Learn how to develop and incorporate the best medical school recruitments strategies for diversity in 2023 at your institution! The future of medicine requires diverse and passionate professionals, but there is currently a notable bias against underrepresented populations. Things like community engagement, pathway programs, and access to can improve your current strategies!
The medical field is in dire need of diversity, and recruiting students from all racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds into medical school is key to ensuring future physicians represent broader populations. In countries like Canada and the United States, many areas are considered to be ‘cultural mosaics’, where citizens of all races, religions and classes and cultures live and thrive, side by side in their communities. This means that many patients may favor being treated by doctors who share their racial or ethnic background and cultural experience, and there are millions of talented, passionate potential medical school candidates across both nations. However, many populations are scarcely underrepresented in the medical field, which is predominantly Caucasian, and/or comprised of doctors who came from upper class families. This can have serious implications for patient care, as well as the future of medicine and medical schools. Medical schools can easily shift this issue by actively updating their recruitment strategies or pursuing new to better ensure that candidates of many backgrounds are being considered equally.
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Diversity should be the cornerstone of medical school recruitment. Actively considering your school’s approach to recruitment and diversity is about more than just race and gender; it's about socioeconomic status, geography, culture and more:
- Diversity leads to better patient care, researchers, doctors, and health care systems overall
- Medical school programs are known to approach admissions with bias in the United States and Canada; many programs are populated by Caucasian students, and, students (Caucasian or ‘other’) who came from middle-to-upper-class socioeconomic backgrounds
- Many students who are traditionally underrepresented in medicine, whether due to their race, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, disability or gender, may face barriers are they apply to medical school, and may not be given the same fair chance as others
- As society becomes more inclusive and institutions pivot and strategize to ensure they are welcoming and accessible to all potential and current students, it’s important that recruitment strategies aim to attract diverse student populations
- Offering specific opportunities and perks to underrepresented students may help them feel at ease and, better prepared, for their medical school application process, especially if such opportunities were inaccessible or unknown to them in the past
Having a diverse student population and ensuring that students who come from backgrounds that have been famously misrepresented and underrepresented in the medical field have the tools they need to apply, approach interviews with confidence, and attend medical school alongside colleagues from other diverse backgrounds. This can help break the bias and change the medical field, one admission at a time! Students who come from diverse backgrounds may have insight, inspiration and knowledge of issues and topics that students from high-income families, whose parents are doctors, and, who are Caucasian may not understand from their own lived experience. Diverse doctors can lead to better, inclusive healthcare, and amazing potential for future research and care.
There are plenty of studies on diversity in medical schools, and in the medical field, in both the United States and Canada. Overall, studies concluded that medicine was dominated by Caucasian physicians, and, the medical school application processes require improvements. Here is some key information derived from one study conducted by
Labelling something as intrinsically bias cannot be done lightly, however, this particular study was able to conclude that 95% of medical students in the United States agreed that the root cause of bias within the system was admissions processes. All 95% believed that there is a need for improvement, with 26% of the students suggesting that “major improvements” be made. In Canada, 74% of students believe improvements should be made, with 16% noting that “major improvements” were necessary.
Students agreed that better screening processes were needed when selecting future medical school candidates in order to reduce the obvious bias toward students from low-income families, and other minorities. Data from this study showed that many programs focus on extrinsic values above intrinsic. This means that applicants were being considered primarily based on their family income and socioeconomic class/status, and sometimes based upon the fact that their parents were in the medical field themselves.
Applicants whose parents brought home between 80k-100k, 100k-120k, and over 120k annually account for approximately 57% of medical school students.
Essentially, this means that students who applied to medical school in order to become doctors simply for the status, wealth potential and comfortability, are often perceived more favorably, and admitted more often, than students who are just as qualified, but who come from different backgrounds. Because of this, 94% of students believe that intrinsic values, such as the desire to help others and conduct research should be considered before extrinsic status, like wealth. Along with this, relying on test scores is not always fair and could be a barrier—and a bias— to lower income, underrepresented students who wish to apply to a medical school.
