Changes to medical school admission process puts more focus on experiences and values

This year’s incoming medicine class at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is the first to have been selected through the initial phase of changes to the medical school admissions process. Research has shown that academic metrics, like Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores and GPA alone, do not necessarily predict success as […]

 August 26, 2019

 August 26, 2019

This year’s incoming medicine class at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is the first to have been selected through the initial phase of changes to the medical school admissions process. Research has shown that academic metrics, like Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores and GPA alone, do not necessarily predict success as a physician, and the new process aims to put more focus on applicants’ experiences and values.

For Gabby Schoettle, a member of the incoming class, the new admission process made all the difference for her.

When Schoettle was eight years old, her mother died of metastatic breast cancer and soon after her father became ill and was unable to work. She and her brother worked to pay bills and cared for their father whose health was failing.

In her final year of high school, with her sights set firmly on becoming a doctor, her father also passed away, leaving her and her 15 year-old brother to survive and thrive all on their own. Throughout her undergrad, she worked in a laboratory studying breast cancer, and hopes to one day continue both practice and research as an oncologist.

“I had a very unconventional upbringing and university experience,” she said. “It made me a more resilient person, but it also limited me in some ways.”
Schoettle will join the 171 new medical students receiving their white coat to mark the start of her journey to becoming a physician as part of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s annual White Coat Ceremony on August 27.

Her unique experiences are exactly what Dr. Tisha Joy, Associate Dean of Admissions at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry had in mind when the School made changes to the admissions process last year.

The new admissions process meant that the School considered an additional 280 candidates for an interview this year by widening the MCAT thresholds.

As part of the process all applicants were also asked to include an autobiographical sketch that encompassed information about how their ideals fit with the values of the School and what experiences they’ve had that they believe would make them a successful physician.

“In our prior admissions process, candidates would be invited for an interview if they met the cut-offs for GPA and MCAT scores. Although research shows that these are correlated with academic success, we know that academic metrics alone don’t necessarily correlate with being a great physician – one who is knowledgeable, compassionate, and empathetic,” said Dr. Joy. “The autobiographical sketch allowed us to learn more about candidates and their life experiences and their stories are powerful in showing characteristics such as compassion, maturity, and resilience which we wouldn’t have otherwise garnered from looking at MCAT and GPA alone.”

Through this process, 730 applicants had their entire application package, including their autobiographical sketch, reviewed and scored by a panel of physician and non-physician reviewers. They then narrowed that cohort down to 450 who were invited for a face-to-face interview. In past years, only the 450 with the top MCAT scores and GPA would have been invited for an interview.

Gabby Schoettle says the addition of the autobiographic sketch allowed her to reflect her unique experiences that she believes will make her a more compassionate physician and a successful medical student.

“It was huge for me, and such an amazing addition to the application process. It gave me the opportunity to reflect my skills that will make me a successful doctor. I learned so much from my experiences that go way beyond just academic skills,” she said.

In an effort to further increase diversity, inclusivity, and equity, the School recognizes that traditional admissions processes may not be equitable to some demographics such as those with financial, medical, and sociocultural barriers. The next phase of the changes will include an ACCESS pathway for this coming year’s admission cycle. Modelled off of law school admissions processes, this pathway will provide even more flexibility for MCAT scores for applicants who have had financial, medical or sociocultural challenges.

“It is one of our goals as a School to increase diversity and inclusion in our classes. These changes to the admissions process in part, will enable us to fulfill that mission by being more inclusive of those that have faced barriers in the past,” said Dr. Jay Rosenfield, Vice Dean of Medical Education at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

Dr. Joy and her team have also begun to collect voluntary diversity statistics in the applicant and admitted student pools including information about socioeconomic status and geography including whether the applicants are from rural or remote communities. The goal is to understand the composition of the incoming class, and to get a clearer picture of the impact of the admissions processes on demographics.

The 2019 statistics show that approximately 23 per cent of the incoming class are considered to be from low socioeconomic status and 19 per cent from remote, rural, or small town communities, values similar to the applicant pool.

“We want to open up our doors to the diverse perspectives and experiences that our admitted students have had, which in turn will enrich the School’s learning environment. To ensure this, we engage a diverse panel of over 400 individuals including physicians, community members and students, to participate in the admissions process,” Dr. Joy said. “Having a diverse medical school class will promote knowledge sharing, innovation, and compassion and ultimately translate into great physicians who will achieve better patient-physician relationships and improved health-related outcomes for the diverse patient population we have in Canada.”

Media is invited to attend the white coat ceremony on August 27, 2019 from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Alumni Hall, Western University. Dr. Tisha Joy and Gabby Shoettle will be available for interviews prior to 9:30 a.m. Please contact Jennifer Parraga to arrange for interviews.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Parraga, Director, Communications & Marketing, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry,, 519.661.2111 ext. 86415

Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.


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