Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GUEST POST: Medical School Not Exclusive to Students from Affluent Backgrounds

By Brian Ulrich, MA

With all of the ways that physicians are portrayed on television and movies these days, it can be easy to form a certain perception of what it means to be a doctor. Often, these portrayals have less to do with healthcare and more to do with an actor’s physical appearance, status, power, or on-screen charisma.

This image, however, is a mirage.

The point here is that it can be easy to mentally put ourselves in certain boxes based on messages that we receive or perceive from the world around us. While these boxes can be empowering for some, they are often very limiting for others. Literature within the field of student affairs calls this “meaning making”, or, put another way, the way we make sense of our individual identities based on the messages we receive from the world around us.

So, as a prospective student to medical school, what types of messages are you receiving from the world around you about pursuing medicine as a career? What kinds of inferences are you making from these messages? How might the decisions you make based on these messages be impacting the field of medicine?

Data over the last decade had suggested that students matriculating into medical school have increasingly come from families with higher socioeconomic backgrounds. As Figure 2 (also pictured below) shows in this AAMC brief from 2008, there is a concerning trend of a greater number of matriculating medical school students coming from the highest national parental income bracket.

To that point, one physician named Eric Lee recently wrote a solid piece on the recent lack of socioeconomic diversity for, citing that "In the U.S., 60% of medical students come from families with incomes in the top 20% of the nation."

Additionally, the increase of medical students from families with higher socioeconomic backgrounds between 1992 and 2008 is most noticeable among Caucasian students. In the last ten years, the numbers of applicants from many underrepresented minority backgrounds has either not changed or decreased.

So, what this data might be insinuating is that the predominant view within the pre-medical student population is that the field of medicine is only for a certain kind of student; a self-categorized student who looks or acts a certain way, or fits into a certain box. This is a concerning trend given the increasingly diverse patient population that today’s physicians will be serving.  This data also may suggest that the messages students receive about becoming a doctor are creating a dichotomy of thinking where medicine is for “them” rather than for “me”.

So what are we to do?

The MSU College of Human Medicine is among many medical schools working hard to counter this trend through a more holistic admissions process. This essentially means that we are tying admissions decisions back to our institutional mission, rather than making decisions simply based on academics or some other rather arbitrary measure.

When admissions decisions are tied back to institutional missions, we are able to ground our selections in a set of criteria that is fixed, and has a greater significance to both the medical school and health care community at large. In this way, the admissions decision is a part of a much larger picture, rather than an end goal in itself.

Even aiming earlier, we are also reaching out to students prior to the admissions process with our Health Careers Pipeline Program. The primary focus of this program, where both high school and undergraduate students receive exposure to an array of health tracks, are people with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Still, more needs to be done. We, as medical schools, need to get the message out prior to the application process that becoming a doctor is not just for those from certain types of backgrounds. This paradigm does a disservice to prospective students, current students, and most importantly patients.

A diverse student body is important to CHM
So our message is simple:  

Don’t get trapped into thinking medical school is only for those who can afford to take summers off to tour the world, have access to shadowing doctors, or the means to dedicate all of their non-academic time to extracurricular involvements.

What we are looking for is a sincere and genuine commitment to service, an understanding of the clinical environment, and experiences that have allowed you to grow and develop personal competencies that will help to make you a strong physician. Being a doctor is not only for those from affluent backgrounds. It is about being a competent, compassionate professional who is capable of providing quality care to an increasingly diverse patient population.

We are looking for a diverse applicant pool that fits our mission and has the ability to provide patient-centered care to all whom they serve. This message is crucial to our nation’s goal of diversifying the medical profession and creating a workforce that will be representative of the patient populations we serve.

Brian has been an admissions counselor at the MSU College of Human Medicine for four years. He has a Master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration from Michigan State University and a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Central Michigan University. He is currently a doctoral student in the Higher Adult Lifelong Learning program at Michigan State University.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Early Decision Program Applications Due August 1st: Is EDP Right For You?

The MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) is one of the many medical schools that prospective students can apply to via the Early Decision Program (EDP). Those looking to participate in EDP must submit their AMCAS application by Friday, August 1st.

Before applying through EDP, however, applicants need to decide whether this route to medical school is right for you. It's extremely important you fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of applying as an EDP candidate.

What is the Early Decision Program and how does it work?

Simply put, the Early Decision Program allows prospective medical students to apply early and be assured of a prompt response.

EDP applicants apply to one U.S. medical school with the full intention of attending if accepted. The school, in turn, agrees to notify an applicant of a decision by October 1st—much earlier than a regular admissions process, which can extend into the following spring.

People go the EDP route when they have a clear first-choice in mind.

"[Applicants] need to be sure they've researched what the school is looking for. Is it a good fit? Additionally, they need to be sure this is a school they genuinely want to attend," said Jay Bryde, CHM admissions officer.

Still, the medical school you wish to attend is just one thing to consider before applying. Take the time to judge how competitive your application is. This shouldn't be taken lightly as EDP is particularly useful for exceptionally strong candidates.

Applicants to CHM who are accepted through EDP typically have favorable trends and parameters on the higher end of national averages. A proven track record of curricular, non-curricular, and community activities that reflect our mission also go a long way while strong letters of evaluation from people who know you well are important too.

CHM encourages students to apply as an EDP applicant only if they see themselves as an excellent fit in all of these areas.

Most schools only admit a small percentage of EDP candidates into their incoming classes, so it is cautioned that only highly qualified applicants consider EDP. 

Rejected EDP applicants may apply to other schools but only after being notified of the decision and subsequently released of their EDP commitment. You can even still apply to the same medical school through their regular admissions process to be reviewed independently from EDP. At CHM, we may choose to automatically place you in the regular applicant pool.

Here's the catch:

As mentioned, rejected EDP applicants will not be allowed to apply to any other schools until notified of their rejection, which can be in October—pretty late in the cycle.

Additionally, applying through EDP may mean giving up the potential for better funding opportunities elsewhere. But if gaining admission into your dream school outweighs your concerns in regards to funding, EDP may be worth it.

The Early Decision Program isn't for everyone but can be advantageous for the right candidates, depending on the situation. Your situation should be analyzed at great length before applying.

If you have your dream school decided, know you're a great fit and believe your profile is strong enough to be competitive at the highest level of potential applicants, EDP may be a very tempting track to take.

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