The FlexMed program at the Icahn School of Medicine presents aspiring medical students with a unique path to medical school, setting aside the traditional and the in favor of a more flexible and nuanced approach.
For students interested in taking an unconventional approach to their premed education, the FlexMed program could be a great opportunity! In this ultimate guide, we’ll be taking a close look at FlexMed, and what you need to know if you’re considering competing for a spot in this unique program.
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FlexMed is an : you apply in the second year of your Bachelor’s and, if successful, you will enter your third year of study knowing a spot at the Icahn School of Medicine is waiting for you! If you are accepted into the program, you must sign a formal statement confirming your intention of attending the Icahn School of Medicine, but there is no penalty if you eventually decide later on in your undergraduate degree that their medical school is not right for you.
Keep in mind, any student who decides to apply to other medical schools or sit the MCAT forfeits his or her place in FlexMed early assurance program. It is also important to note that FlexMed is not an accelerated program like , for example – you will still have to fulfil all of the requirements of your Bachelor’s program before entering the MD program at the Icahn School of Medicine.
Keep in mind that while the MCAT and traditional science prerequisites are not required to apply to FlexMed, you will need to complete many of the traditional medical prerequisites to keep your place at the Icahn School of Medicine, if accepted.
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The FlexMed program traces its roots back to the late 1980’s, when an innovative program called the Humanities and Medicine Program (HuMed) was launched at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. The purpose of HuMed was to attract high-achieving Humanities majors into the medical program at Icahn by waiving the usual coursework prerequisites and exempting applicants from sitting the MCAT. Any shortfall in essential scientific knowledge was addressed through a mandatory, special summer science program at Mount Sinai that was designed for HuMed students, to ensure that they could still begin their medical studies with a solid foundation in place. The HuMed students then joined their traditional premed peers at the Icahn School of Medicine, and followed the usual medical school program offered by the institution.
Although the untraditional approach of the HuMed program may have seemed risky at the time, the gamble paid off. A study in the journal Academic Medicine claimed that there were no significant statistical differences between the performance outcomes of the HuMed students and those who had chosen the usual MCAT-dominated route to the program at the Icahn School of Medicine. While it was noted that there was a greater tendency amongst HuMed students to choose their residencies in the areas of primary care and psychiatry in comparison to their traditional premed peers, the study did not find any evidence that the HuMed students had experienced any disadvantages while going through the medical program, and were usually just as likely as their traditional premed peers to excel in achieving honors and distinctions.
Encouraged by the success of the HuMed endeavour, Mount Sinai decided to cast an even wider net for potential med students and launched FlexMed. While HuMed was focused on attracting Humanities majors into medicine, the FlexMed program is open to undergraduates from any major. In expanding their reach, the Ichan School of Medicine hopes to attract a greater diversity of medical school applicants in terms of both academic background and socio-economic status, arguing that the traditional premed pathway has often resulted in a pool of applicants that are too academically narrow and economically privileged. In recruiting from a wider variety of backgrounds, the Icahn School of Medicine believes that it can produce more well-rounded and diverse physicians to enter the medical field.
Would you like to learn more about medical school early assurance programs? Check out our video:
The FlexMed program is prestigious and exclusive, which means that any applicant must brace him- or herself for going up against some tough competition. In their very first application cycle, the program received 750 applications for only 35 available spots. In more recent years, the number of available spots has risen to around 50, but the number of applicants also remains higher than ever, usually hovering around 800 submitted applications per year. That’s an acceptance rate of only 6.25%! In the first application cycle alone, the Icahn School of Medicine reported receiving applications from over 180 different postsecondary institutions throughout the United States – clearly good evidence of its wide reach!
FelxMed Overall Acceptance Rate:
Due to the competitive nature of the program, any applicant must be an academic high-achiever and make sure that his or her application stands out. The GPA of successful applicants is around 3.6 or higher in their first year of college, while SAT scores are usually above 1350. If you are accepted into the program, you will need to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher to hold on to your spot at the Icahn School of Medicine.