Why is this? Current procedures are not designed to discern between behaviour and ability. To put it simply, a great test score, impressive , and/or a wealthy family does not mean the individual will be a good doctor, or, that they are pursing something they are genuinely interested in. And, a lower test score does not equate to poor ability, but quite the opposite! This is a classic example of ‘actions speak louder than words’, because students who score highly may not be motivated in the field and may be likely to commit professional misconduct or lack passion for their field. But, a passionate, dedicated student from an underrepresented population with lower test scores may have not had the same access to preparatory services, may have had to work 1-2 jobs while in school to support themselves, and may have had little-to-no support in their academic journey, however, they may possess the intrinsic ability, values, and fascination to be an incredible professional in their respective field. Selecting students based on intrinsic motivated could, over time, reduce or eliminate the bias against visible minorities, students from lower income homes, and other underrepresented applicants, because it would focus more attention on why the student wishes to study medicine and their core values, and less attention to their test scores and extrinsic motivators, like wealth and status. Studies concluded that, for both the United States and Canada, only 32% of students currently studying medicine are intrinsically motivated.
It’s clear that diversity is important for both the education of your student body and the practice of medicine. and the United States are currently dominated by extrinsically motivated students, many of whom come from high income households, are pursuing medicine for financial gain, or, are doing so for the sake of familial tradition. And, many diverse, qualified and passionate candidates are being cast aside in the admissions process, often due to the fact that they may not have the same tools and support as other students to prepare for their application process. There are some that currently exist, and referring to these can be a great place to gain inspiration. It’s not always easy to ensure that your recruitment strategies are inclusive of diverse student population, however, it’s essential. Reviewing what you currently have in place, and considering areas for improvement, is a great first step.
#1: Take a community-based approach to recruiting
You should take a community-based approach to recruitment when you’re considering how to attract diverse student populations to your medical program! Engage with leaders and groups across different populations and underrepresented groups, whether online, through social media, or through campus engagement. Share content and information that demonstrates how your medical school program can benefit diverse communities, and how talented, dedicated medical school students from these communities can directly impact the future of medicine. You may want to share stats, goals or other aspects of the field that doctors from diverse populations could accomplish, and even offer mentorship opportunities and seminars to give potential students the space to ask questions and engage with your program directly.
#2: Offer recruitment incentives and financial aid
Many medical schools offer financial aid and to aid in the recruitment of students who come from diverse backgrounds or lower socioeconomic statuses. This type of incentive shouldn’t be advertised as an ‘aid’ to a student in need, but as more of a reward that can help a potentially great medical student and medical professional access a program they may not have had the opportunity to access otherwise. Many applicants from underrepresented populations may not have the ability to focus solely on their academic studies like students from wealthy families do—many have no choice work several jobs to afford school, and have less financial and professional support during their time in school. Sometimes, the application process itself may be a barrier, as it can be costly, and medical school itself may be a students’ dream, but could be out-of-reach financially.
Start by researching the types of financial aid and scholarship programs offered by different schools in your area. You may want to offer different scholarships or awards to several students, and, you’ll have to decide on the criteria that warrants a student to apply for each.
#3: Consider establishing a pipeline/pathway program
A pipeline or pathway program is a program designed to help students from underrepresented groups get into medical school, or other types of professional or graduate school. These programs are often offered in high schools, community colleges and even in different undergraduate programs. They can help the students on their medical school journey early on, before it even begins! These pathway programs provide students with access to resources and information they need to prepare for medical school, such as exposure to clinical settings, shadowing opportunities, and assistance in selecting an undergraduate major that will prepare them for the MCAT test.
Consider developing specific pathway programs that would benefit students from lower socioeconomic statuses, underrepresented communities, visible minorities, women or gender diverse populations, and/or disabled students. These programs can help open the door to medicine to students who are intrinsically motivated and can help alleviate bias and barriers early-on.
