OMD and Networking

Hey Dave,
At last year's convention you talked about the importance of networking before applying to school. Unfortunately I don't remember how. Could you give some suggestions? I've thought about calling admissions offices to ask about the weather and their local sports teams but that just doesn't seem to be appropriate.
Best wishes in the Nude Year,

I am glad that you asked! Actually, I should write a book on this stuff…
You want to go into this as though you were trying to forge a business relationship, since in truth, that is what it is. The most fundamental credo of a business relationship is to position yourself where you maximize your potential for return on your investment while simultaneously minimizing your exposure to risk. Also know that the med schools themselves position themselves, by whom they choose to interview & admit, by this principle. Now you ask, what in the hell does that have to do with your question? EVERYTHING.
Your attitude as an applicant needs to be, “I am a high quality applicant who would be an asset to any program.” Networking is now seen as an element of ‘shopping’ for a program. The most common fatal mistake of nontraditional applicants is to portay themselves as being apologetic for their mistakes of the past or that they are pursuing med school via the scenic route – these are not deficits, they are assets.
Which programs? Since most of us exist on a pretty tight budget, select a couple of schools nearby. If you can afford to mix in a bit of travel, then select additional programs that entice you. I would put some time into researching these programs to make certain they are worth the expenditure of your own precious resources. You will need to begin this process before you become an active applicant - meaning you have not submitted your AMCAS or AACOMAS applications for this cycle yet. If you are an active applicant, the schools are constrained from assisting you too much because it may be perceived as giving you an unfair advantage. I would suggest beginning your networking in the year prior to the cycle in which you intend to apply – you may adjust your timetable as you feel necessary.
Goal of networking? By accepting you, or any other candidate, the program is exposing itself to a certain level of risk. What is their risk? That you will fail or somehow poorly represent them once you graduate. Remember the fundamental business principle above --> maximize return for a minimized exposure to risk. A programs graduates are the greatest recruitment tool and the primary source of their reputation in the medical community – both extremely precious commodities to them. So, by networking prior to being a candidate for admission, your goals are to:
1 - Demonstrate that not only will you succeed as a medical student; but that you will also be an excellent envoy for their program as a graduate because you are a mature professional
2 - Demonstrate that you are a low-risk individual in which they can invest their educational resources without fear
3 - You are capable of fitting in, on a personal level, with the elements of their program
4 - You are a confident & mature professional who is seeking a program that fits your needs & not merely desparately seeking a berth, any berth
How to arrange a networking appointment? Easier than you think. Call the Office of Admissions and ask them for an appointment to tour the facilities and to meet with the Dean or Dir of Admissions. The tour will show you their facilities - if you do not feel comfortable or that the place is such a dump that you could never work there for 4 years…then you have some valuable forknowledge. You should ask that, if possible, your tour be conducted by a medical student or students…they will be the best barometer of whether folks are truly happy there. Ask them the questions you’d hesitate to ask an official. But do not be crass or critical, as the tour guides will likely be asked to evaluate you & your conduct.
For the Dean/Dir of Admission, have questions prepared. I would suggest a professional appearing folio with your questions written down inside, with enough space for you to jot down the answers provided…take notes. Besides, you will be nervous & likely to forget some of them if you don’t have them written down. Be consident and ask about strengths & weaknesses, but avoid appearing arrogant.
In addition, have 2 or 3 copies of your CV/resume (they need to be printed on nice paper and looking razor sharp). If you have concerns over your history or elements of your CV/resume, this is the time to ask about it. Offer him/her a copy of your CV/resume and ask if they have time to briefly critique it and make suggestions so that you can be a competitive applicant to their program.
Prompt them to be be constructively critical of you & your application. Do this at a couple of programs. By doing this, you are learning exactly what they are seeking in an applicant and can use this to hone your app to a razors edge. On the other hand, the programs you visit are able to see you as a person and as a profession who is sufficiently mature as to be actively seeking the correct program for them. This demonstrates that you could be an asset to their program and makes you a known, and hopefully acceptable level of risk.
Treat this visitation as though it were a formal interview. Not only can you shine and attract their attention in a positive manner; but you can also show your ass and shut down any potential for ever coming there if you misbehave. The most cardinal no-no —> being rude to anyone, including secretaries, janitors or anyone else.
Once you have established this relationship through your initial program visit, you must maintain it. Occasionally e-mail, write or call the people you established contact with to update them on your progress or ask their advice on certain issues. You’ve made yourself ‘known’ – keep yourself that way. But, do not make a pest of yourself either. If you feel that you have a sufficiently personal relationship, you can ask them about sports & such…but that would be a rare one.
I hope this helps. Feel free to follow this with loads of questions…I would enjoy entertaining them.

Thanks Dave! I've quit my job to attend classes full time for the next two quarters…on the suggestion of multiple admissions folks…and will be reapplying next June. Unfortunately living in Seattle allows me only access to two medical schools nearby so how do I network long distance?

As with any business interaction, face to face is best…but that is just my opinion & that of leagues of business folks. There is so much of the intricacies of communication that are lost or misrepresented by electronic discussions or telephone conversations. In your case, I would save my nickels & take advantage of some of the big airfare sales ongoing and fly to as many top choices you feel that you can afford. If you cannot, then focus on the two at your disposal.