I had the privilege of spending several days with a group of premed advisors, and what I learned from the experience surprised me.
Most medical school admissions experts will tell you that premed advisors rarely give good advice, but what surprised me was not just how bad the advice was, but also how confident they were in said bad advice—truly the Dunning-Kruger effect at play. I was inspired to make this post after spending time with them because I found myself very uncomfortable with the fact that premeds were being given such misleading information.
Med School Insiders is committed to providing premeds with the most accurate, unbiased, and honest guidance. So with that in mind, here’s what you need to know and be wary of when it comes to your premed advisors.
What Are Premed Advisors Useful For?
I’ll be the first to admit premed advisors have utility. Every university has nuances with scheduling and courses, which makes it difficult to effectively navigate the class enrollment process. Premed advisors make this easier by ensuring you complete your degree requirements and premed prerequisite courses so that you can graduate on time.
But beyond that, they are unqualified to provide particularly meaningful premed advice. You could get to the same knowledge level as most premed advisors in just a few days of researching the facts online and reading the many free resources available on our YouTube channel and Med School Insiders blog.
That’s not an exaggeration. Premed advisors may say “Don’t major in biology because it’s too common.” I say, it’s much more complicated than that. There are pros and cons to majoring in biology, and it’s a highly personal decision. I have a post on this topic with data supporting these conclusions.
They may say, “Caribbean schools aren’t a bad option.” But, again, that’s because they don’t understand the nuanced pros and cons of graduating from Caribbean schools. They can be easily swayed by a few presentations and an all-expenses-paid trip to a tropical island.
It seems like a relatively straightforward job for premed advisors—help their premed students get into medical school.
So where does it all go wrong?
1 | Their Credentials (or Lack Thereof)
To start, you don’t need any formal training to become a premed advisor. There’s no formal degree and no comprehensive training. Mostly it’s just on-the-job training with no need for a medical, science, or statistics background. Majored in art history? Fantastic, you can be a premed advisor. A bachelor’s degree is all that’s necessary. Something like a master’s in education is optional, but from my experience, this doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of the advice.
For example, one advisor informed me that she tried to steer every student she met with away from biology. After all, she said, it’s far too common, and she wants her students to stand out from the rest. Ultimately, this overly simplistic interpretation is actually harmful. There are some students who should pursue biology or similar life science majors and others who should not.
Premed advisors don’t have experience with premed coursework. Oftentimes, they were not premed themselves, and they didn’t apply to medical school.
2 | Lack of Statistical Understanding
I asked one premed advisor about how he advises his students when going to osteopathic medical schools. He focuses on two aspects: first, what specialty does the premed want to pursue? And second, are there DOs in that specialty? This advisor pulls up FindaDO.com to look up specialties and see if there are DOs in that field. Look, we found a DO plastic surgeon! If you want to be a plastic surgeon, you can do it through a DO program!
Again, this is concerning for a few reasons. First, over 50% of first-year medical students will change their intended specialty by the time they graduate. I was one of them, initially planning on pediatric gastroenterology and changing gears completely to reconstructive plastic surgery. Basing application decisions off of what specialty you think you want to pursue as a premed is extremely premature.
Second, just because there are a couple of osteopathic plastic surgeons doesn’t mean that an aspiring future plastic surgeon should choose an osteopathic medical school. This is the survivorship bias at play. It’s not impossible, but it’s much more difficult to go into plastics and several other competitive specialties going the DO over MD route.
To most effectively guide premeds on their various options and what would be the best fit for them, it’s important to provide evidence-based guidance, and doing so requires, at the very least, understanding certain statistics principles. Unfortunately, there’s no statistics education requirement to be a premed advisor.
3 | Minimal Understand of Medical School and Residency
The decision of where to go to medical school, whether MD, DO, or the Caribbean, is, in large part, a function of the options you’ll have available to you when you graduate medical school.
Your goal isn’t just to get into medical school. It’s to become a practicing doctor in your ideal specialty, rather than a specialty you were forced into. That relies on you being able to match into a residency program for the specialty you’re interested in.
Some premed advisors believe getting into a competitive specialty, such as neurosurgery or plastic surgery, is competitive for everyone, regardless of whether they are in a US or Caribbean program. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter whether you go to the Caribbean or a US program if you’re focusing on something highly competitive, right?
Obviously, this is extremely shaky logic. It’s significantly more difficult to match into those specialties if you attend a Caribbean school. Just look at the data and match lists or speak to someone with residency admissions committee experience. To further prove the point, the average Step scores required to match into any of these specialties from a Caribbean school are higher than the average Step scores from students graduating from US schools by a substantial margin.
A premed advisor informed me that, perhaps, the tiny percentage of students matching into competitive specialties is due to varying interests—maybe the thousands of graduating students over the last several years were simply not interested in such specialties.
Denying the fact it is significantly more challenging to match into certain specialties from DO or Caribbean schools is very dangerous advice to give a premed student, as this is often a severely limiting factor for matching into more competitive specialties.
4 | Easily Manipulated Due to a Lack of Expertise
Caribbean medical schools often invite premed advisors to their campus. They fly them out, wine and dine them, put them up in a nice beachfront hotel, give them tours, and try to impress them with their program—all with the hope that these premed advisors will promote their program to their students.
At one Caribbean medical school, they do these visits four times per year, and despite it costing several thousands of dollars per advisor, it’s highly profitable. Why? Because premed advisors are easily convinced. Their minimal understanding of the medical training process and lack of education in statistics makes them easily swayed, even when the data doesn’t quite add up.
When I asked a premed advisor how she decides between suggesting Caribbean versus DO programs to her students, she said she’s not sure because all her doctor colleagues say DO is better, but she has visited several Caribbean programs and she’s really impressed. Some of her own personal doctors are Caribbean-trained, and she likes them, so there’s more reason, in her mind, to promote these programs.
Let’s be clear: These are not valid considerations when choosing various medical school paths.
In medical school, it’s drilled into our heads that you should not take free gifts from pharmaceutical companies. As Cialdini talks about in his widely acclaimed book Influence, the reciprocity rule acts subconsciously and can influence treatment decisions. For example, doctors are more likely to prescribe the medication from the drug company that’s providing them with gifts.
In a previous video on my Dr. Kevin Jubbal YouTube channel, I outlined the specific instances from my recent trip to a Caribbean medical school where the presented numbers didn’t add up and how the program was able to fool premed advisors.
So what should you take away from this?
All premed advisors are different, and I’m sure there are some thoughtful and experienced advisors out there, but that is far from the norm. Do your own research, and don’t take the advice of one premed advisor or mentor as fact.
Each student’s circumstances are unique, and not everyone who gives advice has taken the time to thoroughly research what the data actually says.
If you want to dive deeper, we have hundreds of online guides and courses on our website that will actually help you become the doctor you’ve always wanted to be. We’re a company run by real physicians, like myself, who have gone through the process, served on medical school admissions committees, and understand all the nuances and the ins and outs of the process, so there’s no ignorance and foolish thinking to cloud our judgment.
Check out our Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance Course for a highly comprehensive A to Z guide for premeds, or work one-on-one with a top physician for more personalized help.
I hope you all liked this post; it’s an issue I really care about. If you disagree or are a premed advisor and weren’t a fan, please reach out or leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from experienced and effective premed advisors. It’s helpful to know how many of you are reading and what your perspective is.