While the FlexMed program is based on the idea that students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds can thrive as medical students and, eventually, as physicians, that doesn’t mean that the program is easy to get into. The general application requirements are:
The Five Essential Attributes of FlexMed Applicants
Additionally, the FlexMed program lists the following five personal attributes as essential for successful FlexMed applicants:
- Team player
- Life-long learner
- Self-improving and well
- Change Agent/Change Leader• Advocate
In thinking about these attributes and how you might fulfil the criteria, consider the following questions for each attribute:
The Application Process
The FlexMed admissions cycle starts and ends in August. In August of each year, the application process is opened to new applicants, while the due date for all applications is January 15. From January until March the applications are reviewed and assessed by the admissions committee, and in mid-March invitations are sent out to applicants who have been selected for an interview.
Interviews are conducted throughout the month of April. If you are one of the lucky applicants offered a place at the Icahn School of Medicine, you will receive the good news in July (or the bad news, if you didn’t get in). The confirmation of your acceptance of the offer is due in August.
Your application for the FlexMed program will involve the following elements:
- The standard FlexMed application
- Your SAT/ACT examination results
- Your academic transcripts
- Three letters of recommendation
- A personal statement component, consisting of three essays
- An application fee of $110 USD
You’ve done your research and you’ve decided to apply! Now what? Let’s take an in-depth look at the FlexMed application process, with strategies to help you succeed every step of the way.
Aim high on your SAT/ACT. The SAT or ACT is an important indicator of your academic abilities, which is why the FlexMed admissions committee wants to see high scores from applicants. Previous data suggests that successful FlexMed applicants score an average of 1350 or above on the SAT. Taking the extra time to study and prepare yourself will benefit you immensely. Think of it this way: putting a lot of time and effort into preparing for the SAT/ACT now could end up sparing you from the time and effort you’d have to put into sitting the MCAT later!
Complete your degree’s requirements. Make sure that you have completed not only the prerequisites involving the mandatory science course and the SAT/ACT, but also the requirements for your Bachelor’s program. If in any doubt, consult an academic advisor to make sure you are exactly where you should be – and remember, all of the necessary prerequisites required to apply to FlexMed must be completed by the January 15 deadline.
Maintain a high GPA. Don’t slack off in any of your courses, not even the 8 AM elective you’re wishing you hadn’t signed up for! The FlexMed program accepts high-achievers only, regardless of major. The higher your GPA, the better your chances, so make the most of every course you take. You can boost your GPA by taking courses in disciplines you excel in, and by joining study groups to help keep you accountable and motivated. If you find yourself struggling in any course, be sure to seek help from professors and TAs during their office hours. If you find that you still need extra help for a particular subject, consider hiring a tutor.
Choosing Your References
Your references are a crucial component of your FlexMed application. Your FlexMed application requires three references, and they should be from the following:
- One should be from a high school teacher/guidance counselor or college professor/faculty advisor
- One should be from a professor in the sciences
- One should be an academic or professional reference, such as a research mentor or supervisor
In deciding whom to choose as your references, take the following steps:
Consider who knows you and your abilities best. The better someone knows you, the more thoroughly and convincingly they can speak about your abilities and academic performance to date. Draw up a list of potential references for each of the three required categories, and ask yourself questions such as:
- How well does this mentor know me?
- How long has this mentor known me? (The longer someone has known you and the more closely they have worked with you, the more weight their opinion will have)
- What valuable insights can this mentor offer to the admissions committee?
- Does this mentor have the necessary authority/academic standing to serve as a reference?
- Is this mentor a good fit as a reference for the FlexMed program specifically, or is there someone who might be a better fit?
- Will this mentor write me a strong letter of reference?
Be considerate when approaching your mentors. While mentors are usually happy to support former or current students, it is always important to approach a potential referee mindful of the time and effort writing a reference requires. Showing consideration towards referees means always following some basic etiquette. Contact your referee to tell them about your goals and why you would value having them serve as your reference. When you ask them for a reference, be sure to emphasize that you need a strong letter. Considering the competition, you do not want a mediocre or a lukewarm recommendation. If any of your potential writers seem hesitant, you should ask someone else.
