The AAMC Core Competencies are one of the unspoken tools that medical schools will use to evaluate your candidacy for med school. Learning about the AAMC Core Competencies and how you can use them to advantage can help you prepare for med school applications. Mastering these core competencies can even give you a boost in beating the competitive medical school acceptance rates in the US. In this blog, we’ll explore all 15 of the AAMC competencies in-depth, how they are used in medical school admissions and how you can demonstrate them in your med school applications.

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What are the AAMC Core Competencies? Summary of the AAMC Core Competencies How are the AAMC Core Competencies Relevant to Your Application? FAQs

What are the AAMC Core Competencies?

The AAMC Core Competencies were developed by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) in collaboration with several other authorities of the medical profession in North America. The core competencies outline specific skills, knowledge and abilities that are demonstrated by the ideal medical school applicant.

Medical schools in the US use a holistic review when evaluating applicants and deciding who to admit to their programs. To help medical schools better evaluate applicants and contribute further to the holistic review, the AAMC identified 17 core competencies to measure the performance and skills of med school applicants.

In this way, medical school admissions committee can examine your skills, abilities and experiences even if they are not directly related to the field of medicine and determine whether you possess the right aptitudes to make a good future doctor.

Every medical school will use its own admissions process, but learning what the AAMC Core Competencies are and how to utilize them can help your medical school application stand out and improve your med school chances.

The 17 AAMC Core Competencies

Why Develop the AAMC Core Competencies?

Why should premeds learn the AAMC core competencies and work towards developing these skills and attributes in themselves? For one, the core competencies are used as an evaluation tool by most schools, from the hardest medical schools to get into to the easiest medical schools to get into. Demonstrating these core competencies can boost your chances of getting accepted by creating a better, more complete medical school application.

Furthermore, demonstrating the core competencies is an easy way for non-traditional and mature candidates to improve their medical school applications, by showing that they have experience and valuable skills. Or, if you’re applying to medical school without a science background, you can use the core competencies as a guide on how to demonstrate that you nonetheless are developing the skills of an ideal physician.

Finally, working to adopt these core competencies will be hugely beneficial once you are accepted to medical school. The AAMC core competencies are specifically designed for entering medical students, not graduates, residents or practicing physicians, so these 17 skills are the beginning of your medical school journey and journey towards becoming a doctor.

Summary of the AAMC Core Competencies

Next, we’ll go over the 17 AAMC Core Competencies in more detail.

Professional Competencies

1. Commitment to Learning and Growth                                                                   

This is a competency that can be often shared in your medical school personal statement, extracurriculars for medical school and medical school recommendation letters. There are three dimensions to the capacity for improvement: setting goals for improvement, self-reflection and responding to feedback.

It’s important to understand that the capacity for improvement is about more than “practice makes perfect”. It’s about being open to receiving feedback on your skills and behavior, and taking feedback as an opportunity to self-reflect and analyze yourself. From there, it’s about creating a plan to implement feedback and realizing that self-improvement and growth is a lifelong journey.

2. Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness refers to an understanding of sociocultural influences on interpersonal interactions and awareness of diversity. As a physician, you’ll work with and treat patients of diverse backgrounds and cultures. You’ll need to know how to navigate interactions with them with sensitivity, compassion and understanding.

3. Cultural Humility

This competency is a step beyond cultural awareness, it is about actively encouraging inclusivity, celebrating diversity and making efforts to look at situations from alternate points of view.

Another part of this cultural competence is being able to identify and address bias in yourself or others, as well as being open to seeing situations from another’s perspective. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning and an openness of mind.

The easiest way to demonstrate strong cultural competency is to share your own unique perspective in your diversity secondary essay, or write about how interacting with others changed your perspective.

4. Empathy and Compassion

Showing that you have traits and abilities such as empathy, compassion, communication, problem-solving, arbitration or conflict management are all good skills for a physician to have!

