The world is changing due to COVID-19, and medical school admissions should do the same.
By: Savvy Pre-med Staff
It is amazing that medical school applications are slated to open – still – on May 28, 2020. Our society has delayed or canceled pretty much everything else: schools and colleges, religious services, the Olympics, wearing pants.
And somehow – despite everything – we’re going to act like the admissions process should just go on as normal?
This doesn’t just affect applicants, who are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress. It also affects admissions officers, pre-health advisors, professors, and even doctors who often work on admissions committees.
We have come up with 13 proposed changes for Medical School Admissions Offices and the AAMC to make the 2020-2021 application cycle better.
Of course, not all of these will come to pass. But working together, let’s make this cycle easier for applicants, admissions committees, and all of us who have to take care of ourselves and our families during this difficult time.
The proposed changes and their rationale are detailed below, but here’s an infographic that sums them up.
Doctors do admissions committee work, and this will be a low priority this year, so give admissions committees more time before releasing decisions to adjust to their reduced staffing.
This also eliminates applicants’ pressure to submit so early in the summer to get an edge in rolling admissions. It prevents people from holding seats for months waiting for the few elite schools to issue their non-rolling decisions in Spring. It allows for better, more orderly decision-making throughout the cycle and diminishes the time-consuming activity of processing applicant updates.
All medical schools should accept pass/fail coursework for winter and spring courses, even if those courses are used to satisfy a prerequisite for admission.
Students are experiencing varying social conditions in terms of their access to medical care, housing, food, social support, and familial challenges. These may impact their ability to fully engage in their studies. For students who already were living in precarious conditions, it is expected that the COVID-19 crisis will only exacerbate this situation.
The AAMC should not require that transcripts are verified until WHEN or AFTER a student is admitted to medical school.
This saves overburdened college registrar staff and spreads out verification by AAMC temporary staff who will not be needed in May and June to work onsite. This critical work can be metered out or postponed until after our society has had a chance to cope with coronavirus.
This would also ease the need to submit applications so early, as students would no longer face a delay between submitting their primary and verification/processing to be sent to medical schools.
Later testing due to canceled administrations should not put applicants at a disadvantage, which is also another reason to suspend rolling admissions.
Medical schools seem to think that anything given online allows students to cheat. Psychometricians have successfully dealt with this issue for other major standardized tests, like the GRE and AP exams. Test administrators such as CASPer eliminate cheating by requiring that students turn on their webcam for the duration of the exam. ProctorU provides this exact service for proctoring tests at home.
Online administration gives thousands of students access to timely MCAT testing.
The AAMC should disseminate CASPer requirements widely. Enough said.
While letters of recommendation are important parts of the vetting process, they will not be the priority for a.) doctors and other healthcare professionals during the coronavirus pandemic, b.) faculty members who are switching to online teaching and reorganizing their research labs, and c.) overworked advisors who are adjusting to working from home and whose applicants need them to advise more than they need them to write letters.
Advisors are inundated with questions from pre-meds in this uncertain time. They should not be burdened with writing committee letters while they have a more important job to do: guiding their students and taking care of their families.
If letters are screened later in the cycle, and complete applications are not conditioned on letters of recommendation, admissions offices can focus on holistic screening based on the primary application.
How do you show that you know what it takes to be a doctor? Follow one around for several days. The rationale for why students should shadow is one of the most iron-clad of all the admissions requirements.
But this cycle, shadowing is impossible for many pre-meds. Premeds are non-essential personnel and are not allowed or needed in clinical environments. Shadowing as a de facto requirement means that students put themselves and their families at risk just to watch doctors in action.
Many students have seen their extracurricular activities vanish. Gone are the meetings and the ready opportunities to volunteer in person.
However, they have many opportunities to provide assistance and care virtually. We should reward those who are actively putting themselves on the line to volunteer at testing centers, blood donation banks, helping neighbors.
Many students have had to abandon their research posts due to dislocation or have seen their summer research internships canceled.
When people cannot convene physically, it becomes harder to evaluate leadership. Medical schools should consider non-traditional examples of leadership, especially for students stepping up to make an impact in their community at a time of need.
Admissions offices will be running on skeleton staffing this cycle. Already understaffed admissions offices will lose staff members to illness or family leave needs.
Medical students and doctors, who have COVID-19 triggered priorities and responsibilities, will not be available for reviewing secondary essays.
Ease the process for admissions offices and applicants. Use the time you save to process applicants faster. Pass those savings along to applicants who may be financially compromised by reducing the fees of the secondary.
Interviews can take place later in the cycle if rolling admissions is suspended. In addition to being a financial burden on students, interviewing in person violates physical distancing protocols.
Many medical schools have already stepped up. McMaster University moved to an online MMI in Spring 2020, where a student sees the prompt, video records an answer in a prescribed timeframe, then sees a standardized follow-up question several minutes into their interview. This format allows the student to interview from home, but it also lets the admissions office run interview day with substantially fewer staff members.
The Fee Assistance Program should increase its staffing, streamline its application process, change the income requirement to account for the sudden loss of income faced by families, and allow for more special cases in the wake of the economic disruption.
Many applicants are economically compromised at this time and may need to drop out of the cycle due to family financial limitations.
Do you agree or disagree with our proposed changes? Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
We’re regularly updating our Coronavirus and Medical School Admissions: Q&A, so bookmark that as a reference to stay updated on new developments!