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Sunday, July 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Guest opinion: WSU College of Medicine admissions puts people, not numbers, first

By Radha Nandagopal, M.D., Leila Harrison, Ph.D., and John Tomkowiak, M.D. Washington State University

Our community waited a long time for a medical school with a new mission: serving the needs of the entire state of Washington. However, serving the state means admitting and training the right doctors who align with that mission. From the beginning, the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Admissions Committee has led with this question: Who do we want the future doctors of Washington to be?

We know we value things like ethical decision-making, teamwork and leadership, resilience and adaptability, and strong communication in our doctors. But identifying individuals who embody these traits and will use them in medical practice is not as easy as it sounds. Medical school admissions committees routinely discuss these attributes, but often end up choosing applicants based on traditional metrics such as grade point averages and Medical College Applicant Test (MCAT) scores. Despite their proliferation in medical school admissions, these are poor predictors of overall success as a physician.

The Association of American Medical Colleges pioneered the holistic review approach to medical school applications 10 years ago, seeking to balance academic accomplishments like grades and test scores with other important aspects like life experiences and character traits. Many medical schools adopted this approach, but the WSU College of Medicine took it a step further. Once candidates meet a certain threshold of grades and test scores, our Admissions Committee blinds its application reviewers to these metrics. All a reviewer sees at any point in the process is the full application without academic metrics. This blinding has the effect of forcing reviewers to distinguish applicants not on a 3.9 versus a 3.85 grade point average, but on their life experiences, involvement with rural and underserved communities, and personal qualities.

We know that diverse physician workforces are more effective at serving increasingly diverse patient populations. We also know that veterans, first-generation college students (those whose parents did not graduate with a four-year degree), and applicants from rural and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds can better identify with and instill trust in patients from similar backgrounds, resulting in better care for all our communities. This focus is what sets medical students at the WSU College of Medicine apart. They are individuals selected not for the numbers they earned, but for who they are, for their potential to serve all Washingtonians, and for their dedication to the health of our communities.

And, early results suggest that our process is working. One in 4 of our incoming class is from a rural location. More than half are women. More than 10% are underrepresented minorities in medicine. More than five percent are veterans. One in 3 are the first in their families to complete a college degree. And more than half are from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. These are the numbers we should be proud of when we think of our medical students.

In a recent essay, one of our medical students wrote, “The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine gave me the space to tell my story when I thought no one would want to hear it.” It is these very stories, these unique backgrounds and personal experiences, that are critical to address the physician workforce needs for our state. We are proud to be training the future generation of doctors, and even prouder to know that their stories, not their numbers, are what count.

Radha Nandagopal, M.D., Chair, Admissions Committee

Leila Harrison, Ph.D., M.A., M.Ed., Associate Dean for Admissions, Recruitment, and Inclusion

John Tomkowiak, M.D., M.O.L., Founding Dean

Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine

Washington State University

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