The AAMC defines this competence as an “awareness of others needs, goals and feelings” and “respect for others”. This competency is most often demonstrated through your extracurriculars, hobbies and personal experiences.

In other words, you’ll likely be exhibiting this one in your AMCAS work and activities. Or your AACOMAS activities section and TMDSAS activities section, if you’re applying to DO schools or medical schools in Texas.

5. Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others

This may be one of the trickiest competencies to develop, but it will come up very often during your CASPer questions and in ethical questions in a medical school interview. Being able to understand ethics in medicine, and ethical reasoning in general, is critical for physicians.

Here’s the full definition of ethical responsibility from the AAMC: “Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.”

Note the key words used here. It’s important to demonstrate honest, ethical behavior in your personal, professional and academic lives and to demonstrate personal integrity. You should behave ethically within yourself, but towards others as well, treating them with honesty, respect and fairness.

When answering CASPer questions or interview questions, you will not necessarily be asked to explain your own personal code of ethics, but you may need to explain how you personally would respond to a hypothetical situation. Focus on acting in a way that does the least harm, protects all the parties involved and is fair and honest.

Here's a quick guide to answering ethical questions!

6. Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills refer to your ability to communicate with and work well with others. Strong interpersonal skills are essential for good patient interaction, and they can help you to effectively answer CASPer questions, too.

Strengthen your interpersonal abilities through your clinical experiences, your extracurriculars, your volunteerism and work experience. This skill is closely associated with other competencies such as empathy and compassion, teamwork, oral communication and the cultural competencies.

7. Oral Communication

Oral communication is about more than being able to speak eloquently. It’s also about listening and communicating effectively. It includes being able to surmount communication barriers, such as language or cultural barriers.

Strong oral communication can help you stand out in a medical school interview, but you can exhibit this skill in other ways, too. For instance, maybe you have experience giving research presentations or you won an award for public speaking. Your reference letter writers may be able to speak on your oral communication skills, too!

Here's how to answer the "tell me about yourself" med school interview question and demonstrate strong oral communication skills!

8. Reliability and Dependability

This competency is about “taking responsibility for personal actions and performance” as well as fulfilling your obligations and tasks in a “timely and satisfactory manner”.

This extends beyond your med school CV experiences or volunteerism, but into every area of your life. While it’s great if your supervisors from any shadowing programs or clinical experience you participate in can give you a glowing recommendation, think deeper.

As an example, if you want to get into med school with a low GPA and are worried how it will reflect on you, one of the best things you can do is demonstrate this competency by taking responsibility for your academic performance and acknowledging your mistakes.

9. Resilience and Adaptability

You may have plenty of examples of how you are resilient and adaptable. These make for fantastic narratives in your personal statement or TMDSAS personal characteristics essay. You can even use medical school rejection and reapplication as inspiration in a medical school reapplicant personal statement.

If you’re worried that your personal experiences don’t show a great enough level of resilience and adaptability, don’t worry. Even if your personal journey doesn’t include overcoming impossible odds or slaying metaphorical dragons, you can still show that you have a resilience of spirit, perseverance and the ability to handle stress and changing situations. Everyone has experienced and overcome some hardships in their lives. Think about your most difficult challenges and how you deal with them.

10. Service Orientation

This competency is the desire to be of service and help others. This is a much broader category than it seems, since this competency does not explicitly relate to the healthcare profession, although it has obvious ties.

Many premeds exhibit this competency through premed jobs, but if you don’t have healthcare or clinical experience, you can still demonstrate it. Non-healthcare volunteer work is an excellent way to be of service to others, for instance.

Being of service to others can also be on many different scales, from the local to the national to the global. For example, you might have worked for a local food bank, won a national service award, or participated in a mission trip to another country. The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider this competency is really about “being of service” and “helping others”, on any scale.