Do not make reference requests at the last minute! Instead, approach your referee well ahead of any deadline – you should give them at least a month’s notice. Be clear in explaining the application process to your mentor. Above all else, be polite and gracious: if someone can’t serve as your reference due to time constraints or any other factor, accept their refusal without argument. When someone does agree to serve as a reference, be sure to thank them for their support.
Share the list of the five essential attributes for FlexMed applicants with your writers. Make sure that your writers are aware of the five essential attributes FlexMed seeks in its applicants, so that they can tailor their references to highlight any evidence they have that you possess those attributes. For example, a professor who worked on a research project with you will be able to speak about your strengths as a team player, while a professor who supervised your work as a TA could write about your mentorship abilities and commitment to helping others.
Help your references help you. A strong reference is actually a team effort: the more helpful you are in providing information to your mentor, the easier it will be for them to help you in providing a strong letter. Always be prepared to give your writers whatever they may need, from copies of your academic transcripts to more information about your extracurricular activities. Always be available to answer any questions they may have, and be prompt in providing any necessary materials they request.
Writing Your Personal Statement
Your references can speak about you in a compelling and persuasive way, but only you can speak for yourself. The personal statement component of the FlexMed application consists of three essays, and a strong application requires doing your very best on all three. While the following essay questions were used in the latest FlexMed application cycle, make sure to check the official site for any changes in the prompts:
- Describe something in your life that has given you a sense of personal, professional, or academic accomplishment. (300 words limit)
- Describe something in your life that has given you a sense of personal, professional or academic disappointment. (300 words limit)
- How FlexMed will change your educational plan and enhance your future career in medicine? (300 words limit)
When writing your essays, pay attention to the word limits and always keep in mind the five essential personal attributes of FlexMed applicants mentioned earlier. Use every opportunity you can to prove to the admissions committee that you have those highly desirable attributes: a team player, a life-long learner, someone dedicated to self-improvement and staying well, and someone who is both a change agent and advocate in your community.
You should also keep in mind the following strategies for successful writing:
Have a solid structure. Your personal statement should consist of an introduction, a main section that highlights 2-3 of your most formative experiences or interests, and a memorable conclusion. Be sure to consider the following for each section:
Make it personal and compelling. The admissions committee wants to know who you are, and what makes you a good fit for the FlexMed program both academically and personally. Share your values, interests, and goals, and take every opportunity you can to explicitly link them to the aims of the FlexMed program. For example, you could show the committee that you are a life-long learner while also discussing your personal interest in travelling to other countries:
“Throughout my travels in Egypt and Sudan last summer, I have learned to adapt to the norms of other cultures while also improving my speaking and listening comprehension skills in Arabic.”
You should also consider the personal qualities that make someone a good physician in general: are you empathetic, patient, a good listener? Highlight the qualities you possess that will serve you well in a medical career whenever possible:
“As a volunteer in an afterschool program for at-risk teens, I have developed my empathy and listening skills through learning to communicate with people who sometimes struggle with social skills.”
Share your experiences. The FlexMed program wants well-rounded applicants who thrive both inside and outside of a classroom. Your formative experiences reveal a lot about you as a person, while also showing the committee how you achieve goals and respond to challenges. Be specific in sharing details of which experiences have shaped you the most, and most importantly, what you learned from them. Show the committee you are capable of self-reflection and growth. For example:
“After failing math in Grade 10, I knew that I was jeopardizing my chances of getting into a good postsecondary school. I attended summer school to repeat the class, and spent two hours a week with a tutor to get extra guidance. I also re-evaluated my study habits, and developed better time management to ensure I didn’t neglect my math homework again.”
Reveal your plans. Reveal a bit about both your short- and long-term goals. What does professional success look like to you, and why? What do you believe your professional purpose is? Offer the committee a genuine narrative of what you hope to achieve in your life, not just a list of vague goals. For example:
“Throughout my childhood, watching my aunt struggle with MS alerted me to how devastating autoimmune disorders can be. I am interested in further pursuing my interest in immunology to better understand the triggers for autoimmune disorders, and would one day like to contribute to researching better clinical treatments for disorders like MS.”
