Medical schools can vary widely; as the saying goes, “If you’ve seen one medical school, you’ve seen one medical school.” Beyond basic factors like location, class size, and curriculum, schools diverge in their broader philosophies and priorities. But how to figure out what their unique value systems are?
One of the most useful and accurate ways to distinguish among medical schools is to read their mission statements, which are carefully constructed descriptions of their values and approaches. Medical schools want students who support their values, so making sure that your philosophies align is a win-win situation. As the AAMC puts it, “Both medical schools and applicants ideally look with a ‘mission-match’ in mind.”
We recommend that you devote time to analyzing med schools’ mission statements at the very beginning of your application process, before you dive into more specific factors. In this post, we’ll walk you through how to parse mission statements, then give examples of what a few schools’ mission statements communicate.
Mission Statement Exercise
In order to help you determine which med schools’ approaches best align with your personal goals, create a document with the mission statements of all the schools you’re considering. You can browse the AAMC’s MSAR database and access each school’s website as well. (Select schools—including Boston University School of Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, and University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School—have participated in a pilot project in which they’ve expanded their mission statements to address factors including how their mission has informed their curriculum and is reflected in students’ daily lives.)
Beneath each mission statement on your document, bullet-point the elements of the text that give important specifics about the school’s values, and/or that most speak to you. You might use asterisks (or bolding, or highlighting) to denote the single aspect that seems to most define the school’s philosophy. If you can take this exercise one step further and make a few notes as to why you’re drawn to particular elements, all the better.
This exercise alone may enable you to start identifying the medical schools you’re most interested in or even eliminate a few that you realize don’t actually align with your desires. As you continue researching the schools on your list beyond their mission statements, you can expand on the qualities you’ve bullet-pointed from the mission statement and add more.
Spending time parsing the mission statement of each school in this way will not only help you choose among schools, it will also aid you in composing your application materials later on. The more specific you can be about the attributes you’re drawn to in each program, the stronger your applications will be.
Now, let’s deconstruct a few examples of mission statements and walk through what they communicate. First, let’s take a look at Weill Cornell Medical College’s mission statement:
WCMC is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care, and the advancement of the art and science of medicine. To this end, our mission is to provide the finest education possible for medical students, to provide superior continuing medical education for the lifelong education of physicians throughout their careers, to conduct research at the leading edge of knowledge, to improve the health care of the nation and world both now and for further generations, and to provide the highest level of clinical care for the communities we serve.
Your bullet-pointed summary of Cornell’s mission statement might look like this:
- excellence in *research*, teaching, patient care
- lifelong education of physicians
- *research* at the leading edge of knowledge
- health care of the nation and world
- highest level of clinical care
An attentive reader will note that the mission statement mentions research twice, suggesting that Cornell places a high value on students’ involvement in original research. If you’re interested in devoting a significant amount of your medical school experience to research pursuits, this is great news. If you’re not that interested in conducting research, this is great news, too: you can now avoid going to a school that won’t be a comfortable fit for you!
Let’s look at the mission statement of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai as another example:
Our mission is to nurture a visionary community of students, staff, faculty, and leaders who are committed to advancing exceptional clinical care and science that is free of racism and oppression in all its forms.
Your bullet-pointed summary of Mount Sinai’s mission statement might look like this:
- visionary community
- exceptional clinical care
- *science that is free of racism and oppression*
Mount Sinai has an unusually short mission statement, about one-third of which discusses the school’s commitment to social justice. This is highly illuminating: if you share a commitment to advancing social justice through your medical practice, Mount Sinai could be an excellent fit for you. If, on the other hand, you aspire to open a private practice that serves mostly wealthy clients, this school might not be an ideal fit for you.
As a final example, let’s look at the mission statement of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons:
The mission of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is to prepare graduates to be leaders and role models who define excellence in patient care, medical research, education, community and population health, and health care policy. Their experiences at VP&S will enable them to shape the future and set the standards of medicine in the United States and the world. Their guided exposure and training will allow them to exhibit the highest principles of humanism and professionalism in their responsibilities to their patients, to their community, and to society.
Your bullet-pointed summary of Columbia’s mission statement might look like this:
- prepare graduates to be *leaders and role models*
- shape the future and set the standards of medicine
- guided exposure and training
- humanism and professionalism
Right away, the mission statement mentions Columbia’s priority to create “leaders and role models,” a value that’s echoed throughout the text. Do you have aspirations to leadership, such as managing a hospital or opening your own practice? Great! Note that Columbia is the only one of these three med schools that mentions health care policy or shaping the future in the mission statement. If these big picture goals align with yours, then Columbia could be an excellent fit.
All three schools we examined above are near each other in New York City, yet each has a distinct philosophy—communicated clearly in its mission statements—that shapes students’ training experiences. Figuring out which medical schools to apply to and prioritize can be a complex process, so starting with mission statements, which are short and clear, is an ideal first step.
Whatever your question, we can provide additional information and guidance about any aspect of the medical school admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re happy to help!