Applying to medical school is a long and expensive process. It’s common for students to face uphill battles of unequal access to MCAT preparation and application resources. This is where Daniel Pan comes in, a 25 year old from Morgantown, West Virginia, who works to improve equity for hopeful medical students.
In February of 2020, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine student formed Giving a Boost with his peers on campus as a student organization. Its volunteers target underserved applicants, like low-income and first-generation college students, who are at a greater disadvantage entering medical school and offer them free support services. So far, Pan has built partnerships with nine universities and trained 65 medical students to support 97 underserved applicants throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Describe your Giving a Boost organization and how you became interested in helping underrepresented medical school applicants:
I’ve always really enjoyed being a mentor, being a tutor and providing academic advice. In undergrad, I worked with a lot of high school students and pre-medical students. I tutored a lot of students in preparation of the MCAT, and it was just something I always did for fun. It was always a volunteer activity that I really loved.
Basically, when you go through the medical school application process, there’s a lot of difficulties, and you realize that certain groups of people have a very certain advantage over others; they might be able to pay these huge consulting groups thousands of dollars for help. Because of that, other groups are then more disproportionately disadvantaged in that whole process.
When I got to medical school, I loved giving out free application and interviewing advice. I ended up forming Giving a Boost because it was a really great way to give back to the greater Pittsburgh area and to furthermore prioritize helping applicants who are more disadvantaged in the process. This includes students who come from first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority backgrounds.
Can you explain the problem that Giving a Boost is trying to fix?
So this whole process is unfortunately a really big financial burden. When we go to medical school interviews, we would have to travel there on our own. So that’s also already expensive to begin with. Even in the whole process, we also have to study for the MCAT and oftentimes use certain resources that are expensive. After the primary application you also have to pay an additional $50 to $100 for secondary applications for each school you apply to. On top of that, some people can go and get personalized consulting help. A lot of students don’t have connections to begin with or mentors that are physicians who can look over essays, give you feedback and interview tips. If you don’t have those connections or financial resources it kind of puts you at a disadvantage to begin with. So that’s kind of why we try to prioritize people who are more disadvantaged by this whole process.
How has Giving a Boost grown and how have your partnerships developed?
First, we used more local contacts and then reached out to health professions, advising groups, student organizations and school departments. We were able to essentially reach out to these different groups and tell them about our free service. We’ve tried to work with students in the West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware regions. We’ve also had the help of the Pitt Med Student Ambassadors Program. With all the volunteers we had, we haven’t had to turn anyone away, especially if they come from a certain background that we want to prioritize to help. They might even come from the East Coast, West Coast or even Canada.
What services does Giving a Boost provide?
We work on all aspects of the application process. We host workshops, read people’s personal statements and conduct mock interviews. We’ve already scheduled 85 mock interviews during these last few weeks. We advertise them as 30 minute mock interviews with 10 minutes of feedback, but I’ll be honest, I always go over. It’s fun and interesting to talk to the interviewee for like two hours and they get more comfortable.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I think one of the really cool things about volunteering is that it gives you a higher sense of purpose and that you’re able to really make a difference in someone else’s life. It just feels really great that you’re able to do something like that and I feel like that’s not something that you can just get replicated by doing something else. Whenever someone comes up to you and says that you helped them reach a certain goal and that they were able to make it is really, really cool. Honestly, that’s one of the coolest things about medicine as well because you work with a patient and get to provide advice to them and try to help them reach their health-related goals.
What have you learned through your experience as a volunteer?
I’ve learned how amazing the medical school community is. I didn’t know to begin with that I really loved the people here. I’ve been so happy to see so many of my classmates and other students in the years above and below who have heard about the Giving a Boost initiative, and immediately want to sign up to volunteer.
Why is it important for others to give back, especially to future students?
That kind of goes back to the idea of having that purpose in life. “I also realize that not everyone has the capability to volunteer at certain times or in specific ways. But I think volunteering is just really a great purpose to have.” At the same time, a lot of us get to where we are because we had amazing mentors, so I feel it’s great to kind of pass it down to others who are in this position that we were in.
Are there any partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
My favorite thing is the mock interview preparation which is happening right now. I always end up spending more time with them as long as the student, you know, has time, and it’s always just cool to give them authentic practice. It’s fun to also get to tell them more about what medical school is like and answer all of their questions.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Daniel? Find local volunteer opportunities.