Make it clear why getting into FlexMed matters to you. A committed applicant is an attractive applicant, which is why you should be explicit in presenting yourself as an ideal fit for the FlexMed program specifically, and not just medical school in general. The FlexMed program prides itself on its unique philosophy, so making it clear how and why your vision complements theirs will make your statement all the more memorable. For example:
“Just like Anton Chekhov, I combine a vocation for medicine with a deep love of literature. Studying literature has provided me with creative insights into various social issues such as poverty and addiction, and helps me explore issues from various perspectives. I can also apply the language skills I have learned in my English classes to more effectively communicate with the patients I will encounter in my medical practice.”
Leave them wanting more. Your personal statement can reveal a lot about you, but the committee shouldn’t be left feeling that there’s nothing left to learn about you. Instead, a strong personal statement will persuade the committee they should invite you for an interview, so that they can keep the conversation going!
Learn the key to a great personal statement in our video:
The FlexMed program receives an average of 800 applications per year. Out of these initial 800, between 140 to 160 applicants are selected each year for an interview.
Invitations to interviews are sent out on a rolling basis starting in the middle of March and lasting until the end of March. All of the interviews take place during the month of April. The interview stage follows the traditional interview format, consisting of two interviews. Each interview lasts around 30 minutes. Each applicant will meet two interviewers from the Members of the MD Admissions Committee.
The FlexMed program emphasizes that its assessments are holistic in nature, and this means assessing the applicant across several core areas, including personal attributes. The interviewers will evaluate each applicant in terms of academic excellence, commitment to clinical medicine, research experience, service activities (e.g. your ), and more. The applicant’s general suitability is assessed using the Association of American Medical Colleges’ . And of course, the five essential attributes discussed above are absolutely central to their assessment of your suitability for the FlexMed program, so always keep them in mind!
The secret to effective interview preparation is simple but time-consuming: practice, practice, and more practice! The more you familiarize yourself with some of the common , the better you can brainstorm what a strong answer to some of these common questions could be. You should also practice answering questions "" and "", as these are often used in academic and professional interviews. Doing mock interviews is also a crucial part of your preparation, since it allows you to gain familiarity and confidence in dealing with the dynamics of an interview. Seek the help of your mentors and/or professional academic consultants to ensure you are doing your interview preparation effectively. Perfect practice makes perfect!
While the interview process is stressful for everyone, it helps to remember that the members of the admissions committee are genuinely invested in trying to get to know you better. Make a good impression by dressing in a professional manner and arriving on time. Prepare yourself mentally beforehand by reviewing your personal statement and reminding yourself of the various ways in which you demonstrate the five personal attributes they’re looking for.
Applicants selected for an interview will get to spend a day at the Icahn School of Medicine to meet the faculty and current students, which will definitely give you some special insight into what it’s like to study there! Keep in mind that applicants are responsible for covering their own travel costs. If you are unable to attend the interview, you need to notify the Admissions Office.
A quick recap of FlexMed admissions stats, application requirements, and interview format:
If you are selected for the FlexMed program, keep in mind that you still have a lot of work to do to maintain yourself in good standing. The Icahn School of Medicine reminds all successful applicants that they must continue to meet the following requirements:
The FlexMed program also requires that successful applicants complete the following requirements prior to undertaking their medical studies at the Icahn School of Medicine:
- One year of Biology at the postsecondary level
- One year of chemistry at the postsecondary level
- One year of an English course at the postsecondary level, involving writing-intensive coursework
- One year of lab work in biology or chemistry
- One semester of physics (AP or IB high school physics with a score of 5 accepted to meet this requirement)
- One semester of health policy, public health, or global health studies
- One semester of ethics
- One semester of statistics (preferably biostatistics)
- A senior thesis or its equivalent (any academic area)
- An in-depth experience providing exposure to illness and healthcare delivery
Furthermore, every applicant needs to keep the following two items in mind:
- Any student who has not yet taken advanced science courses will be required to participate in the school’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) before attending the Icahn School of Medicine. The SEP features courses in Cell and Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and Organic Chemistry.
