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Holistic Review, An Exciting Trend in Medical School Admissions

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Doctor Who, Medical School Admissions, Holistic Review

Over the past few months I've come to realize that there are quite a number of schools that employ holistic review as a part of their admissions process. While this is a huge step in the right direction (in my opinion!) the problem is that it's difficult to find a lot of information on exactly which schools participate. To remedy this, I did some research on my own and came up with a pretty impressive list.

First though, a bit about what holistic review is. This NEJM article which I posted previously states that the process "emphasizes attributes, including learning ability, that are associated with excellence in physicians. Applicants are evaluated according to criteria that are institution-specific, mission-driven, broad-based, and applied consistently across the entire applicant pool at a given school." That's kind of a mouthful!

Basically, holistic review considers the achievements of each applicant in context of their life experiences. It's a way of looking at an applicant as an individual and giving equal consideration to the many qualities that may contribute to their success in the medical field rather than just their MCAT scores and GPA. In particular, "adversities overcome, challenges faced, advantages and opportunities encountered, and the applicant's demonstrated resilience in the face of difficult circumstances" are all considered impactful and are assessed in this comprehensive approach.

I think the fact that this trend is gaining momentum is fantastic for several reasons. One is that we belong to an incredibly diverse society. America is a "melting pot," to borrow from popular vernacular, and our society consists of people from countless walks of life. Our physician population needs to reflect this diversity in order to deliver a higher standard of patient care. I feel particularly strongly about this as the daughter of an immigrant parent from Portugal who has only ever met one Portuguese, female doctor in her entire life.

Secondly, holistic review allows for greater consideration of nontraditional applicants. A student involved with exciting and challenging work or research but with minimal clinical experience may have cultivated vital qualities that will make them an amazing doctor. When you take the time to evaluate this student on the basis of all his experiences, you may see something in him that you might not see in a student who has a lot of volunteer experience but has never had to handle the responsibilities of being in the workforce.

Finally, there seems to be a dearth of physicians nowadays practicing medicine who are not very good doctors. I mean that in the sense that they can't connect, they aren't warm or caring, and they're ultimately unable to deliver proper care to their patients. I can think of over a dozen times I've talked with family members or friends who had a horrible experience at a hospital or with their primary care physician because their doctor simply didn't listen, didn't want to help or was just plain rude. I think that when looking for someone who will make a good future doctor, attributes like their ability to interact with their peers, cultivation of leadership skills, and demonstrated care for others are just as important as a good academic record.

Boston University, mentioned in the NEJM article as a pioneer school to transition from a more traditional admissions model to a holistic approach, is just one of the many schools I found that either explicitly state or otherwise imply that they are utilizing holistic review. In 2010 the AAMC launched a project on "Integrating Holistic Review Practices into Medical School Admission Processes." I came across this report that they published as a result and was impressed by the amount of information and the schools that participated. I won't go into the details because I think it's an important read but I will say that it's refreshing to see the amount of work that's being put into changing the way medical school admissions work (for the better!).

To make my list, I included all of the schools that were a part of the AAMC advisory committee and working group as well as all the schools that I've come across on my own that mention they employ holistic review. While it is by no means complete (I didn't look at every single school in the US), it is fairly large and I hope will be helpful. If you know of any others, please feel free to comment and I will add them! I update this list every application cycle so feedback is greatly appreciated.

Non-official list of medical schools using holistic review (31 total):

AAMC Advisory Committee on Holistic Review (12 schools)
1. University of Washington School of Medicine
2. Rush University Medical Center 
3. Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
4. University of Arizona College of Medicine
5. University of Miami
6. Duke University School of Medicine
7. Oregon Health & Science University
8. George Washington University School 
of Medicine & Health Sciences
9. Johns Hopkins University
10. Boston University School of Medicine (three cheers for my alma mater!) 
11. Medical College of Georgia
12. University of Colorado at Denver and 
Health Sciences Center

AAMC Medical School Admissions Workshop Working Group (9 schools not on above list)
1. University of Texas Medical School
2. Tulane University School of Medicine
3. Creighton University School of 
4. Mayo Medical School
5. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
6. Wayne State University School of Medicine
7. Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth 
8. University of Wisconsin Medical School
9. University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

Additional Schools (10 schools)
1. New York Medical College
2. Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
3. UC Davis School of Medicine
4. Drexel University College of Medicine
5. Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine
6. Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science
7. Stony Brook University Medical School
8. University of Vermont College of Medicine
9. East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine
10. Temple University


Unknown said...

Are Cornell and Dartmouth the only ivy league schools you researched? I have read mixed reviews in how each of the ivies handle "nontraditional" students and I was curious if this was also your findings. I'm specifically interested in Harvard (because of the 5th year elected dissertation for MD) and Yale (because of the integrative medicine elective developed by herbalist/midwife/OBGYN Aviva Romm). I'm also interested in MD/PhD programs, so the admission dynamic might be different. I'm really enjoying reading your blog!

Unknown said...

Thanks Cassandra!

Cornell and Dartmouth were the only Ivies I came across that participate in holistic review but my list is by no means comprehensive (I did not do a systematic review of all schools) so I can't comment on Harvard or Yale (although I would suggest looking at their admissions pages - you can usually get a good idea of their admissions philosophy there or sometimes through their Twitter or Facebook accounts). I do know that admissions will differ depending on what program you apply to so admissions for MD/PhD programs typically evaluate candidates differently than regular MD program admissions committee would. Hope that's helpful!

Unknown said...

Hello Frndz...
Great Information! Nice post,it is really very helpful for me.One of the few articles I’ve read today.I’m saying thanks

Holistic medicine

arh said...

Temple University

Unknown said...

Wow,great post.

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