- As part of the school’s focus on holistic applicant review, the admissions committee needed to review and expand its toolset to assess key non-cognitive attributes that are important to student success in the MD program and the school’s overall mission.
- Tulane University School of Medicine adopted Casper as part of a pilot study to investigate whether the assessment could predict in-program performance. A correlation between Casper scores and in-program performance would indicate that qualities of interest at admissions could be identified using Casper.
- The school observed that higher Casper scores increased the probability of receiving a favorable grade in clerkship and a decreased probability of receiving an incomplete grade. Armed with this data, the program is exploring potential rubrics based on actual student performance to support future admissions decisions.
When Michael J. Woodson joined Tulane University School of Medicine about four years ago, Casper — an open-format situational judgment test — had already been implemented as part of the school’s admissions process.
“The previous Dean and members of the faculty attended a conference where there was talk about Casper, and they decided it was worth implementing as part of a pilot to see if it could measure the non-cognitive skills we wanted in students,” explains Woodson.
He goes on to explain that it can be hard to change admissions processes because the decisions are so high-stakes.
About the school
One of the nation’s most recognized centers for medical education, Tulane University School of Medicine is a vibrant center for education, research and public service. It is the second-oldest medical school in the Deep South and the 15th oldest medical school in the United States. The school aims to improve human health and foster healthy communities through discovery and translation of the best science into clinical practice and education, as well as to deliver the highest quality patient care and prepare the next generation of distinguished clinical and scientific leaders.
No. of applicants per year
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“There’s a strong demand for data on new selection tools, and without that data, you’re unlikely to see changes,” says Woodson. “Even though there’s evidence to suggest that some existing tools aren’t quite effective, very few will want to take the risk of adopting something that they can’t prove is better.”
So how does the admissions process work at Tulane? Normally, the school receives around 17,000 applications per cycle. Narrowing that pool of applicants down to 600 for interviews takes a significant amount of time because of the school’s approach to holistic admissions.
“We don’t have any set cut-offs for GPA and MCAT scores,” shares Woodson. “Not having any arbitrary cut-offs allows us to look at the context behind the scores applicants submit, and it encourages us to ask questions.”
Certain trends and qualities the admissions committee might look for instead of focusing on small differences in cognitive scores between applicants include:
- Improvement in the applicant’s overall GPA over the course of their undergraduate education
- Demonstration of resiliency (e.g., is their GPA acceptable, but not as high as some other applicants, because they had to work to pay for school?)
- Exceptional community service or professional experience that aligns with their career goals and the program’s mission
Woodson explains that the admissions committee also considers the New Orleans context in their file reviews. “Most applicants will make great medical students and doctors, but the learning environment they end up in and their overall goals are critical to finding out if they’ll be great students at our school and great doctors for communities like New Orleans.”
Once interviews are completed, the admissions committee reviews and deliberates the applicants on the basis of their entire application, including the interview. Since Casper was a relatively new assessment at the time the program adopted it, the admissions committee has not actively used it to make decisions. Woodson shares that Casper scores usually come up in conversations during the final review stage and they’re used impressionistically as one of many pieces of information considered in the decision-making process.
“It was really important that we collected the data on its predictive validity before deciding exactly how to use it,” explains Woodson. That being said, the program was pleasantly surprised with the results.
The school observed that higher Casper scores increased the probability of receiving a favorable grade in clerkship and a decreased probability of receiving an incomplete grade.
“Seeing this strong positive correlation was a pleasant surprise and indicates that some of the qualities we look for in an applicant can be identified through Casper,” says Woodson.
Armed with this data, the program is exploring potential rubrics based on actual student performance to support future admissions processes and selection decisions.When asked what piece of advice he would give to other medical schools looking to improve their admissions process, Woodson says it’s best to approach the whole exercise with an open mind and to avoid declining new opportunities simply because they might involve a bit more work.
“Admissions can be quite labor intensive and time consuming, so of course some people might be hesitant to adopt a new tool,” explains Woodson. “It’s not about adding more steps to the process, but figuring out what tools and methods work best. Getting there means investigating whether or not the selected tools and methods can identify students who will help the school achieve its mission.”
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