A front page article in the New York Times describes the recent efforts to increase the numbers in medical school, by opening new schools and expanding those that exist. As baby boomers age and doctors retire, there is a projected need for more physicians, particularly those in primary care specialties. Often, these new medical schools are located in areas not already teaming with medical schools and physicians,like Scranton, in the hopes that these newly-minted doctors will ultimately settle there.
Much of the article focuses on the qualified applicants who will benefit from the additional available seats, without which they may have had to attend off-shore schools in the Caribbean, or never become doctors at all. As someone who has had a front row seat on med school admissions for 14 years, I can say that the medical schools do a reasonably good job of it, taking students who are not just smart, but also have shown evidence of interpersonal skill and concern for others. But here are my nominations to fill those newly available seats:
1. Strong students with slightly low MCATs. C’mon! If a student is able to do well at a challenging institution, surely they can get through medical school, even if their score on a one-time standardized test is 2 points lower than average. Thirty out of 45 seems to be the magic number – I’ve seen wonderful students with 28’s and 29’s not even get any interview offers.
2. Students with a C in organic chemistry. Students often struggle a bit at first in college. If they go on to do well their last two years, and have decent MCATs, a C or two shouldn’t be the kiss of death. But it often is.
3. Students from minority groups perceived to be “over-represented” in medicine, relative to their representation in the general population.
4. Students whose academic records are blemished because they’ve faced some sort of adversity, including their own immaturity and bad behavior. Students can and often do grow up, and perhaps facing their own struggles will help them become more empathic physicians later on.
5. Students whose non-academic accomplishments are off-the-charts. Okay, maybe their grades are a little low, but they’ve volunteered 30 hours a week on the ambulance corps, or started a program in China to help AIDS orphans.
In my experience, when students from these five groups manage to get accepted, they do fine. Even great. So here’s hoping that these few additional med school seats will allow them to get a break.