- Students are strongly encouraged to develop proficiency in a second language, to better attend the needs of future patients at Mount Sinai
You will also have to address two items of paperwork before entering the Icahn School of Medicine. The school stresses that these steps are simply clerical formalities – it is important to understand that this is not a re-application process, and you will not be assessed again. The two items of paperwork are:
- Filling out the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application the year before your matriculation.
- Completing the Icahn School of Medicine’s supplemental application (with the exception of the essay component). You will not be charged the usual application fee when you do so.
While the FlexMed program’s innovative approach to selecting aspiring med students for the Icahn School of Medicine is certain to attract a wide variety of undergraduate students, it is important to remember that the FlexMed program is not necessarily the right fit for everyone. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons you need to consider before applying to FlexMed, to help you determine whether or not the program is right for you.
Pros of the FlexMed Program:
More intellectual flexibility. If you are the sort of student who enjoys a wide variety of interests apart from medicine, the FlexMed program gives you the freedom to explore your own passions during your undergraduate degree. The lack of typical prerequisites gives you the chance to shape your undergraduate education in a way that reflects your own priorities, and in doing so, you will have a chance at receiving a more well-rounded education than that of a traditional premed student.
The option to change your mind. Maybe you are absolutely sure that you do wish to pursue a career in medicine after you graduate from your Bachelor’s program. But then again, maybe you are not entirely sure, and would prefer to keep your options open. Since there is no penalty for choosing to withdraw from the FlexMed program if you realize you want to pursue a different path in life, FlexMed can give you the best of both worlds: the early assurance of a spot at the Icahn School of Medicine and the freedom to still explore other academic interests, and – if necessary – to choose a different postgraduate career instead.
No MCAT. The FlexMed program spares you the hours of studying, the cost of prep materials, and the significant stress of sitting the MCAT. MCAT prep is a huge, lengthy commitment – the FlexMed program frees you from all of that added time and stress! For any student who finds exams a struggle, the lack of the MCAT is a major advantage.
Save time and money. If you are accepted into FlexMed, you no longer have to worry about applying to multiple medical schools, with all of the stress and expense that involves. A traditional premed student typically applies to 15-20 medical schools, and the cost of applying to so many schools can add up to thousands of dollars. Getting into FlexMed means avoiding the lengthy process involved in application systems such as AMCAS or , which in turn equals having more time and a lot less stress in your life.
A different approach to what makes a good doctor. Both the HuMed and FlexMed programs were built upon the same founding principle: it is not scientific or medical aptitude alone that makes a good doctor. The FlexMed program urges its applicants to consider medicine as a calling that requires many different types of intelligence, and the ability to apply different aptitudes and skills in various contexts. If you’re someone who believes that your passion for studying foreign languages and cultures will help you communicate with patients from many different backgrounds, or that the rigors of logical thinking honed as a philosophy major will serve you well in solving medical conundrums, then it’s highly likely you are the sort of applicant the FlexMed program is hoping to attract.
Cons of the FlexMed Program:
It limits your medical school options. The FlexMed program may give you plenty of academic freedom during your undergrad, but it grants no leeway in terms of your medical school options. As discussed above, acceptance into the FlexMed program means giving up the opportunity to apply to other medical schools, as well as the opportunity to sit the MCAT. If you’re not entirely sure that the Icahn School of Medicine is your school of choice, and you would rather try your luck at several different medical schools, then the FlexMed program is not right for you. You should also keep in mind that many other medical schools will require you to complete medical school prerequisites and submit your MCAT score.
