For most of my professional life, I have viewed the Medical College Admission Test -- the MCAT-- as a tool used to sculpt the US medical school student population, unfortunately with the effect of limiting diversity of many types: geographic distribution, socioeconomic (and here I mean a student’s access to expensive MCAT prep courses), and even racial/ethnic. I am not alone in this view, and not alone in finding this use of MCAT harmful to the overarching goal to educate physicians to meet society’s needs.
But now, I am reframing my position. The MCAT as a tool to evaluate aspiring medical students is not and has never been the problem. Certainly medical school applicants are made up of more than just their MCAT score, but that score is important. Why? Because although there is no correlation to the type of physician that you will be based on your MCAT, there is real correlation to whether or not you will meet the requirements to be licensed as a physician (mainly, passing the licensing examinations) based on your MCAT.
However, in my opinion, the way US medical school admissions committees have used the MCAT has resulted in student bodies that lack diversity, and stifled opportunities for aspiring medical students who may lack the higher test scores, but possess other attributes needed by successful students. Fortunately, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has led a push for holistic admission processes that value qualities other than performance on the MCAT. American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) has long valued other attributes, such as social maturity, prior life experience, and experience in another healthcare field.
I think these qualities are critically important, and I still hold the view that considering an MCAT score of 32 superior to a score of 28, for example, is a harmful practice. A more helpful practice is determining the MCAT level at which students will be successful in your specific medical education program and using that information to guide admissions practices.
Each student admitted to medical school carries a certain amount of risk, with their past academic achievement, MCAT performance, and other intangibles all factoring in. Individual medical schools will find they are more comfortable with different levels of risk based on their missions. When they consider an applicant’s MCAT performance, I believe they have to ask themselves two questions: (1) What is the MCAT threshold of success at our institution? and (2) How many students whose MCAT score falls below that threshold are we willing to give a chance?
At AUC, the average MCAT score of incoming students over the last three entering cohorts is 25. But in my view, the students whose scores were close to that average are no less likely to succeed in medical school than a student admitted to a US medical school with a 30 MCAT. Success is not just determined by the student, but also by the learning environment their medical school creates for them. This includes the curriculum and how it is taught, as well as the culture, faculty, student support services, and everything else that makes up their medical school experience. I believe that at AUC we not only have the right pieces in place to help students with a 25 MCAT succeed, but we are uniquely qualified to help those students succeed precisely because we understand who they are and what kinds of learning experience they need to thrive.
Dr. Heidi Chumley
Posted October 01, 2014 11:02 AM