Study: Medical Admissions’ relationship with Innovations Can Cause Unintended Disruption in Admitted Students

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MSC Dive Brief:

  • Since 2007, when the MCAT switched from a paper-based format to a revised computer-based format, technologies have been disrupting medical school admissions, such as situational judgement tests (SJTs) like the CASPer and the standardized video interview (SVI), a new study reports conducted by Canadian researchers and published in the Journal of the Association of American Colleges. 
  • The research has various implications for students hailing from a rural or international background learning for the MCAT as applicants must be able to achieve a certain score in order to be in serious consideration for admissions. Furthermore, the lead author of the study, Dr. Mark D. Hanson, pondered whether the advance of technologies which reduce human contact, whether by eliminating the need for an evaluator or a physical interviewer, increase the effect that convenient access has on how and why we conduct the admissions process.
  • Earlier studies have noted the idea that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may impact the practice of healthcare in the US, but Hanson states that none have looked at the impact that technologies were having on medical admissions now. The global impact of the MCAT, SJTs, and SVI may actually hinder those who are trying to gain access to medical education in the US, and increase the already present divide between rural and urban medical school applicants.

MSC Dive Insight:

Creating a fair and equitable admissions process is a noble goal, but there needs to be a discussion about specifics as well when the process is driven by academic capitalism. These problems with already-present computerized tests which assess personality and “human touch” through a screen may actually accentuate local institutional and national student diversity problems.

For example, data which is collected by the MCAT during a U.S. based examination was the same as a Canadian examination until 2016, and notably left out several minority groups who took the examination (First Nations, Inuit, etc.) which have been recognized by the Canadian government. Because no data are collected about these test-takers, they are essentially invisible to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) when they look at who is applying to medical school.

Communities who are not as vocal may not be able to change implicit biases against them when it comes to the CASPer, which is a type of SJT which imposes yet another financial burden on students when trying to send scores (which applicants cannot see) to medical schools. Reducing the “human touch” aspect in favor of convenience may not be equated with utility in medical admissions.

Medical school applicants should be wary of these biases when studying for the MCAT, because there is a lot of variability when it comes to college classes. The MCAT is standardized (albeit with the drawbacks mentioned in the study) and therefore, the information that one needs to learn is clear. Adjusting the test for local demographic changes needs to be done in a socially responsible manner which aligns incentives with academic capitalism. For the applicant, this means that while doing these tests, remembering to stay true to oneself and your individual identity. The medical school admissions process, while disrupted by technology, can still be engineered to one’s benefit. If one has the right tutors and self-awareness of how the technology used during admissions, they will also know how it will affect the school’s eventual decision.

Citation

Hanson, M. D., & Eva, K. W. (2019). A Reflection Upon the Impact of Early 21st Century Technological Innovations on Medical School Admissions.Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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