Should Admissions Committees Be Changing How They Look At Medical School Applicants?

Medical School Admissions Considerations

When analyzing the ability of applicants, medical school admissions committees look first at academic factors such as MCAT scores and GPA, which are easily measurable and give a good indication of the students’ scholastic capabilities. But in the case of medical students, research supports the conclusion that excelling in the theoretical arena does not necessarily translate into the most desirable doctor.

For decades, medical professionals and organizations have debated the issue of medical school admissions, and whether or not the medical student selection process has been falling short. Many people believe that a greater assessment of personal qualities of individual applicants is needed to improve the admissions process and the quality of students accepted to medical school, as the AAMC suggested in an article from 2003.

The methodology of medical school interviews is one of the biggest areas for improvement when analyzing gaps in the selection process. Researchers have found that a disproportionate amount of time is spent focusing on written materials during in-person interviews, rather than the intended purpose of using the face-to-face meeting to learn more about the candidate on a deeper, more personal level. Admissions officers should use these interviews as an opportunity to observe through conversation the personal characteristics that make a successful doctor. Being able to identify these abilities during the selection process allows medical schools to weed out applicants who could create friction once in a professional environment, because a doctor must have these skills to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues, peers, and patients.

In his studies Stanford professor Donald Barr, M.D., Ph. D found, “consistent evidence that performance in the premedical sciences is inversely associated with many of the personal, non-cognitive qualities so central to the art of medicine’’. In other words, there is evidence to show that individuals who perform well in academic spheres often lack the personal characteristics needed for them to successfully apply their knowledge to the art of medicine – for example, communication skills. 

The solution is not to lower the standards of medical school admission, but to place a greater focus on other traits once the academic qualifications have been met. Professor David Powis of the University of New Castle believes that a new approach to medical school applications would open doors to applicants of various socioeconomic backgrounds. He suggests that programs should have an academic “threshold” in place to set the standard to determine which candidates are likely to succeed in a highly demanding educational environment, but academics should not play a huge role in the selection process after the candidate has met that threshold. 

Though the medical student selection process is not absolutely failing, there is certainly room for improvement. Small changes such as thoroughly assessing interpersonal skills are ways to improve the process of choosing medical students and in turn, the future quality of care for patients.

Ariel Jacoby
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