From Disadvantage to Diversity Advantage

August 1, 2018


Medical knowledge and skill obviously are musts for future or up and coming physicians. But so, too, is a capacity for compassion and an ability to connect with patients who may have markedly different backgrounds than their own. It’s why medical school admissions officials often ask prospective students whether they plan or would be willing to focus on serving medically needy communities, including rural or inner-city areas where highly trained or experienced doctors can be scarce.

Identifying with or expressing experience or interest in serving vulnerable populations can help boost your medical school application. That’s because today’s medical schools increasingly seek to develop student bodies that are diverse in terms of race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, geography and ethnicity. Plus, it may also afford you a financial boost via scholarships reserved for applicants who commit to practicing medicine in areas of the US with doctor shortages.

Keep in mind, too, that regardless of where you’ll ultimately practice, hospital emergency room physicians nationwide are legally obligated to care for every person who arrives with a medical emergency, regardless of the patient’s identity, circumstances or ability to pay for medical treatment. So, effectively and empathetically addressing diversity in your medical school application, essay or interview likely will prove beneficial. Here are three ways to ensure you’ll have something positive to include in your bid for a medical school spot.

  1. Draw on your own experiences: In her application essay for Duke University School of Medicine, Ariana Paniagua described her mixed heritage and the lessons she learned from the differing cultures of her parents – Her mother, a devout Buddhist Sicilian ancestry, and her father, who immigrated to the US from El Salvador. Witnessing or learning each of her parents’ stories provided a myriad of lessons in discrimination; economic, cultural and language barriers; belief systems and faith tenets; and more. These lessons helped Paniagua develop an ability to communicate and empathize with people from a range of backgrounds and faiths. If you’re a minority, grew up in an area considered or neighborhood considered vulnerable or practice a faith with which most are unfamiliar, be sure to discuss any relevant experiences and how they may positively inform your approach to the study and practice of medicine.
  2. Do your due diligence: If your exposure to people of various ethnicities, cultures, faiths, etc. is limited, consider launching a self-guided research project. Reach out to various cultural centers and places of worship and arrange to interview members about their religious or philosophical beliefs; culture-based culinary and lifestyle habits; and other perspectives that may affect overall health and medical care choices.
  3. Lend a hand: There’s no better way to learn about a particular population than to immerse yourself in it. To that end, consider volunteering at clinics in medically vulnerable communities domestically or signing up for medical or humanitarian missions to other countries.

Another surefire way to boost your readiness and competitiveness in medical school, consider enrolling at St. Augustine, FL-based WOLFPACC. We offer interactive courses featuring expert lectures, test-taking drills and one-on-one tutoring to help assure you pass your USMLE or COMLEX exams on the first try. Call 904-209-3140 to speak with an enrollment specialist today.