Mid-Level MCAT Scorers Increase Diversity in Medical Schools

Diversity: Medical schools seeking greater diversity in their classes may want to look at data from the 2017 medical school applicants who scored in the middle third of the MCAT range.   Compared to students who scored in the upper-third on the exam, students with mid-third scores show a greater tendency to be the first in their family to graduate from college, to have parents working in the service industry, to have grown up in rural or medically-under served parts of the country, to be non-native English speakers and to be underrepresented based on race/ethnicity.  The authors note that ​in a companion piece in Academic Medicine, success in  medical school can be achieved by students scoring along a range of MCAT scores.  Applicants who score in the mid range of the MCAT score range advance to the second year of medical school nearly as frequently as upper-tier students (95% vs. 98%).    Given the ​importance of meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse US population, the authors suggest medical schools continue​ to use holistic review practices and to look beyond accepting only students with high MCAT scores.  — DR MERL Editors 

Terregino, CA, Saguil A, Price-Johnson T, Anachebe NF, Goodell K. The Diversity and Success of Medical School Applicants with Scores in the Middle Third of the MCAT Score Scale . published ahead of print August 13, 2019]. Acad Med. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002941.

Link To Article

Author Interview
The editors of DR MERL spoke with Carol Terregino, MD about her recent publication in Academic Medicine.

What got you interested in the topic of MCAT scores and diversity? 

Terregino: “I have been working in medical school admissions for over 20 years.  Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has been in the business of recruiting and supporting students from diverse groups well before terms such as holistic admissions and student retention became part of the vocabulary of medical student selection.  I have had some of my most meaningful professional experiences in collaboration with staff and faculty from across the nation by participation in research groups at the Association of American Medical Colleges. I was part of the Innovation Lab Working Group of the MR5 Committee (development of MCAT 2015) and H. Liesel Copeland PhD, assistant dean for admissions and medical education and I are currently a part of the MCAT Validity Working Group, made of 16 medical schools representing all regions of the nation, public and private institutions, with missions ranging from research intensive to community based.  We meet semiannually for this multiyear study and have the opportunity to debate important ideas in the world of medical school admissions and diversity with colleagues of similar values.

The current paper is a collaborative work by academic medicine faculty from USUHS, Morehouse School of Medicine, Boston University, Arizona College of Medicine Tucson.  We were committed to the following ideas:

      • The evidence that MCAT scores predict academic performance in medical school and on licensing examinations is strong.
      • In every class we admit, we see variability in the academic performance of students with similar MCAT scores.
      • Students with more modest MCAT scores can and do outperform their classmates with higher MCAT scores.
      • Success depends upon the academics, attributes, and experiences these applicants bring.
      • Success also depends upon our ability to provide a learning environment in which students from different backgrounds and academic trajectories could thrive.

We all need to look beyond the numbers to diversify our classes and meet needs of our populace.”


Were you surprised by your findings?  

Terregino: “Given our history meeting the needs of medical students across a range of MCAT scores, I was not surprised with the success rate across the score range, but I must say I was very gratified to see that the new MCAT performed in this way.  I am surprised that there has been no public comment regarding the relative indictment of methodology of medical school rankings and schools reporting pressure to accept only applicants with high scores.”


What changes would you like to see come from your article?

Terregino: “I am hoping that as each school defines who comprises their underrepresented in medicine groups, they search for these applicants and review each application thoughtfully, acknowledging how life experiences and personal attributes add context to a given MCAT score-knowing that success can be obtained with scores beneath the highest ones.  There are absolute gems  in this cohort who should not be overlooked.”


What’s next for you in terms of medical education research?

Terregino: “My focus in medical education is ensuring that when any patient looks into the eyes of one of our graduates, they find a doctor adept in communicating and developing a therapeutic alliance, well-versed in all realms of professional communication and teamwork, and one with outstanding clinical reasoning and critical thinking skills. My research projects range from admissions, to developing a new communication rating scale to teaching and measuring teamwork skills.”

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