Medical School essay

Medical Schools Limited on Use of Race in Admissions Decisions but Still Seek to Promote Diversity

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Education Department is requiring the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center medical school to discontinue its practice of factoring race into its admissions decisions. The medical school agreed to a deal with the Education Department in order to end the long-running federal investigation into its use of affirmative action. In 2003, after the Supreme Court ruled that race was admissible as a factor in admissions decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center resumed use of race as a criteria in admissions decisions. In 2004, the Center for Equal Opportunity filed a complaint against the school, and the next year the Education Department began the investigation, which this agreement concludes.

Texas Tech had previously ceased using its affirmative action policy for admissions in the pharmacy school in 2008 and for undergraduate programs in 2013. However, the medical school contended that, “It must continue weighing race in its admissions process because a cohort of doctors from different backgrounds could best serve Texas’ racially and ethnically diverse communities.” However, the recently signed agreement stipulated that the school was not providing an annual review of the necessity of race-based admissions and therefore could not rule out that other factors may provide similar diversity-levels. The agreement also suggested that the medical school use other “race-neutral factors” to meet diversity aims, “such as recruiting students from low-income areas and favoring bilingual or first-generation college students.”

Earlier this week and just following news of this agreement, Kaplan Test Prep released survey results showing that 80 percent of 245 pre-med students surveyed in January 2019 say that “It’s important for the American medical profession to be more demographically representative of the general patient population.” Among the students who agreed with this statement, one commented, “While it is certainly possible to be empathetic and ‘tuned in’ to your patients despite differences in language, culture, etc., it is important for patients to feel like they can relate to and trust their clinician…If American clinicians were more demographically representative of the population as a whole, patients would likely find it easier to connect with a care provider they are most comfortable with.” Those in the 20 percent who did not agree with the statement were more likely to focus on the importance of drive and technical ability in becoming an effective doctor.

Additionally, an earlier Kaplan study with medical school admissions officers showed that many felt competent with their school’s diversity efforts. When the admissions officers were asked to grade his/her medical school on diversity, the majority gave themselves a B (35 percent) or C (34 percent), while fewer rewarded themselves with an A (18 percent) and even fewer a D or F (5 percent).

While it is clear that prospective medical students and doctors see the value in diversity in medical school admissions, the process by which the schools will implement these diversity goals is changing based on the views of the current administration. And these changes should be noted, especially by prospective medical students.

For future applicants: Overall, it is wise to seek experiences that improve your ability to work with others, particularly those unlike yourself. And throughout your application, you will want to speak to these experiences in a manner that showcases your commitment to serving a diverse population of patients, highlights areas where you will bring diversity into the program, and show how you have thrived and what you have learned in diverse environments in the past.

In Medical School Admissions, Assessing Your Ability To Compete In The Classroom Is Just The Beginning

Since its last major overhaul in 1992, the MCAT has included four sections meant to examine a test taker’s ability in verbal reasoning, biological sciences, physical sciences and writing.  After completing the multiple-choice questions and composing writing samples, medical school applicants hope for the best.  They know that, while this isn’t the only piece of the application puzzle, if they perform well, they are much more likely to be admitted to medical school.  They also assume that a high score means they will do well in the various classroom and clinical challenges awaiting them.  After further examination, however, medical educators and physicians have realized the current MCAT isn’t enough.   They believe that critical evaluative factors, currently left out, will be a much better predictor of a test taker’s effectiveness as a future physician.  As a result, new sections in the 2015 MCAT will stress the psychological and social dimensions of medicine as medical schools want more well-rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds. 

And the MCAT is not all.  In an age when residency programs have been urged to pay closer attention to resident competencies in interpersonal communication and professional behavior, it is no surprise that medical school admissions committees are looking more closely at these qualities as well. “Future professionals need to have clinical skills and they need the science,” said Andy Ellner, co-director of the Harvard Center for Primary Care. “But they also need to understand organizations, how to work in teams, be leaders, manage people. They need to think about complex systems and make them work more effectively.”  

But how do you best express clinical intuition, communication skills and bedside manner in the personal statement, meaningful experiences, supplemental essays and interviews? Crucial to consider, your soft skills and how you present them could mean the difference between an acceptance letter and a denial notice.

Be Specific: Think back to some of those unforgettable moments you had in your undergraduate studies.  Why were they so memorable?  Was there a time you will always remember that put you on the path to pursue medicine?  As long as you are not applying to medical school just to please your parents, you are sure to have a compelling collection of memories you can mold into words.  Brainstorming is the first step and there are not limits at this stage.  Take the time to recall all the details.  You will soon see that the details of a situation and the descriptive insights you developed as a result is what is going to allow the admissions director to get to know the person behind file #38461.  Use colors, emotions, smells and reactions to bring the reader in, right at the moment you learned some of the most important lessons of your life.  

Failures and Weaknesses are OK to discuss: It is in times of failure you learn the most, so don’t be afraid to discuss weaknesses or failures in the application.  Admissions directors really want compelling applicants, rather than perfect ones and, most of all, they want to see that you are human and self-reflective.  The important thing to remember when handling weaknesses or failures is that it is a four-step process.  First, discuss the failure or weakness.  Second, address the result of that failure, ideally a particular scenario in which you can provide specifics.  Third, talk about steps you are taking to improve and finally, talk about the results of your improvement action plan.  What are the positives that have resulted from your ability to recognize a weakness and work towards a better solution? 

Intellectually Curious:  Most likely, at this stage of your medical education, you have not achieved grand things on the research bench or saved many lives in the developing world.  And that’s ok.  What’s important are your insights about what you observe, your intellectual curiosity and your willingness to get involved and learn as much as you possibly can, even if it means unpleasant circumstances or difficult patients. In every research endeavor or clinical experience, take notes.  What questions do you have at this moment?  Why did shadowing that particular physician have an impact on you?  What about this research process leaves you bewildered?  Why?  It will be much easier to compose entries demonstrating intellectual curiosity if you can refer back to the specifics of what you were curious about.

Go Beyond Your Research and Clinical Experiences, But Remember What They’re Looking For:  While clinical and research experiences are certainly important to discuss in your application, don’t limit yourself.  Just remember the qualities admissions directors are looking for, transferrable skill-sets that will be applicable when you are a resident and practicing physician.  For example, there are probably numerous ways to discuss your ability to emotionally connect with and influence others in your various teaching, community service and employment experiences.  Through these kinds of examples, you will also be able to show you are a well-rounded student who has been able to expand her perspective in a variety of areas.    

Social Media: You may assume your first impression to an admissions officer will be contained entirely in the memorable and polished application package you’ve been refining for months.  However, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, this just isn’t the case. Therefore, it is important to be cautious, not only about the material you post online through social networking sites, but also about the information posted about you or others with the same name. A profile that lacks solid judgment may be looked down upon and create a disadvantage for you in the medical school application process. However, a well-written profile highlighting personal and professional achievements could help you stand out from the crowd.

If attending physicians are looking for more from their residents and patients are looking for more from their doctors, experts have decided that one of the first places to go, for a possible solution, is medical school admissions.  Applicants have always been more than test score and a transcript but now, more than ever, an applicant’s interpersonal ability and professionalism are moving closer to center stage.