Opinion | The MCAT and diversity in medical schools

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As a medical student, I believe the idea that the MCAT gives undue advantages to White applicants is unfounded. In their Dec. 9 Friday Opinion essay, “Medical schools should de-emphasize standardized admissions tests,” Alessandro Hammond and Cameron Sabet omitted the MCAT average score of Asians, which is the highest of all racial groups, probably because showing that would discredit their argument.

We need a more diverse workforce in medicine because the concordance of physician and patient racial profile enhances patient satisfaction and treatment outcome. But the obstacle to achieve this goal is not the MCAT. When it comes to medical school admissions, soft factors such as volunteering, research and entrepreneurship play a huge role. Students with lower incomes simply don’t have the money and time to participate in these activities.

Conversely, the MCAT is the only factor that allows the smart and the motivated a chance to shine regardless of their socioeconomic status. The only thing you need, to be fully prepared for the test, is readily available online for free or for a small fee. The MCAT selects candidates with mental toughness and intellectual acuity to study medicine. And these two attributes lay the foundation for becoming a good physician.

John H. Shen-Sampas, San Francisco

If data were made available, relevant MCAT research would likely show, as SAT research has shown, that after students’ parental education, family income and race are taken into account, the MCAT then adds very little unique predictive value to its limited objective — helping indicate only first-year grades in medical school. The MCAT, as with the SAT, probably is unfairly and numerically just “laundering” these socioeconomic factors.

Further, MCAT scores are weighted excessively. In 2017 and 2018, a whopping 83 percent of entering medical students had top-third MCAT scores. So, more than two-thirds of all applicants without top-third scores had competed for a mere 17 percent of those first-year seats. These data show that typical holistic admissions processes, while considering lots of factors, have one predominant factor: MCAT scores. This is MCAT-driven, not holistic, admissions.

Medical schools should follow nearly all of the most selective colleges and many graduate departments — and become test-optional or test-free, to structurally de-emphasize the MCAT and enhance diversity.

Jay Rosner, Mill Valley, Calif.

The writer is executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation.

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