How to Ace Your Duke Secondaries

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Duke University signage

How to Ace Your Duke Secondaries

Welcome to our exploration of the Duke secondaries. As a coveted destination for aspiring physicians globally, the Duke University School of Medicine’s journey is unique, challenging, yet rewarding in many unprecedented ways. Through this blog, we aim to delve deep into the nuances and intricacies of Duke‘s secondary applications, offering insights and guidance to those who aim to don the prestigious white coat in the future.

Understanding Duke Medical School’s Secondary Application Process

After submitting your primary AMCAS application, Duke Medical School may invite you to complete their secondary application. This application typically consists of several essay prompts, in addition to a fee and other required materials. Once submitted, your secondaries will be reviewed by the admissions committee before a decision is made.

Importance of Secondaries in the Admissions Process

While the primary application provides an overview of your academic and extracurricular experiences, the secondary essays give you the chance to dive deeper into your motivations for pursuing medicine, your unique background, and your fit with Duke Medical School specifically. As a result, the secondaries are highly weighed in the admissions process and can make or break your chances of acceptance.

Writing the secondary essays can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that this is your chance to showcase your personality and stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to be creative and inject some humor into your writing, as long as it’s appropriate and adds value to your application.

medical students studying in the top medical schools in the US

It’s also important to tailor your essays to Duke Medical School specifically. Do your research and show the admissions committee that you’ve taken the time to understand the school’s values, mission, and approach to medicine. This will demonstrate your genuine interest in attending Duke and increase your chances of acceptance.

Timeline for Submitting Secondaries

It’s crucial to submit your secondaries promptly, as delays can hurt your chances of acceptance. The university’s medical school typically provides a deadline for completing your Duke secondaries, which all applicants who receive an invitation to complete the secondary application must adhere to strictly.

However, don’t rush through your essays just to meet the deadline. Take the time to carefully craft your responses and have others review them for clarity and coherence. You want to submit the best possible version of your essays to maximize your chances of acceptance.

Duke Medical School’s Unique Approach to Secondaries

One unique aspect of Duke Medical School’s secondary application is that the prompts are open-ended and provide room for creativity and self-expression. Admissions committee members evaluate secondaries holistically and are looking for applicants to demonstrate a high level of critical thinking, self-awareness, and professionalism.

For example, one of the essay prompts may ask you to describe a challenging situation you’ve faced and how you overcame it. This is an opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills and resilience, as well as demonstrate your ability to reflect on your experiences and learn from them.

Another prompt may ask you to describe a time when you worked collaboratively with a team to achieve a common goal. This is a chance to highlight your teamwork skills and leadership abilities, as well as demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively and work well with others.

Overall, Duke Medical School’s secondary application process is an opportunity for you to showcase your unique qualities and demonstrate your fit with the school. Take the time to craft thoughtful and compelling essays, and you’ll increase your chances of acceptance to this prestigious institution.

Tips for Writing Compelling Secondary Essays

If you’ve received an invitation to complete Duke Medical School’s secondary application, congratulations! This is a significant step towards your goal of becoming a medical student. However, the journey is not over yet. Your secondary essays play a crucial role in the admissions process, and it’s essential to make sure they stand out from the competition. Here are some tips to help you craft compelling secondary essays:

Research Duke Medical School’s Mission and Values

Before you start writing your essays in your Duke secondaries, take some time to research the medical school’s mission and values. Understanding the school’s core beliefs and goals can help you tailor your essays to align with the interests and values of the Duke admissions committee. This research will also help you demonstrate your interest in the school and your commitment to its mission.

a group of medical school students walking through a hallway

For example, Duke Medical School places a strong emphasis on interprofessionalism, diversity, and community service. If these values resonate with you, be sure to highlight how your experiences and goals align with them. You could discuss your involvement in community service organizations or how you have worked in diverse teams to achieve common goals.

Reflect on Your Personal Experiences and Goals

The essay prompts for secondary applications are designed to help the admissions committee get to know you better. To make your essays stand out, try to be authentic and draw from your personal experiences. Think about specific moments in your life that have shaped your interest in medicine and how those experiences have motivated you to pursue a career in this field.

For example, you could discuss a patient encounter that inspired you to become a physician or a research project that sparked your interest in a particular medical specialty. By sharing personal anecdotes, you can show the admissions committee what makes you unique and why you would be an excellent fit for Duke Medical School.

Address Any Red Flags or Gaps in Your Application

If there are any red flags or gaps in your application that require explanation, the secondary essays are an opportunity to address them proactively. For example, if you had a low GPA or MCAT score, you could explain the circumstances that led to those results and how you have worked to improve since then. Providing context and acknowledging weaknesses can actually strengthen your application in the eyes of admissions committee members.

However, be careful not to make excuses or come across as defensive. Instead, focus on what you have learned from those experiences and how they have shaped you as a person and a future physician.

Demonstrate Your Fit with Duke Medical School

Finally, the essays in Duke secondaries provide ample opportunity to demonstrate your fit with Duke Medical School’s unique community. This can range from describing your involvement in community service to discussing your experience working in collaborative environments.

