School Profile: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Happy Tuesday! Today, we are ecstatic to interview a recent UMD alum and former student ambassador: David Rekhtman. David graduated in Spring of 2021 with a dual degree in Biochemistry and Physiology/Neurobiology. He is currently in his first year of his MD at the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania. As of right now, David is interested in surgery as a specialty with a particular interest in global health and advocacy as it relates to medicine. David loves that an MD encompasses both an appreciation for the sciences as well as teamwork and leadership skills. As a student interviewer at his school, David is here to share his insight along with some tips and unique trademarks of the program! 


The Perelman School of Medicine utilizes the accelerated model which means students complete their pre-clinical studies in 1.5 years rather than in 2 years. The benefit to this is that students get their basic sciences done in 1.5 years; following this, they have 1 year of clerkships with rotations and another 1.5 years where they can partake in electives, sub-internships, research, and/or other opportunities to further explore their interests. This accelerated program gives students more time after clerkships, before they have to apply to residency, in order to truly explore their academic and professional passions.

David mentions that even though the program is accelerated, he thinks it’s manageable. He says that “classes at Maryland really prepared [him] for the academic rigor of medical school.” In particular, he is learning the same things in medical school as he learned in classes like Mammalian Physiology (BSCI440), Advanced Cell Biology (BSCI420), and his Biochemistry classes. Readers, if you are taking/have taken these classes, make sure to save your notes! One other thing to mention is the fast pace of medical school! David explains that in class you can be given the entire Citric Acid Cycle in just one slide and will be expected to have a general understanding of the process. 

Penn Med, like many programs, values team-based/problem-based learning. Students are put in groups of 6-7 people who they learn from during their first 1.5 years of preclinical studies. What makes David’s program stand out from other programs is that students work in these Learning Teams for at least 2 hours each day-- something that David is grateful for, as it helps him process the lecture material. Another special aspect of David’s program is that anatomy labs are in-person and use a 3D simulator as a supplementary resource. Some schools are transitioning to fully technology-based anatomy labs using photos and videos, but David believes that working with cadavers is essential for medical education as well as emotional growth. 

“Faculty really want you to pass and for you to enjoy the material and learn from it...unlike some undergrad classes that may try to weed out students.” 

Another facet of the curriculum that David appreciates is the fact that it is true Pass/Fail for the first 1.5 years, and that it isn’t internally ranked. He believes this is one of the main contributors to the collaborative culture among students and promotes work-life balance at his school. The program also has a Pass now/Pass later system: so if a student fails a class, it won’t automatically show-up on their transcript because they have two chances to retake the final. In third and fourth years, Penn Med operates on the Honors/High Pass/Pass/Fail system. He suggests that the grading system significantly impacts the student culture at the school.

Lastly, the Penn Med curriculum requires a research component with a minimum four-month research project revolving around a central question. The definition of research in this capacity is pretty broad because the project doesn’t just have to be basic sciences or clinical research. Given this, David recommends not starting research your first year because med school is a lot to adjust to and you won’t be behind, as most people start research the summer after their first year anyway. 


Penn Med offers early clinical experiences to their students, and most first-year students have the opportunity to shadow. David says that a lot of professors at his school are clinicians, and they will send out emails to students saying things like “if you are interested in shadowing an autopsy, email this person.” During his first two weeks of medical school, David was already seeing Standardized Patients and just recently was able to perform an ultrasound during an operation! In addition to short-term experiences, there are also longitudinal programs at the school where students get matched with patients suffering from complex medical histories, and they have the opportunity to follow them for all four years of medical school. 

“We are literally in the middle of patients and research at the hospital.”

What is unique about Penn Med is that the medical school is not located in its own building but rather on the 5th and 6th floors of the hospital. So, on the lower floors there are patients and on the higher floors of the building there is the research department. David says he sees patients everyday just walking to school which is pretty cool-- talk about really living and breathing medicine!

In terms of other hospitals, medical students also have access to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and other nearby affiliated hospitals such as the VA which are all just across the street from the medical school. One program that is especially unique to Penn Med is Center of Surgical Health (CSH). CSH was started about 10 years ago by a surgical resident there and matches patients from marginalized communities to a medical student who aids them in their journey to getting surgery. As part of CSH, David helps patients get emergency Medicaid access, applies for their insurance on behalf of them, and takes notes for them during their pre-op appointments. 

“If a patient forgets if they were allowed to eat before their surgery, they don’t have to call a nurse but can just text me and I’ll check my notes for them.”

Because David is part of the hospital system as a medical student, he is able to get an answer to a medical question faster to his CSH patients rather than have those patients ask the receptionist and wait for a call-back. From a learning perspective, David says he gets to witness how the healthcare pipeline works and how insurance plays a major part; this is important to know as an aspiring physician because you should be aware of the barriers your patients go through before they even step foot in your office! On top of that, David has the opportunity to scrub-in and see surgeries as part of CSH. This entire journey can be very gratifying because students can observe a patient’s surgery after weeks of going to pre-op appointments with them. In a few weeks, David will get to see a cholecystectomy for one of his CSH patients! 

David also explains other clinical opportunities in the area that he is not part of but could be interesting for those who want to get involved in clinics serving the local population. There are a lot of clinics in the surrounding area that target working with the LatinX and refugee communities within Philly. The time commitment for these clinics are very flexible, averaging 4-10 hours a month for medical students to pick up shifts based on their schedule. A benefit to working in these clinics is that medical students get a lot of hands-on experience, but it could be harder for students who don’t speak the language. Readers, I think this demonstrates the importance of getting clinical experience ahead of time (before medical school), so you know what you want in terms of clinical settings and so you know some skills you may need to work on! 

Life in Philly: 

The Perelman School of Medicine program is located in the city of Philadelphia and has the pros/cons of city life. David says that most people live in townhouses or row homes their first year; which are in either the Graduate Hospital or Fitler Square areas. Most townhouses are 4 bed/2 bath, and should not cost over $1,000 a month in rent. That being said, if you want to live in an apartment, it would be more expensive, costing about $1,100-1,200 a month.  

Tips for Applicants: 

“Stay true to what you are interested in...Yes, you should tailor yourself to the school mission when applying but if you don’t vibe with the school, it’s not worth going there.”

David mentions that although Penn is known for being a research-heavy school, they also have medical students who aren’t interested in research, but are interested in other things like the finance/business of medicine and community engagement. So, don’t discount the program just because you aren’t keen on pursuing research as a focus! As a student interviewer, David also suggests students come prepared with both general and detailed questions about the program. There are 10-15 minutes dedicated for applicants to ask questions, and that time can be spent in painfully awkward silence if applicants don’t have anything to ask. 

“There’s a funny post I saw when I was applying that said: someone who is applying to med school can explain how the type of cereal they eat in the morning relates to why they want to be a doctor.” 

David emphasizes that applicants should be prepared to talk about non-medical hobbies and activities. Interviewers want to see who you are beyond an aspiring physician, so make sure to share things that humanize you and don’t relate to your professional life. Lastly, David mentions that Penn offers a lot of financial resources that are both merit and need-based, so no one should discount a school from their list until they have talked with the program’s financial office

That’s a wrap folks! I hope readers were able to gain insight on some of the amazing things the Perelman School of Medicine has to offer its students. Use the comments section below to tell us your thoughts on the piece. See you next Tuesday! 

With care,

Gus  🐾

Editor: Grace Suh