11. Teamwork and Collaboration

This competency is quite self-explanatory, but it is another broad category. It focuses on collaboration with others, the ability to give and receive constructive feedback, and share information with teammates. Your extracurriculars or research experience are a great place to demonstrate this competency, as well as your secondary essays.

For this particular competency, focus on more than just how you’re a good teammate or how you are a team player. Think of specific examples of when you worked as a team or a team leader. What challenges did you face? Did you ever have to give anyone feedback or a performance review? What do you think makes a good team?

Thinking and Reasoning Competencies

12. Critical Thinking

The critical thinking competency boils down to problem-solving and the ability to analyze a situation. This is most likely already a prevalent skill you’ve been developing for years. But it’s always possible to develop this skill through personal and professional experiences.

If you choose to take a gap year before medical school, for instance, you can take your critical thinking and problem-solving to the next level with premed gap year jobs. Then, in your medical school application gap year essay, you can share specific examples of how you demonstrated critical thinking and problem-solving in your job.

13. Quantitative Reasoning

This competency covers your mathematical ability and skill for quantitative reasoning. Most likely, these skills will be reflected in your GPA, medical school prerequisites and MCAT score.

14. Scientific Inquiry

Research experience is important for medical school, and not only because it demonstrates the scientific inquiry competency. Finding premed research opportunities is the most obvious way to gain this competency. However, you can show that you have scientific curiosity and a scientific method of thinking in other ways, too. In your personal statement, for example, you might share how a scientific question or interest in a particular area of science sparked your desire to become a doctor.

15. Written Communication

Your written communication will be on display when you submit your AMCAS personal statement, TMDSAS personal statement or AACOMAS personal statement, depending on which medical schools you apply to.

This particular competency isn’t so much about the content of your personal statement or medical school essays. It’s more about your skill and technique in using the written word. You want to be able to convey your ideas with clarity and thoroughness, using appropriate language and tone.

Here are more tips for standing out in your med school applications!

Science Competencies

16. Living Systems

Living systems refers to knowledge of medicine and the natural sciences. Most likely, you’ve gained some familiarity with this competency through your high school and undergraduate science coursework, healthcare or clinical experience or a premed job. Many of the common premed jobs or premed clinical experiences foster this particular competency.

If you don’t have a strong science background or are missing some medical school prerequisites, you can enroll in a postbacc premedical program or a special master’s program with linkage to a medical school to fill these knowledge gaps.

17. Human Behavior

The AAMC defines this competency as being able to apply “knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve problems related to the psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being.”

To cultivate this competency, start by fostering a sense of curiosity. Research the recent news, trends and hot topics in medicine and adjacent fields. Get to know and understand the myriad different perspectives and issues in the medical community. Ask questions. Talk to people about their experiences. Get to know your future profession.

Working on this competency is helpful when answering policy type questions in a medical school interview or on the CASPer test, too!

Levels of Core Competency

It’s important to remember that there are different “levels” of competency you can develop. The AAMC identifies three different levels:

  1. Planning – You’re at the stage of exploring how to gain a competency or preparing for an experience to gain greater competency
  2. Progressing – You’re gaining experience in a core competency and have started to gain familiarity and proficiency
  3. Demonstrating – You are experienced and proficient with a core competency

The AAMC has a premed student self-assessment worksheet you can use to evaluate what level you’re at with each core competency. This exercise can also help you brainstorm how to demonstrate your core competencies in your med school application.

  • You can start by asking yourself some key questions:
  • How do I plan to develop X core competency?
  • What core competency did I gain from X experience? How did I demonstrate this competency during X experience?
  • What did I learn from X experience?
  • What does this core competency say about me? Why does this make me a good med school applicant?
  • How did X experience prepare me for medical school or influence my decision to go to medical school?

You can also talk with your medical school advisor or a medical school admissions consultant about how to develop the 17 core competencies and how to express them in your application.

How are the AAMC Core Competencies Relevant to Your Application?