#4: Use your medical school as a hub for health equity research and training and diversity initiatives
Medical schools can be a hub for health equity research, training and diversity initiatives. Your institution can pave the way for a better future for medical schools, and you can make this information clear to future applicants.
For example, medical schools may be able to leverage their resources to improve health equity in the communities around them by partnering with local community organizations or by supporting students who want to conduct research on health disparities or inequities in their own communities. Along with this, you can better your institution’s financial aid and scholarship opportunities, as already mentioned, and offer unique internships, mentorship opportunities, and make your faculty and staff accessible to all students.
#5: Invest in longitudinal mentorship.
Mentorship programs are a great way to give students who don't yet have the right connections or social networks the opportunity to develop them in any program, but especially in medical school. This can be very useful for underrepresented students, who may find it challenging to navigate the long-lasting relationships necessary for success in medical education. Students who come from a highly-represented population and a high-income family may have connections across the medical field already and have support from several professionals, whereas students who are the first in their family to pursue medical school, and/or are a minority among their peers, may feel isolated. When recruiting, let your students know about your mentorship opportunities and the reason behind such initiatives.
Mentorship programs come in many varieties—some structured, others less so. Some involve formal mentoring matches with faculty members while others allow students to choose their own mentors based on their personal preferences and strengths. No matter what shape they take, however, mentorship programs aim to break down barriers that might otherwise keep underrepresented individuals from succeeding during and after medical school. This can be vital to a students’ success, and also, to their decision to apply for your program.
#6: Provide training in mental health conditions and issues that disproportionately affect underrepresented communities
Mental health is an important issue for all medical students, but especially those who are coming from a diverse background who may have faced incredible bias in their academic journey thus far. It's also an area in which underrepresented communities have unique needs and experiences that the current majority of medical school students may not understand first-hand. These issues include depression, racism, ableism, abuse, and other mental health conditions or types of abuse. Some of these issues may be systemic or generational, and many may impact students both directly and in-directly. Providing training on these issues allows you to support a diverse student body. Mentorship is also great way to help underrepresented students succeed as doctors, but it's equally important for all students, not just those from underrepresented backgrounds.
Letting your potential students know of your commitment to understanding mental health and other issues that exist in various communities, and how they can benefit from this initiative, may help them feel as though they face less of a barrier and will feel safe and included on campus.
#7: Help students access academic consulting
Whether or not you do so on a case-by-case basis, provide discounted rates or simply advertise services such as to your potential medical school students across several communities, academic consulting can help with ensuring diversity is considered in your recruitment process.
The recruitment of underrepresented minorities and other students from diverse backgrounds is an important issue facing medical schools and medical education. The future of our healthcare system depends on the ability of medical schools to recruit diverse students. Medical schools need to take a more community-based approach, offer incentives for recruitment, consider establishing a pathway programs, provide structural support to students who have been historically excluded from medicine, invest in mentorship programs, and offer students access to resources, such as mental health, financial aid, and academic consulting services to help encourage and prepare them for their application process. There are many ways medical school admissions committees can improve their recruitment strategies, and with it being clear that there is a bias against certain communities and underrepresented populations in medicine, it’s important that these improvements are made.
1. Why is considering diversity in medical school important?
The future of medicine is in the hands of current and future medical school students! Historically, and currently, many of these students come from the same upper-class socioeconomic backgrounds, are the same race, and many pursue medical school due to familial tradition or expectations, or the promise of financial stability. What this means is that underrepresented students of minority races, genders, religions, abilities, and even from different geographic regions are not given the same opportunities to access, or apply to, medical school, even though they have the motivation and passion to practice medicine.
Encouraging diversity across medical school programs in the United States and Canada means having all cultures, races, and socioeconomic classes represented in the medical field, and also brings promise and unique first-hand perspectives to future research and studies.
