If Regis Philbin needs a million-dollar question for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Ive got one: Which of the following medical school admissions is the most competitive? (a) Tulane (b) George Washington (c) University of Utah (d) Dartmouth. If you chose the University of Utah as your final answer, youre a millionaire.
A little-understood fact is that admission to the University of Utah School of Medicine is competitiveextremely competitive. It is as difficult to gain admittance to Utahs medical school as it is to many top private medical schools in the country. The reason is simplethe caliber of our applicants. Each year approximately 1,200 people apply for 102 slots. Of the 1,200 applicants, 500-600 are qualified. However, due to the medical schools space constraints, only 17-20 percent of those qualified can be admitted; the rest are nearly always accepted at other good medical schools in the country.
Because the School of Medicine is so competitive, serious misconceptions have developed regarding the admissions process. These misunderstandings were at the heart of a recent legislative audit of the process. From the outset, the School of Medicine welcomed the audit, hoping it could educate legislators and Utah citizens about the complexities of the process and clear up false impressions. While the audit does dispel many misconceptions, these have been overshadowed by other erroneous claims and implications that have fueled unfounded suspicions that white male applicants experience reverse discrimination, despite the fact that the medical school is 87 percent white and 65 percent male.
Before addressing the audits inaccuratebut widely reportedassertions, I would like to emphasize the findings that are less well known. Ironically, they challenge the audits ultimate conclusions. The audit found:
It is unfortunate that the auditors set aside those findings and instead drew three incorrect conclusions. Contrary to these conclusions, the School of Medicine admissions process does not have a two-tiered system based on race; academic standards have not been lowered to achieve greater diversity; and it does not have diversity-related selection criteria. To be admitted to the medical school, all applicants must meet a threshold grade-point average (GPA) and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score. Applicants who have a 3.5 GPA and an MCAT score of 30 are interviewed. Applicants whose scores are below the benchmark are reviewed. In this process, disadvantaged and advantaged status indicators (measures of extenuating circumstances such as working full time as an undergraduate, supporting a family, being ill for a year, etc.) are used as a way of evaluating the raw GPA score. However, the auditors incorrectly limited the definition of disadvantaged to include only minority applicants. The data shows that the definition has nothing to do with race. A white male can be considered disadvantaged as easily as a Hispanic woman. Further, the auditors state that there is a lower academic standard for disadvantaged (meaning minority) applicants. Again, this is incorrect. All applicants must meet the same minimum standard. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2001, nine students had a GPA below a 3.24. Of the nine, five were white males.
The average GPA of applicants who have been offered a position in the medical school is between 3.75 and 3.78. Clearly, academic standards have not been lowered to gain greater diversity. Furthermore, our medical students continue to be accepted to top residency programs throughout the country.
Finally, the School of Medicine does not have diversity-related selection criteria. Like all other medical schools, the School of Medicine uses seven criteria to evaluate applicants: GPA, MCAT score, leadership skills, physician shadowing experience, exposure to patient care, community service, and research experience. GPA and MCAT scores are used as a measure of the applicants ability to manage the course work in the first two years of medical school. Substantial research shows that the other criteria are better predictors of an applicants ultimate success as a student and a physician.
Despite evidence that challenges the incorrect assertions made by the audit, the School of Medicine has had difficulty refuting its claims publicly. The heft of the audit is great; it carries with it an official status and seals in peoples minds misconceptions that are long held. Unfortunately, those who are most affected are our female and minority medical students. While they earned their acceptance, they are now put in the unfair position of defending it. In this way, the audit does real harm.
Admission to the Us School of Medicine is as competitive as anywhere in the country. And this puts us in the enviable but difficult position of selecting from among the besta position of which the state can be proud.
A. Lorris Betz is dean of the Universitys School of Medicine and senior vice president for the health sciences.