For example, if you have a passion for community service, you could discuss how you have volunteered with local organizations and how that experience has prepared you for a career in medicine. Or, if you have worked in collaborative research projects, you could discuss how those experiences have taught you the importance of teamwork and communication in healthcare.

By demonstrating your fit with Duke Medical School, you can show the admissions committee that you are not only a strong candidate academically but also a good fit for the school’s culture and values.

In conclusion, writing compelling secondary essays requires time, effort, and careful reflection. By researching Duke Medical School’s mission and values, reflecting on your personal experiences and goals, addressing any red flags or gaps in your application, and demonstrating your fit with the school, you can craft essays that stand out from the competition and increase your chances of acceptance.

Tackling Duke Medical School’s Specific Secondary Prompts

Now let’s talk about how you should tackle your Duke secondaries.

The Diversity Essay

The diversity essay prompt is designed to assess your understanding of the importance of diversity in the medical field. To tackle this prompt, brainstorm examples of times you’ve worked with individuals from different cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds and explain how those experiences have informed your understanding of diversity and inclusion.

Three students talking to a teacher.

For instance, you could discuss a time when you volunteered at a community health fair that served a predominantly Hispanic population. You could describe how you worked with translators to communicate with patients and how you gained a deeper appreciation for the importance of cultural sensitivity in healthcare.

Alternatively, you could discuss a time when you worked with patients from a low-income community and how that experience highlighted the disparities in healthcare access and how you plan to address those disparities in your future medical career.

The Research Experience Essay

If you’re applying to Duke Medical School’s research-specific programs, such as the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), you may be required to complete a research-focused essay. To tackle this prompt in your Duke secondaries, describe a project or experience you’ve had in the laboratory and highlight the skills and knowledge you gained from that experience.

For example, you could discuss a research project you conducted on the genetic basis of a rare disease. You could describe the techniques you used, such as PCR and gel electrophoresis, and how you analyzed the data to draw conclusions about the disease. You could also discuss how this experience helped you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will be valuable in your future medical career.

Alternatively, you could discuss a research experience you had outside of the laboratory, such as conducting a literature review on a particular topic. You could describe how you synthesized information from multiple sources and how that experience helped you gain a deeper understanding of the field.

The Healthcare Experience Essay

The healthcare experience essay prompt is an opportunity to reflect on your experiences working with individuals in a clinical setting. Take time to describe your roles and responsibilities in a healthcare environment and highlight the lessons you learned from those experiences.

For instance, you could discuss a time when you volunteered at a hospital and shadowed a physician’s assistant. You could describe how you assisted with patient intake and how you observed the PA’s interactions with patients. You could also discuss how this experience helped you gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of patient-centered care.

Alternatively, you could discuss a healthcare experience you had outside of a hospital setting, such as working as a home health aide. You could describe how you assisted patients with activities of daily living and how you developed a rapport with them. You could also discuss how this experience helped you gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by patients who receive care at home.

The Personal Challenge Essay

This prompt in your Duke secondaries asks you to reflect on a personal challenge you’ve experienced and how you overcame it. This can be a difficult essay to write, but it provides an opportunity to showcase your resilience and problem-solving skills.

For example, you could discuss a time when you struggled with a mental health issue and how you sought treatment and support to overcome it. You could describe the strategies you used to manage your symptoms and how you developed a greater understanding of the importance of mental health care.

Alternatively, you could discuss a time when you faced a significant academic challenge, such as failing a class. You could describe how you identified the root cause of the problem, such as poor study habits, and how you developed a plan to address it. You could also discuss how this experience helped you develop a growth mindset and a greater appreciation for the value of hard work and perseverance.

Strategies for Editing and Polishing Your Secondaries

With all that information in mind, let’s strategize how you should edit and polish your Duke secondaries.

Seek Feedback from Trusted Sources

Before submitting your secondaries, seek feedback from trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues. They can provide valuable insight into the clarity and effectiveness of your writing, and may offer suggestions for improvement.

Young woman standing next to a wall.

Revise for Clarity and Conciseness

As you finalize your essays, be sure to revise for clarity and conciseness. Make sure that your writing is free of grammatical errors and that your sentences are easy to follow. Duke Medical School values clear writing that conveys complex ideas effectively.

Ensure Consistency with Your Primary Application

Finally, double-check that your secondary essays align with the rest of your application materials. Make sure that your essays provide complementary information and that you’re not repeating yourself in different parts of your application.

Proofread for Grammar and Spelling Errors

Before submitting your final application, proofread your essays carefully for grammar and spelling errors. You want to make the best possible impression on the admissions committee, and careless mistakes can detract from the quality of your application.


By following the tips and strategies outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to crafting compelling essays in your Duke secondaries. Remember to be authentic, reflective, and intentional in your writing, highlighting your unique qualifications and fit with Duke Medical School. Good luck, and keep working towards your goal of becoming a physician!

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