summarize up to 15 experiences from work, service, shadowing, research, athletics, conferences, teaching, other extracurriculars, etc. You’ll be prompted to enter the number of hours spent, in what country – these are key areas where Atlantis will stand out. You’ll also be asked to identify 1–3 experiences as the most meaningful, considering the impact you had and the personal growth you experienced. Atlantis will be one of the most meaningful experiences you bring into med school, even compared with many other valuable pursuits. Moreover, since admissions committees prefer clinical experience that is similar in essence to the life of a doctor in the U.S., Atlantis shadowing will be able to help fulfill this need in a way that experience in low/middle income countries would not. Volunteering in low-resource countries, though in many ways noble, often does not count as shadowing experience, since medical schools deem it too different to provide the benefit they’re looking for: ensuring that their future medical students know what they’re getting themselves into. Atlantis provides a similar environment in that your future job will be similar to that of the doctors you shadow, while also providing the cultural competence that comes with leaving your country for a few weeks. (Note, our team provides you a point of contact to list under your shadowing experience as well.)

A student shadowing a doctor.
An Atlantis student closely shadowing a doctor (Athens, Greece, 2019).

6. Letters of Evaluation

AMCAS will allow you to upload specific letters for specific schools (up to 10 total, though often letter entries will include multiple letters in one file). Atlantis provides an opportunity for you to receive letters from doctors who have worked with you closely and can speak to your passion and cultural competence. As always, the advice you’ve been given about letters of recommendation applies: letters from someone you met very briefly do not have as much value as letters from someone you had a lot of experience with. Since Atlantis programs usually rotate specialities every week (we do this because we know medical schools crucially value breadth of clinical experience), Atlantis will only be an opportunity for a letter of recommendation in certain cases. Use your judgment. It is true, however, that every year countless letters are written for Atlantis alumni regarding their Atlantis hospital experience.

7. Medical Schools

Here you’ll list the medical schools you are applying to. Remember that ideally you would not just get admitted, but get admitted to multiple places, i.e., ideally you’d have options. The better a candidate you are, the more options you will likely have.

Students smiling with a doctor in the hospital.
Doctors abroad taking care that the Atlantis students have the best possible experience (Athens, Greece, 2019).

8. Essays

Your Personal Comments Essay is a crucial part of your application. Here you’ll explain why you want to go to medical school. More than anything else, medical schools are here looking for “will do:” ok, this person has the ability, but do they have the motivation? This has always been important, but it is more important today than it was ten years ago. In 2021 we had a top 25 medical school dean tell us how much their admissions criteria have moved toward a more holistic view just in the last half-decade. Above all, admissions committees want to see motivation, and that motivation should be based on experience (as opposed to simply feelings, dreams, or TV shows you watched). Atlantis not only gives you more experience, but it gives you experience that has greater depth, breadth, quantity, and intercultural perspective than most clinical experiences.  Also, you want a story that’s unique, that shows your ability, passion, perspective, and depth of experience in the healthcare field. Depending on your circumstances, Atlantis may be able to differentiate you, and with concrete examples from 360 Shadowing, you’ll be able to demonstrate the hard and soft competencies that med schools look for in applicants. Note also, finally, that much of what we state in this paragraph also applies to your performance in medical school interviews. See a comparison of interview answers between a good and a great Atlantis alum med school applicant here.

Students walking down the hallway in scrubs.
Atlantis students walking down the hallway in scrubs (Lisbon, Portugal 2019).

9. Standardized Tests

Here you’ll find your MCAT scores, mark upcoming test dates, and add other exam scores (optional). This is also a key section. And what are MCAT scores often a product of? They’re often a product of how well you’ve mastered the topics in your classes, and on that topic see the section above on how Atlantis can contribute to your course performance. Moreover, when it’s time to actually take the MCAT, Atlantis can free up your time then as well.

Students in a library at the hospital.
Atlantis team members in a library at the hospital (Trieste, Italy, 2016).

Med School Interview:
Atlantis Alum vs. Typical Pre-med

Compare a possible medical school interview of an Atlantis alum with that of a typical applicant by looking at responses to common questions.

Our Alumni Are Often Admitted To Great Medical Schools And Beyond

Hear more from them on their experiences during and after Atlantis, including the many medical schools that they have been admitted to.

