Among first-year medical students, wide variety of experiences

Stanford's Office of MD Admissions looks for applicants with the potential to shine in the classroom and the clinic, as well as with the qualities of a future leader in health care.

Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine, at this year's stethoscope ceremony with new medical student Harriet Kiwanuka. 
Steve Fisch

When the staff at the School of Medicine’s Office of MD Admissions began to review the thousands of applications they received last fall, they were not only looking for applicants who excelled academically, but also for those who best reflected the school’s mission of promoting leadership, innovation, discovery and diversity.

This is according to Iris Gibbs, MD, associate dean for MD admissions, pointed to Bongeka Zuma as an example of one such person. Now among the 100 new students who began classes on Aug. 28, Zuma was the valedictorian of the inaugural class of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. She was raised in poverty in the province of Kwa Zulu-Natal, where she said every Saturday there was a funeral, and family and friends routinely died of preventable diseases.

“I was really attracted to Stanford because I wanted a school that stressed that I could be a doctor and also have the opportunities to be something else,” said Zuma, who never saw a physician as a child. “I hope to make changes in health care by getting involved in policy in government back home.”

Gibbs said Zuma is the type of student Stanford seeks: One with the potential to shine in the classroom and the clinic, as well as with the qualities of a future leader in health care.

Multifaceted backgrounds

“Everyone is struck by Bongeka’s story,” said Gibbs, who is also a professor of radiation oncology. “And when you meet her she has this wonderful confidence and sense of giving back.

Iris Gibbs says the new class of medical students reflect the school's mission of promoting leadership, innovation, discovery and diversity.
Paul Sakuma

“All of our students exhibit a similar multifaceted background,” Gibbs added.

The first-year medical students bring with them a wide variety of life experiences. There’s an Olympic gold medalist, the founder of a green technology company, a former DREAMer who came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant, and an accomplished classical pianist. Sixteen were varsity athletes, including Owen Marecic, a retired NFL player and former Stanford football player who currently works in a research lab on campus. Five of the students were Fulbright fellows, two were Rhodes scholars and 18 hold advanced degrees. Twenty-six are racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented in medicine, including 11 African-Americans and 12 Latinos.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, noted this as he welcomed the new medical students on Aug. 25 during a ceremony at which they were given stethoscopes and white coats. The stethoscopes, symbolizing the close relationship between physician and patient, were provided by Stanford Medicine Alumni Association

“You come from all around the globe with various perspectives and experiences,” Minor said. “You’ve played the bagpipes, run companies, tap danced, written poems, published groundbreaking scholarship, competed in the NFL and the Olympics, and made a lasting impact on underserved communities and our natural environment. I’m honored that you’re bringing your intellectual rigor, generosity and unbridled creativity to this campus and to our community, and that you chose Stanford as the place to begin your journey in medicine and in life.”

Furthering the school’s goals

It was Minor who helped to articulate the school’s mission to embrace inclusivity and diversity when he first arrived at Stanford as dean in 2012, said Gibbs, who was a member of the admissions committee at the time. Three years ago, she stepped into the position of associate dean of admissions.

“Since then, we have really been working toward furthering these goals,” Gibbs said. “That includes creating pipelines and pathways to attract the types of students who best reflect our vision, our goals.

“With the dean’s leadership and approval, we’ve been able to bring in an assistant dean, Judith Ned, to help with this building of a pipeline. We’ve increased our efforts to reach out to a broader range of individuals.”

Ned, EdD, was appointed assistant dean and director of MD admissions in March to supervise operational aspects of medical student admissions and to support and develop new programs to expand outreach and recruitment efforts.

Each year, the MD admissions office receives 7,000 to 8,000 applications. It sends out supplemental questions to each of those and receives back about 6,000 fully completed applications. From that number, 450 to 500 applicants are selected for interviews based on their academic accomplishments, relevant life experiences and personal qualities detailed in their applications.

In 2011, the medical school switched from holding hourlong interviews with faculty members to an interview process known as the multi-mini interview, which involves a series of short interviews over a two-hour period designed to measure character and critical-thinking skills. Since Gibbs took office, an additional, more in-depth interview with a faculty member has been added to this process.

“We think it’s really important for students to get a chance to talk to faculty while they are here during the interview process,” Gibbs said.

As a final step in the process of choosing applicants to whom admission will be offered, Gibbs said, the reviewers pause to ask themselves the question, “How will this particular student contribute to the learning of others?”

“It is my hope that every single medical student will feel that not only are they learning from those individuals who are teaching up in front of the classroom, but that they are learning from each other,” Gibbs said. “And that they bring something unique that enhances the learning environment themselves.”

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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