VTC Medical School Admissions Process Connects Students With Community

Volunteers help identify the next class while illuminating what makes Roanoke a special place.

When prospective students apply to medical schools, they must consider many important factors such as academics, research, clinical training, extracurriculars, and cost. Another hugely important aspect to weigh is how well they connect with the community where they will be living, learning, and working for at least four years and potentially many more.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is unique in that it brings the Roanoke community to these students before they are even accepted as part of its Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI) process.

“I really enjoy being a part of the MMI as an interviewer,” said Frank DiNunzio, a community member who has volunteered for several years along with his wife, Susan Lucas. “The medical school and Virginia Tech are such a great resource for the area. They are creating future health care practitioners and helping the entire community to grow and prosper in quality of life and economically. Being able to give back and show these students what our community is like is very fulfilling.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine was one of only a handful of medical schools nationally using an MMI process when it was founded in 2010. It has continued to use the MMI as other schools have followed, but unlike most, it incorporates members of the community as volunteers to interview prospective students.

Susan Lucas and Frank DiNunzio are community members who have volunteered for several years to interview prospective medical students. They continue to support future physicians at the school through a scholarship in memory of Lucas’ sister, Nancy. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

Identifying candidates who will thrive

The MMI stands in contrast to a “traditional interview” in which an applicant spends a single block of time with a committee of admissions officials, typically physicians. During the MMI, applicants have 10 seven-minute long interviews to discuss a scenario that they have had only two minutes to consider. Each proprietary scenario is designed to illuminate various personal attributes of the applicant based on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ premed competencies for entering medical students.

“The MMI has been instrumental for us to see if this is the kind of candidate who will thrive in our environment,” said Ron Bradbury, the school’s director of admissions. “We receive an extremely high caliber of students academically, but it’s just as critical that they be able to think on their feet and get along well with others. Our curriculum features small-group problem-based learning, and students must be collaborative in nature to thrive here.”

The school provides training to the volunteers on how to score each candidate’s response to the scenario based on a rubric. The volunteers also are asked to provide a score on their overall impression of the candidates, focusing on whether they could see them as their doctor and whether they could connect with them.

“That piece is really important for us,” Bradbury said. “We want to identify the kind of applicant who connects with people and who engages their community with humility and confidence.”

Ron Bradbury, director of admissions, provides training to volunteers before their MMI sessions with students. Bradbury said the impression volunteers have of the student applicants is significant in determining if they will succeed at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

Connecting with the community

More than 5,000 students from around the United States apply to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VCTSOM) annually before that number is whittled down to the 300 who are invited to interview. Forty-nine of those students matriculate as part of the incoming class. Through the MMI process, those students gain the opportunity to interact with community members who may one day be their neighbors or their patients.

After becoming involved with the interviews, Lucas and DiNunzio decided to support a scholarship at the school in honor of Lucas’ late sister, who was a diehard Virginia Tech fan and a certified wound, ostomy, and continence nurse. The Nancy Lucas Memorial Hokie Physician Scholarship is awarded to a Virginia Tech graduate who matriculates to the medical school.

“Being involved with the MMI process is a rewarding experience. It is exciting to see the promising health care professionals of the near future,” Lucas said. “You see how your money is being spent and it reinforces my interest in wanting to support the school. My sister would’ve loved to be a part of this.”

Melanie Prusakowski, associate dean of admissions, addresses a room of prospective students with information about what makes the medical school and the Roanoke community unique. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

Easing the pressure

In addition to meeting community members, prospective students have the chance to speak informally with current medical students. They can ask the questions they may not be comfortable discussing with the admissions team or faculty, such as how hard professors are or what the dating scene in Roanoke is like.

“Overall, I think the MMI interview process can be quite overwhelming; however, what made VTCSOM’s process a bit less intimidating was having the opportunity to speak with members of the Roanoke community and current students. You felt a sense that they genuinely cared about your medical education and wanted you to go to VTCSOM,” said Monique Gainey, a first-year medical student who is an MMI volunteer. “I remember how nervous I was going through this process last year, and I’m happy to now have the chance to potentially help out someone who may be feeling the same way I did – it’s truly a full circle moment.”

While the MMI volunteers share an interest in making the applicants feel welcomed and at ease, they come from all walks of life. DiNunzio has an understanding of health care as a national sales manager for Nova Biomedical, but he said medical knowledge is not a prerequisite to participate.

“The first question everyone asks is if you must be a doctor or know anything about medicine to volunteer, and you don’t. You just need to have curiosity and want to be involved,” DiNunzio said. “I find it very interesting to meet a great group of young people and see their thought processes. It’s a very positive experience and it speaks a lot to the connection between the medical school and the community.”

If you live in the Roanoke region and are interested in volunteering with the MMI process, email [email protected].

Susan Lucas sits in an exam room, reviewing her scenario information before conducting an interview with an applicant. Lucas says the MMI process “gives you hope to meet these outstanding young people who will be providing health care in our area.” Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

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