An Atlantis student standing outside the hospital where she is shadowing.
An Atlantis student standing outside the hospital where she is shadowing (Barcelona, Spain, 2019).
A basic table showing two comparison columns to indicate the benefits of 360 shadowing.

Compare A Typical Applicant With an Atlantis Alum

Compare A Typical Applicant With an Atlantis Alum

Med School Concern #1: Exposure to Healthcare

Average Applicant to Med School

Average Applicant to Med School

Typical/Possible Atlantis Alum

Depth

  • Surface-level
  • Surface-level

Depth

Breadth

  • 1-3 medical specialties
  • 1-3 medical specialties

Breadth

Quantity

  • Average quantity
  • Average quantity

Quantity

  • 50-200 hours in one school break
  • Concentrated
  • Time, energy, and academic focus saved by not having to find–and travel weekly to and from–a weekly 2 hour campus clinical experience, for instance

Intercultural Perspective

  • Shadowing/volunteering in one country, one cultural context, one regulatory environment
  • Shadowing/volunteering in one country, one cultural context, one regulatory environment

Intercultural Perspective

  • Shadowing in a new country, context, and environment (but at the same sophistication level as the US)

GPA/MCAT

  • Average stats; study time taken by inefficient extracurriculars
  • Average stats; study time taken by inefficient extracurriculars

GPA/MCAT

  • Such an intensive experience during breaks allows for the “luxury” of focusing on academics during the year

Stories

  • Ordinary stories for apps/interviews, fewer opportunities to develop competencies
  • Ordinary stories for apps/interviews, fewer opportunities to develop competencies

Stories

See a much deeper version of this table.

 

 

A basic table showing two comparison columns to indicate the benefits of 360 shadowing.

Alternatively, See a More In-Depth Version of The Above Table

Compare A Typical Applicant With an Atlantis Alum (in depth view)

Med School Concern #1: Exposure to Healthcare

Average Applicant to Med School

Average Applicant to Med School

Typical/Possible Atlantis Alum

AAMC-compliance

  • Did hands-on volunteering, possibly without proper training
  • Did hands-on volunteering, possibly without proper training

AAMC-compliance

  • Did observation-only, AAMC-compliant shadowing

Complexity of procedures

  • Observed day-to-day office tasks + appointments
  • Observed day-to-day office tasks + appointments

Complexity of procedures

  • Often observed complex procedures like a C-section, or a partial hip replacement

Closeness to MD-level work

  • Exposed to healthcare setting in general
  • Exposed to healthcare setting in general

Closeness to MD-level work

  • Focused on the MD profile + perspective

Number of specialties

  • Exposed to 2 or 3 specialties
  • Exposed to 2 or 3 specialties

Number of specialties

  • Saw 6 specialties in 6 weeks (typically one per week), and 8 or 9 total

Number of environments

  • Experienced one local environment and one hospital setting
  • Experienced one local environment and one hospital setting

Number of environments

  • Experienced a variety of cultures, department dynamics, hospital sizes, and city sizes

Number of doctors

  • Shadowed 2 or 3 doctors and potentially met their colleagues
  • Shadowed 2 or 3 doctors and potentially met their colleagues

Number of doctors

  • Shadowed 10 or more doctors and met many department staff and residents

Total number of hours

  • Completed a smaller number of hours
  • Completed a smaller number of hours

Total number of hours

  • Did 100+ shadowing hours in 5 weeks (20+ hours per week)

Hours over time

  • Picked up hours piecemeal throughout the year
  • Picked up hours piecemeal throughout the year

Hours over time

  • Concentrated hours over 6 weeks during summer break

Value per hour

  • Had less valuable experience in a given time
  • Had less valuable experience in a given time

Value per hour

  • Had highly valuable experience in a short time

Multi-country shadowing

  • Shadowed only in the U.S.
  • Shadowed only in the U.S.

Multi-country shadowing

  • Shadowed in Spain, Italy, and Hungary, plus the U.S.

