The problem of socio-economic mobility
What a great article (“How the medical school
admissions process is skewed,” January 2017 issue).
The fundamental issue you are dealing with here is
far broader than just admission to medical school or
other competitive higher education programs. It is
really a problem of socio-economic mobility. Canada
fares better than most countries in this respect, but
we cannot be complacent. We do need to find
ways to break down economic and other arbitrary
barriers to all forms of higher education. We are not
immune to this at veterinary colleges, and in trying to
resolve this issue we will be looking to best practices
from other institutions like the University of Calgary.
Dr. Wichtel is dean of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.
Holistic review need not be a hindrance
thanks for the well-considered and well-written
article (on medical school admissions). There is
no question that economics and socio-economic
status interact with the medical school admissions
process in ways that those of us who are intimately
involved in the process are distressed about. The
concern about it is not limited to one or two institutions by any means, and I think good-faith
efforts are being made to understand where specifically within our processes these unwanted
advantages occur and to correct for them.
My only area of disagreement with the article
would be on the role of “holistic review” in per-
petuating the problem. Depending on how the
term is used, there is no doubt that it has the
potential to worsen the situation. If it is code for
“looking at all of an applicant’s life accomplish-
ments,” then certainly it will favour the privi-
leged, since as the writer rightly points out, the
ability to accomplish many of these impressive
things we see in applicants is predicated on
financial and circumstantial opportunity. If, how-
ever, holistic review is understood to mean think-
ing much more broadly about an applicant’s total
life experience, and the relevance of that experi-
ence to a career in medicine, I think it can have
entirely the opposite effect.
What if we look at someone’s part-time job
at McDonald’s during university as an asset, not
just an obstacle? Does that job not teach an appli-
cant about time management, prioritization and,
most importantly, give them a deeper apprecia-
tion for the everyday existence of average citi-
zens (i.e., their future patients)? If you accept that
logic, then working part-time at McDonald’s
might actually make you a better doctor. I would
argue, in fact, that it does, and medical school
admissions processes need to at least consider
that possibility. I think it is to our credit, collec-
tively, that we are starting to do exactly that.
We have long considered the process of med
school admissions to be a meritocracy where
we select the “best and the brightest,” but as
we begin to consider the mounting evidence
that wealth and privilege are confabulating
factors in assessing merit, we need to also take
a careful look and reconsider what we mean by
“merit” and “best.” As another commentator
implied, thinking about those terms through the
lens of a patient, and the needs of the patients
we are ultimately going to serve, might radically
change the underlying processes for how we
select medical students.
I appreciate the writer speaking out publicly
about this issue. As a process that is ultimately
beholden to the public even more so than our
applicants, it is important that these conversa-
tions be had as openly and publicly as possible.
Dr. Walker is director of admissions for the MD program at the
University of Calgary.
There’s more than just medical school
this article makes several very cogent points
and deserves to be taken seriously. I would like to
add a remark about this whole focus on getting
into medical school (or dentistry or other professional program). I teach organic chemistry and I
see that students for the most part have been
focused on getting into medical school at least
partly because that is the only way they can imagine being involved in human health issues. I think
back on my own trajectory towards science, which
started in the early 1970s. In those days, medicine
was just another job – well paid and respected, but
not the be-all and end-all that it seems to be today.
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One parent finds that, despite efforts
to make it fairer, the process still
favours those with greater means
Illustrationby JVG, Folio Art
by Marsha Barber
www.affaresunverstares.ca / anver 2017 / 27