2. How does diversity have to do with recruitment strategies?
As noted, many students who don’t come from high-income households, or have the connections and resources that other medical students have access to, may be overlooked by admissions entirely. Currently, studies show that the vast majority (68%) of medical school students in the United States and Canada are pursuing medicine due to extrinsic motivation and values, such as familial expectations and financial stability. Many underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds actually present with intrinsic motivators, meaning they have the passion to help and make a difference in their field and are not solely driven by financial or status gain. However, they are often coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds and communities where they lack support and access to services like academic consulting, mentorship opportunities, community engagement events, and other services that could help them prepare a strong medical school application. These students may also be working several jobs while attending school, thus, their GPA may suffer…but this does not mean that they would not make a promising doctor.
In short, the current system favors the wealthy, and/or students with strong connections, even if only extrinsically motivated. Students from diverse populations, lower income families, or underrepresented communities are often overlooked entirely, and that’s why focusing on recruiting students from different backgrounds is key to developing a diverse, inclusive medical school program.
3. What are examples of current bias?
Currently, only 32% of practicing medical school students are intrinsically motivated. While that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the extrinsically motivated students, it means that students who are driven to serve, research, heal and help their communities may be cast aside due to poor test scores or due to being from a minority class. This is a problem, because many students who are overlooked have the drive and knowledge to become great doctors, but did not have the same access to preparatory services, or, the same upbringing altogether, as several other medical students—many of whom come from either primarily Caucasian or Asian families earning well over 80K annually.
4. What do current medical school students have to say?
Current students believe that there is room for improvements—even major improvements—in the admissions process for medical school. Many students, 95% in the United States and 74% in Canada, believe that focusing on diversifying the process and prioritizing intrinsic values would benefit underrepresented prospects and improve the application and admissions process altogether.
5. How can my recruitment strategy to improved to promote and encourage diversity?
Look at where underrepresented, diverse students may need assistance, and improve upon these things! Accessing mentorship opportunities, being able to engage with the academic community, understanding financial aid options, and having access to other services and resources, such as mental health services, advisors, and academic consulting can help potential applicants prepare and understand what to include on their application, and how to stand out to admissions team.
Additionally, offering pathway/pipeline programs at high schools, community colleges and universities is a great way to reach out to potential students early-on and help get them on a clear path toward accomplishing their medical school goals.
6. Why are pathway programs important?
Pathways programs, also sometimes called pipeline programs, are essential, especially in diverse, underrepresented communities! These programs can be tailored to students in high schools, community colleges or universities. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with a path they will need to take in order to get to medical school.
For example, you may design a program for senior high school students that allows them to earn a credit by doing a clinical placement, then, directs them to a 2-year pre-med community college program, before bridging them into their second year of university after a few years. This can provide opportunities for students to plan their future in a step-by-step manner, and is especially beneficial if the student doesn’t have an exceptionally high GPA, or lacks support. This can be helpful for financial planning, and also for getting students on the path to success early on, so by the time they’re applying to their chosen medical school program, they’ll have built connections, experience and confidence.
7. How can offering networking and mentorship help with diversity
Networking and mentorship opportunities can help you establish the best medical school recruitment strategies for diversity, because they offer support, connection and opportunities for engagement that students may be lacking elsewhere. For many populations, prospective medical students don’t have the same financial, community, academic or personal support that other students may have, so it’s important to give students the opportunity to connect with faculty, peer mentors, coaches, advisors, and even other potential applicants early on. This can be done through online and in-person events, social media engagement, and even long-term mentorship programs. Giving students access to free support and information can make the entire application process feel smoother, and give them the confidence and connections they may not have had otherwise.
8. How can offering access to academic consulting services encourage diverse applicants?
Promoting and giving access to academic consulting services, such as BeMo, is a great way to encourage applications from diverse populations. For underrepresented groups, academic consulting can help by offering 1-on-1 preparatory and consulting services to each student to discuss their goals, GPA, current situation, future plans, etc.
Medical school applications can be daunting for any student, and especially to those who may have a lower GPA, or, who may not have all the support and connections that other students have. Academic consulting can not only help students prepare their application materials, but also help them prepare for exams. Academic consulting can help students find the best prepare for exams, and also help students understand , how to prepare for a , and whether or not they should consider , for example.