It may make it harder to commit to medicine. On one hand, the freedom of the FlexMed program allows students to pursue other interests and keep their options open, and there is merit in that approach. But on the other hand, it might feel a little too open for some students! If you are the sort of person who struggles to make decisions or commit to things when you don’t have a clear pathway in place, then the FlexMed program might make it difficult for you to choose what to study during your undergrad, or may even make it harder for you to feel certain that medicine is indeed your calling. The traditional premed path may be more intimidating for some students, but for other students, it may be exactly what they need to feel truly confident and motivated in pursuing their medical school goals.
Tips for Potential FlexMed Applicants
If you’re considering submitting an application to the FlexMed program, here are some final tips to help you in weighing your options:
- Speak to your personal and academic mentors. We aren’t always the best judges of our own abilities and potential, especially in an academic environment. If you’re struggling to determine if FlexMed is the right path for you, consider speaking to some of your trusted personal and academic mentors to invite their insights into why the program may (or may not!) be a good fit for your academic and professional goals.
- Do your research. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the traditional premed pathway without first familiarizing yourself with what it is and what it offers to aspiring medical students in terms of training. Studying for the MCAT may sound stressful or tedious, but a bit of research and a review of sample questions may persuade you that this is a process that could benefit you. Of course, your research could also ultimately convince you that FlexMed is the far superior path – and that’s just as valid! The important thing is to make an informed decision about your path to medical school, one that is based on your own unique interests and needs.
- Consider taking some “traditional” prerequisites before you apply to FlexMed. While taking the traditional prerequisites is not mandatory for FlexMed applicants, there is still an advantage to doing so. Taking at least some of the prerequisites allows you to test out your interest in science and to discover where your strengths and weaknesses are. Furthermore, getting a taste of the traditional premed path is one of the surest ways of determining whether or not it would be a better fit for you.
1. What is the FlexMed program?
The FlexMed program is an early assurance program offered by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. It is open to second-year undergraduates studying any major.
2. What is the point of the FlexMed program?
The FlexMed program is based on the idea that the traditional premed pathway often attracts too narrow a range of applicants in terms of both academic specialties and socio-economic status. The FlexMed program is designed to address this imbalance by allowing students from a more diverse range of backgrounds to pursue medical studies at the Icahn School of Medicine.
3. What are the application requirements?
The FlexMed program is designed to give you a lot of academic freedom during your undergrad, but still requires the following key elements in your application: high academic standing in your chosen major, SAT/ACT examination results, one mandatory science course taken at the postsecondary level (Biology, Chemistry, or Physics), three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement component.
4. How do I apply to FlexMed?
The application process opens in August of every year, and the due date for applications is January 15. Interviews are held in April, and acceptances/rejections are sent out to applicants in July.
5. How do I know if FlexMed right for me?
FlexMed is not the right fit for everyone, and you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons I outline in this blog before pursuing the program. Be sure to assess your own personal interests and academic goals before moving forward with the application.
6. What are the pros of FlexMed?
The pros of FlexMed include having more intellectual freedom during your Bachelor’s, the ability to keep your options open, a holistic approach to what makes a good doctor, and last but certainly not least – no MCAT!
7. What are the cons of FlexMed?
The cons of FlexMed include placing a limit on your medical school options, and potential difficulty in reinforcing a commitment to medicine in some applicants.
8. What is FelxMed's acceptance rate?
In recent years the average number of spots available in the FlexMed program is around 50, while on average 800 applications are received. That’s an acceptance rate of about 6.25%!
9. Can I still pursue other medical schools if I am accepted to FlexMed?
No. Acceptance into the FlexMed program means forfeiting the chance to apply to other medical schools. If you wish to apply to multiple schools, you must give up your spot in the program.
10. What are the conditions of a FlexMed offer?
You must not apply to other medical schools, or sit the MCAT. You must complete all the requirements of your Bachelor’s program, maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or above. After accepting your offer from FlexMed, you must also complete some mandatory requirements in the final two years of your Bachelor’s involving some science classes and other requirements. You may also be required to attend the Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) before beginning your medical studies if you lack some advanced science courses.
11. What is the GPA expectation?
You must maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above, although the GPA of successful applicants is often above 3.6.
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