The AAMC Core Competencies are applicable to all the different parts of your med school application, and can be used throughout the common medical school requirements, from your GPA and MCAT score to your essays and interview.

Primary Medical School Applications

As we’ve seen, it’s easiest and most obvious to demonstrate the core competencies in your primary application materials, such as your medical school personal statement and extracurriculars for medical school.

However, there are other more subtle ways to include the core competencies in your application, too. For instance, achieving a high GPA, particularly in science coursework, or achieving a high MCAT score can demonstrate the critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, scientific inquiry and living systems competencies.

Your premed work experience, shadowing or clinical experience and even your hobbies and side interests can be a goldmine for the preprofessional and reasoning competencies.

Remember to use all your application materials to the fullest. They are all opportunities to demonstrate your skills, abilities and knowledge!

Secondary Medical School Applications

Medical school secondary essays are the key part of secondary applications, and this is another great opportunity to demonstrate the core competencies. Secondary essay prompts often ask you to elaborate on certain aspects of your education, your personal experiences and reasons for applying to medical school.

While you shouldn’t repeat any information from your primary application, this is a chance to further emphasize how you demonstrate the core competencies and have the skills necessary to succeed in medical school. Depending on where you apply, read the secondary essay prompts carefully and reflect on whether you are missing any core competencies or if there is one you can discuss further. If you can choose from multiple prompts, pick the ones that spark an idea or particular experience that you can talk about in detail.

Medical School Interviews

The final way you can demonstrate the 17 core competencies is in your medical school interview responses. Not only this, but you can demonstrate oral competency in your delivery of your answers and professionalism in your interview comportment.

Making a strong impression in the interview room is essential, and is the final “test” of your suitability for medical school. Medical school interview preparation can help get you polished and ready for this test. You need to be ready for everything from the most common med school interview questions to the hardest medical school interview questions you’ll be asked.

If you want expert help preparing for your interview, there are resources such as a medical school interview prep course or a medical school interview tutor to help you.


1. What are the AAMC Core Competencies?

The AAMC Core Competencies are a set of 15 skills and attributes developed by the American Association of Medical Colleges, used as a guide for entering medical school students and admissions officers.

2. Do I need to memorize the AAMC Core Competencies?

While you don’t need to memorize the core competencies and their definitions, it helps to have a thorough understanding of what they are and why they are valued by the medical profession. These skills and attributes will be useful to you and evolve throughout your medical school journey, from application to practicing physician.

3. How do I apply the AAMC Core Competencies to my med school application?

The 15 core competencies can be applied to every part of your med school application, from your primary application to your medical school interviews and secondary essays. Brainstorm which experiences, knowledge and skills you have that demonstrate the competencies and where in your application you can apply them.

4. Do medical schools care about the AAMC Core Competencies?

Yes. Medical schools each have their own admissions criteria and evaluation process, but the core competencies are used as part of a holistic admissions process by a majority of medical schools in the US. 

5. Do I need to include all the AAMC Core Competencies in my med school application?

The more competencies you can demonstrate in your med school application, the better. However, if you can’t include them all this doesn’t mean you won’t be admitted. There are different levels of proficiency in the core competencies, so you can work on developing any “missing” ones or improving your skills before you apply to medical school.

6. What is the AAMC ethical responsibility?

The AAMC ethical responsibility core competency refers to your skill or ability in behaving with ethics and integrity, both towards yourself and others. It also covers how you respond to others behaving unethically or encouraging others to behave with integrity.

7. What is competency-based medical education?

The competency-based medical education (CBME), as developed by the AAMC, is an approach to medical education that focuses on learners’ observable abilities and display of the core competencies.

8. How do I know if I exhibit the core competencies?

First, get to know the definitions of the core competencies and ask yourself which experiences you have that demonstrate these competencies or how you can gain the skills you need. The AAMC also has a premed student self-assessment brainstorming exercise for the core competencies.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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