When it comes to becoming a physician, the academic rigors, years of schooling, and personal sacrifice common to the effort are well-known. This process is a sort of rite of passage, an intellectual marathon that only the best and brightest can complete. As such, medical schools should select candidates best-suited to excel throughout school and cultivate the skills that will allow them to practice in the best health care system in the world. The process by which these candidates are selected, however, may come as a shock.
In examining documents made public by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), it becomes apparent that race plays a disturbingly large role in the medical student application process. The documents provide data about the applicant pool from years 2009-2011—namely, the number of applicants within a given GPA and MCAT score range, and how many of those applicants gained acceptance to a school. These data, it turns out, are organized by race.
A quick scan of the documents reveals that white students applying to medical school with a GPA in the 3.40-3.59 range and with an MCAT score in the 21-23 range (a below-average score on a test with a maximal score of 45) had an 11.5% acceptance rate (total of 1,500 applicants meeting these criteria). Meanwhile, a review of minority students (black, Latino, and Native American) with the same GPA and MCAT range had a 42.6% acceptance rate (total of 745 applicants meeting these criteria). Thus, as a minority student with a GPA and MCAT in the aforementioned ranges, you are more than 30% more likely to gain acceptance to a medical school.
An equally unsettling statistic is that another AAMC study uncovered that accepted students with an MCAT of 27 or lower had an overall attrition rate of 2.5% in the first two years of medical school. This is more than double the 1.1% attrition rate for those who scored a 28 or above. Despite these statistics, 42.6% of minority applicants with a score of 21-23 (and a marginal GPA) were accepted.
Delving in a bit farther, an additional document put forth by the AAMC outlines a reasonably large study performed for three matriculating medical school classes. The study followed each class for ten years (as some students took longer than the allotted four years to complete their degree). The data show that of the students in the 1995 matriculating class, attrition rates were as follows: 0.7% for whites, 3.4% for Latinos, 6.7% for blacks/African-Americans, 0.9% for Asians, and 4.3% for Native Americans. Upon surveying those who did drop out, the study states that the majority of black/African-American, Native American, and Latino students cited “academic reasons,” while the majority of the white and Asian students cited “non-academic reasons.”
The data here conclusively point to the fact that academically weak students who are accepted tend to drop out of medical school at a higher rate—a conclusion that certainly isn’t earth-shattering. These specific data have nothing to do with linking race to attrition rates. The data appear merely to be be skewed because a larger percentage of poorly qualified applicants are accepted from minority groups.
These numbers are not only disturbing, but downright disheartening. As a previous medical school applicant myself, I feel cheated when I think that my work and grades were looked at less favorably than those of other students with similar grades—and that in some instances those with lower grades could have been chosen over me—based on race. How can we afford to select future physicians by a process that, to an extent, elects to overlook academic performance? Is this what affirmative action has become?
Once a tool that sought to eliminate race from the employment process in an effort to promote equality, affirmative action has taken on a life of its own. It is now a dominant force that has countered racism with more racism. Affirmative action sends the message to others that they aren’t good enough to attain their goals on their own. It says that individuals need some sort of a handicap to get to where they want to be. This is not the spirit of America; these are the same injustices that we so diligently fought against in the past. How can we afford to overlook them now?