We launched the (To) app a little over a month ago, and since that time have received a some great feedback and questions from our growing user community. In an effort to address some immediate items while we work to deliver feature improvements guaranteed to make your app experience even better, we're going to start posting about the use and advantages of (To) for each particular phase of the transition process for becoming a physician.
Today, we start with: "How can (To) help me find the best med school, and how are my 'results' affected after answering the on-boarding questions?" This is a great question from a user in Portland, Maine who is trying to discover medical schools that she didn't know existed, while also being sure location is always considered in her search results. We've included a short video that walks through these steps, as well as a series of screen captures to explain how this process currently works in the app.
Step One: On-boarding
The on-boarding questions we ask are a critical component for using (To), because they tell us about your preferences for location as well as about education or career considerations necessary for arriving in your next best location. Ten simple questions will help guide you to where you should be next. In the case of a pre-med student thinking about medical school, place results will be weighted higher for places where there are medical schools and lower for places that do not have medical schools. Why show you great places where you can't pursue the education required to becoming a physician? That said, we don't eliminate places from your results because they have no medical schools, but you will notice those locations return low scores for you (and rightfully so).
Step Two: Reviewing place and medical school results
After completing our on-boarding questions, you'll receive a list of places associated with scores. Scores are used to drive you toward the best locations to pursue your chosen direction. Although they are preliminary, the scores help us verify that we've heard what you said in terms of your location requirements and have returned suitable possible best places.
As you scroll through the list of places, you'll notice that blue medical school "cards" start to appear next to some of them. This is because we're making every effort, whether you prefer a list to a map or vice versa, to orient our user community to geography. In the case of medical schools, cards indicate schools with location in mind. So, you'll see a list of medical schools alongside place results to help you discover both the best places for you and the available medical schools you should consider. We realize there is more to choosing a medical school than just location, which is why we provide additional information as part of medical school details.
Step Three: Viewing only medical schools
We understand that searching and viewing medical schools without place information co-mingled can be a useful feature for a user. This is why we provide a drop-down filter that allows you to view medical schools based only on the map. You might ask how schools are ranked when using the filter. Great question! When a user enables the filter, medical schools are listed in order of your established best place results. In other words, forget ranking schools in alphabetical order or third-party lists—begin your exploration of med school possibilities with location in mind! We'll talk later about how we intend to enhance this functionality and your med school results with features we're working on right now!
Step Four: Searching for medical schools
Using the medical school filter to list results isn't the only way our users can view medical schools. We wouldn't be very good stewards of location if we didn't let users search by place. That's why we've enabled users to search places in four ways: (1) City, State, (2) ZIP code, (3) state name, or (4) medical school name. While we're still enhancing our search capability, users will find that our index of locations makes exploring and searching easier once you begin to type. See some examples below.
Step Five: Searching and exploring a place to find what medical schools are nearby
We put a lot of thought into this feature, because a big part of our mission is to communicate the power of geography for decision making. This is why when you tap into exploring a location you're also shown all the medical schools nearby. We didn't do this based on a maximum radius or distance from a particular place. Instead, we associated all places to standardized metro areas throughout the United States, and set a rule that basically says "show a user all medical schools associated with the metro area of the place they are exploring." This way we account for edge cases.
In the screen shots below, we use Alexandria, Virginia, as an example, because a med student could live in Alexandria but attend school in Washington or even Maryland. It's an example common in dense urban areas where transportation patterns, commuting and the economic footprint can be guided by different geographic boundaries than state or city limits. This is our way of optimizing and maximizing location possibilities for users.
Step Six: Using med school detail information to guide your place search
We think that by helping you explore possibilities through location, we can help you ignite and excite a different kind of search. Whether we help you land in the best location based on your on-boarding questions or if you already have some ideal locations in mind, we want to help you get where is best. This is why when users tap on a medical school card, they are presented not only with detailed information regarding the medical school program, including photos, areas of specialization, dual-degree opportunities and location information based on the school address, but also with information about nearby neighborhoods they should be considering as they explore their potential new/next location.
Now, why did we do it this way you may ask. It's not our intent to have you "get lost" in places, but we do want you to "walk around." There are currently no other tools out there to help people discover what a place, a neighborhood, is going to look and feel like related to their educational or career aspirations. Most school-matching mechanisms focus only on the campus and programs, while place and location information about the community is often overlooked. Travel sites are great resources, but they rarely account for rural locations or provide comprehensive information about medical schools or residency programs. (To) does it all! Through our app, you, your spouse and your parents can begin to feel and touch location in a new way—a convenient, meaningful way that encourages exploration. Imagine how much better you'll feel about school visits and site tours knowing in advance that their locations seem "right" to you!
Something else to consider: Many medical school programs rely on community needs and infrastructure to guide training opportunities. You're not always going to be on campus, and you should have a window to local opportunities for your training and your future. More than ever, medical schools are structuring programs to meet the needs and demands of the communities where they exist. You should understand what this means for where and how you live and fit into that process, because community will have significant impacts on your well-being, future and perspective as a rising physician.
Step Seven: Exploring Loan Forgiveness Options
It may not be apparent at first, but financial information was engineered into our app in an effort to help guide rising physicians toward their best loan forgiveness or scholarship opportunities based on their education and training status. For each school in the app, you will see the words "Loan Repayment Options for [State Name]" and an associated number. (To) delivers strategic information to students that differs from strategic information for medical residents. You'll never see information in (To) that isn't meaningful for your next decision no matter what your medical education or life stage. That said, you might see some repetition in possible debt solutions because factors such as military service membership apply to any geography. We also provide links to source websites that you can access directly through our app to learn more. We included this feature in (To) and plan to build it out in future versions because we've learned that many pre-med students are not aware of all the resources available to them. Taking out loans and taking on debt doesn't have to be the only solution to paying for medical school. There may come a time when it's necessary, but don't overlook or dismiss your chance to find the best options!
Some thoughts on where we're headed next:
We've included a great deal of information related to the medical school search, discover and explore processes, with the intent to create an experience that can't be found in other applications. Your willingness to explore using the powers of location within your mobile device makes our aspirations possible. It's why we continue to develop features that connect your specific areas of interest to specific places. Future development will include more granular and specific place results (beyond the on-boarding questions) with more details of medical school programs, such as which programs offer night classes to help work-life balance, or which programs excel in family medicine or head injuries.
We also will work to deliver more location content in and around all the medical schools that you're exploring. We know it's desirable for a user to see images for neighborhoods around a school, and we're working hard to collect that content. This is very much part of our mission and part of what you're subscribing to our app for!
Finally, our efforts toward increasing content for medical school and place profiles are twofold. First, if you're a user of our application and would like to contribute photos of a school or place, we'd love to hear from you! Second, we are working to distinguish ourselves as providers of highly detailed valuable content, which means wrapping even more place and location information into every card. The amount of possible information is overwhelming, and confusing users is the last thing we want to do. That said, when we feel more information will be useful to make your next best decision, we'll amplify the detail we provide and develop how best to deliver it. If (To) can be the best comparison-and-meaningful-possibility exploration tool for you, so you feel you've approached med school with your best foot forward and considered all angles, then we have met our expectations. I won't offer specifics on how we intend to go further (it might be a bit too detailed for this post), but just know we're working on what's next and prioritizing by the feedback we receive! The more the better—you can't hurt our feelings; you can only make us stronger!
Please send application and post feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org