The Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) at the University of Vermont has created a very special place to study and train as a medical student. Their mandate goes beyond only graduating highly trained and skilled physicians, but extends to prepare these physicians to take care of the tremendous medical needs that exist all over the world. To achieve this, they have carefully calibrated their admissions process, a team that is led by Dr. Janice Gallant, Associate Dean of Admissions who works closely with Cary Jewkes, Director of Admissions. Their approach can be considered simple: make the admissions process very person-centric.
But this did not happen overnight. It was crafted over decades of understanding the value of going beyond just the academic metrics when evaluating candidates for their highly competitive program. This put a strong focus on the applicant as a person; a notion ingrained in the DNA of LCOM’s admissions program. To put forward amazing, well-rounded physicians, they knew they had to measure the applicant’s experiences and attributes. One might use the word “trailblazer” when the college of medicine began to practice holistic admissions at a time when few in the industry were familiar with the approach, and even fewer were using it as standard practice.
A look back
Founded in 1822, the college is the seventh oldest medical school in the United States and boasts an incredibly diverse cohort. Their mission was to service across all disciplines of medicine through a diverse group of physicians and biomedical scientists. With a curriculum built around advancing medical knowledge through research and advancing the quality of patient care, selecting candidates who will succeed both academically and professionally has always been at the cusp of their admissions process.
Early on they had hired “readers” to review each and every file, giving each applicant a fair chance to demonstrate both their academic and non-academic abilities. Although labor-intensive, this approach resulted in matriculating diverse student cohorts from different backgrounds, helping meet another one of their core missions and commitments to diversity.
Scaling the admissions process
Over time it proved difficult to scale a process that relied on a readers’ feelings or impressions of an applicant’s activities and experiences. With an applicant pool that far outnumbered the number of available seats, the team needed a way to easily and accurately identify the applicants who were best suited for success in the program. With the support of visionaries in leadership, they were challenged to come up with an admission system that was validated, unbiased, and standardized.
The team was encouraged to ensure the process was evidence-based, data-driven with the end result benefiting the students and college as a whole.
“By taking a more evidence-based approach we would now be able to collect data ourselves in order to measure our process, answer key questions and determine whether we are achieving our goals,” begins Dr. Gallant. “We were able to go beyond just subjective impressions such as liking an applicant based on what school they completed their undergrad at.”
The MMI and Casper
One of the first changes to the admissions process by the admissions team was the implementation of the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) six years ago, allowing their program to integrate the AAMC core personal competencies into the admissions process. The outcome has been extremely positive, and they are even more confident that they are better able to select students who demonstrate readiness for medical school.
More recently, LCOM implemented Casper, an online situational judgment test (SJT) used to pre-screen applicants prior to the interview stage. For the college, this was another validation tool to combine with the student’s academic metrics, that looks towards their personal readiness and competencies. With a recent applicant pool of almost 7,000, and only 124 seats in the cohort, the team can now feel more confident in identifying the right applicants for the interview portion. For the students, a key benefit is the convenience of taking the test from their homes.
“Everyone lives the mission at Larner, from 160 MMI interviewers to volunteers, to students and staff,” continues Dr. Gallant. “It is highly important for our admissions team to select candidates who will succeed both academically and professionally, and support our passion in advancing patient care. Casper has been an important resource in this journey. We continue to strive towards an evidence-based approach, and continue assessing our data and collaborating with others to better understand our admissions process.”
Photo courtesy of Larner College of Medicine