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The Holistic Review

If you've ever listened to an admissions presentation, I am sure you have heard them say, "We take a holistic approach to reviewing applications." The word holistic gets tossed around loosely, and I believe that a lot of future applicants carry some misconceptions about what that means. Some think it means they simply look at everything, which is mostly true. Some people think it means that if you have a lower GPA and MCAT you can make up for it with great experiences. That can be true in some cases, but truthfully, the holistic review serves a much more sinister purpose.

A few years ago at a conference hosted by the AAMC, I listened to a speaker who happened to be the AAMC lawyer. She spoke on why all schools must use the "holistic" review. Her talk boiled down to this: If med schools want to continue taking whoever they want for whatever arbitrary reasons they come up with, then they need to have some legal protection. The Holistic Review is that. As long as a school can say that they screen for "fit", then they can essentially take whoever they want without being sued. So they do. They take whoever they want based on whatever their goals are that decade. It's somewhat subjective and sometimes arbitrary.

But it's not all bad news. Before holistic review, who got into medical school? Well, it was a simple process. They ranked everyone from highest numbers to lowest and they took the top people. It wasn't about personality or competencies, so a lot of really smart people got in who may or may not have great people skills. Maybe you've met an older doctor who fits this category?

What holistic review means is that they can pick whoever they want for whatever reason. They developed the Core Competencies so that they can name what they are looking for. That's why I'm such an advocate for answering "What is the value you bring to medicine?" opposed to "why medicine?" If you speak multiple languages, that's valuable to them. If you understand social determinants of health, yep, valuable. If you have experience advocating for marginalized populations, that's super helpful! All of those things could justify them accepting you with average stats. So let's say they really like you. I mean really like you. You have an amazing story. You bring so much value to the career, but you have below average stats. Guess what, because of holistic review, they can accept you, and fortunately the folks with a 4.0 and 525 MCAT can't sue them. Holistic review is a good thing, but it makes the process much more murky.

What about race? Because of affirmative action laws, medical schools cannot state a quota. They cannot explicitly say that they strive for 20% of their class to be comprised of underrepresented students; however, if in their mission statement they write that diversity is a goal, then they can legally use race-based admissions practices. Most steer clear of explicitly talking about this, but let's be honest. That's my title afterall. Race plays a factor in medical school admissions. If you come from an underrepresented background, you are valuable to them. Not simply because they want their class picture to look diverse, but because they understand the importance of representation in healthcare. They understand that you are more likely to connect with patients from your own community. Now, for my white and Asian students, please do not fret. Statistically speaking, you still make up the majority of most medical schools. You are NOT disadvantaged. Many underrepresented students also do not get into med school. We're simply talking about added value. Everyone must know and state the value they bring.

Although this process may seem impossible to figure out, there is strategy. Lots of strategy. And I know the secrets. I've seen many "average" applicants get accepted to med school using my strategies. Let me help you.

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