Renaissance students

Different kind of brilliance: Med schools seeking nontraditional candidates

The revamped MCAT and initiatives at several schools signal a new desire for students with varied interests—something DO schools have long valued.


Recent changes to medical school admissions requirements and curriculum offerings signal a desire for what the osteopathic medical profession has prioritized from inception: Well-rounded candidates with varied interests and diverse life experiences.

In April, the Association of American Medical Colleges released the first major update to the Medical College Admission Test in a quarter century. The new exam expands tested subject matter to include sociology, psychology and behavioral science. It also contains questions designed to assess candidates’ critical thinking skills rather than their ability to memorize information.

“Testing in the behavioral and social sciences reinforces what osteopathic medical schools have always valued—applicants’ diverse interests, backgrounds and preparations for medical school,” says Janette Martin, the director of admissions for the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee.

Because the new exam tests different concepts and skills, it is scored on a different scale than the previous exam, the AAMC said in a statement: “The new scale is designed to draw attention to applicants who might otherwise be overlooked, and supports the holistic review of medical school applicants.”

The MCAT update comes as several MD-granting schools are implementing programs to recruit and develop candidates with experience outside of the hard sciences. Last year, faculty at Stanford Medical School unveiled an annual literary award for exceptional student-written pieces about medicine. And in 2010, Harvard Medical School formed a committee for arts and humanities.

The osteopathic approach

The osteopathic profession has long recognized that students with a broad range of interests often excel at relating to different types of people and have an aptitude for becoming highly compassionate physicians.

Janette Martin (center right) the director of admissions for the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee, leads a campus tour. Martin says MD schools are beginning to take a holistic approach to reviewing applicants, and that osteopathic schools have done this all along.

“Osteopathic medicine has always emphasized a close personal relationship between the physician and the patient,” says Boyd Buser, DO, the dean of the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. “The interview of candidates at many of the schools really focuses on trying to get at that aspect of the candidate’s qualities.”

What do these changes mean for osteopathic medicine and medicine in general? The message of osteopathic medicine is clearly spreading outside of the osteopathic medical profession, says Nadege Dady, EdD, the dean of student affairs for Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem. And that’s good news for patients.

“This trend is important to medicine overall because it means that we will create better health outcomes for patients,” she says. “Better doctors, better outcomes means better health care overall for the country.”

Dr. Buser agrees.

“The more that MD schools incorporate osteopathic principles and philosophy as it relates to patient care, the better it will be for American medicine,” he says.

One comment

  1. Charles Milligan D.O.

    Better communicators make better doctors. For as much meaningful use wants use to all do the same thing, there is definitely a need individualism & different ways to diagnose and treat any given condition. Getting the patient to believe in the treatment is still a very important component of healing .

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