Relevant study abroad experience

  • Had done non-healthcare study abroad
  • Had done non-healthcare study abroad

Relevant study abroad experience

  • Combined the best of study abroad’s cultural immersion with world-class clinical shadowing

View of the medical profession

  • Wasn’t aware of the parts of medicine that differ across cultures
  • Wasn’t aware of the parts of medicine that differ across cultures

View of the medical profession

  • Developed a balanced view, identifying what’s essential vs. culturally contingent in medicine

Knowledge of comparative healthcare policy

  • Lacking firsthand knowledge of different advanced healthcare systems
  • Lacking firsthand knowledge of different advanced healthcare systems

Knowledge of comparative healthcare policy

  • Informed and able to maturely analyze comparative healthcare

GPA

  • Achieved similar results to peers
  • Achieved similar results to peers

GPA

  • Spent more time studying and achieved better results than peers

MCAT

  • Scored average on the MCAT
  • Scored average on the MCAT

MCAT

  • Scored above average by focusing more on academics and doing more MCAT prep

Number of distractions

  • Spread thin with commitments to volunteering, clubs, societies, publications, sports, hobbies, leadership roles, etc.
  • Spread thin with commitments to volunteering, clubs, societies, publications, sports, hobbies, leadership roles, etc.

Number of distractions

  • Focused on one or two extracurricular activities they were passionate about

Energy level

  • Was tired and overwhelmed but felt like they hadn’t done enough
  • Was tired and overwhelmed but felt like they hadn’t done enough

Energy level

  • Was less overwhelmed, with space to enjoy classes and fall more in love with medicine

Confidence in healthcare path

  • Is fairly confident, but hasn’t had it “click” that medicine is their calling
  • Is fairly confident, but hasn’t had it “click” that medicine is their calling

Confidence in healthcare path

  • Is very confident, having seen incredible procedures and realized, “This is where I want to be, serving people”

Service Orientation

  • Wrote in their personal statement about approaching medicine with a service mentality
  • Wrote in their personal statement about approaching medicine with a service mentality

Service Orientation

  • Actually spent quality time with passionate, other-oriented doctors abroad whose salaries are relatively lower

Social Skills

  • Shared in their interview some examples of doctor-patient interactions and some takeaways
  • Shared in their interview some examples of doctor-patient interactions and some takeaways

Social Skills

  • Shared unique stories from a wealth of experiences where their social strengths and weaknesses played out

Cultural Competence

  • Was able to talk generally about personal growth with study abroad or with an academic program serving immigrant communities
  • Was able to talk generally about personal growth with study abroad or with an academic program serving immigrant communities

Cultural Competence

  • Showed a rare perspective, having seen different cultural backgrounds on display, in a healthcare setting, as a genuine outsider

Teamwork

  • Saw multiple examples of teamwork while shadowing
  • Saw multiple examples of teamwork while shadowing

Teamwork

  • Saw an even wider range of teams within the hospital departments, with unique stories about doctors in Surgery versus doctors in Internal Medicine, for example

Oral Communication

  • Showed no/little practice with another language in a clinical setting
  • Showed no/little practice with another language in a clinical setting

Oral Communication

  • Talked passionately in their interview about communicating across the language barrier within the hospital; even though most doctors will speak English, there will be some language barrier some times

Resilience & Adaptability

  • Shadowed close to home in a familiar setting
  • Shadowed close to home in a familiar setting

Resilience & Adaptability

  • Stepped outside their comfort zone and managed lack of sleep or changes of plans, showing resilience with interesting travel stories

Note that some elements in the above only take place in certain programs e.g. multi-country experiences only happen in multi-country programs. Also, Atlantis programs do have far greater depth, breadth, quantity of shadowing, and degree of intercultural perspective, than the vast majority of clinical experiences that premeds have; however the examples above are illustrative of why that generally is, i.e. not all Atlantis participants have seen a certain exact type of surgery. Please see our many testimonials to obtain many perspectives on the program.

Atlantis Alumni Have
What Med Schools Want

A graphic representing 97%.

97%

Referenced Atlantis on their application and the vast majority said Atlantis “strongly” or “very strongly” impacted their admittance

A graphic representing 81%.

81%

Of alumni accepted into med/PA school said Atlantis impacted their passion for medicine

A graphic representing 91%.

93%

Of our pre-health alumni progressed on the AAMC Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to the Harvard Medical School MD and Stanford School of Medicine MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.