File this under stranger than fiction. A Cornell graduate with a 3.97 GPA was rejected from every U.S. medical school she applied to because her MCAT score was too low. Sounds unbelievable? This actually happened to St. George’s graduate Janine Reinhardt. Currently, Dr. Reinhardt is an Emergency Medicine Resident at Stony Brook University, working alongside graduates from U.S. and international medical schools. How did these U.S. medical schools judge her so incorrectly? These stories have become increasingly common throughout the application process for U.S. medical schools, where an acceptance or rejection letter hinges entirely on the MCAT.
According to The New York Times, 44,000 people applied for about 19,000 seats at U.S. medical schools last year. In an increasingly competitive field, MCAT scores have become the deciding factor for many of these schools. In accordance with our holistic approach to evaluating students, American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine will not use MCAT scores as a condition for acceptance, but they will be required in order to matriculate. AUA knows that an MCAT score is not an arbiter of a prospective student’s qualities.
The MCAT has long been a problematic exam. Originally implemented in 1928, the MCAT was designed to stem high attrition rates at U.S. medical schools. Through time, it has sporadically fallen out of favor at some major med schools. In 1986, Johns Hopkins briefly discontinued using the exam as a basis for entry in order to encourage more diverse applicants. Recent studies have shown Johns Hopkins’s assumptions were correct. A study published in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2006 stated the gap between the average scores between black and white students prevented many qualified black students from entering medical school.
Despite these problems, the MCAT has been widely accepted as the standard to predict success in medical school. Yet the MCAT’s legacy has been tarnished by a major failing that has long been part of its design: it has consistently failed to predict personal and professional characteristics. These unmeasured traits can be a person’s passion to become a successful MD, the ability to collaborate and stay calm under pressure, and empathy. They are just as important to residency directors as USMLE scores and medical school grades. By matching in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Reinhardt has shown that she has the qualities necessary to succeed in that competitive specialty despite having a below average MCAT score.
Since 1946, attempts have been made to alter the exam to make it more predictive of these characteristics, but these changes have been unsuccessful. Though there is a revision slated for 2015, changes that could optimize its success in predicting these behaviors are not on the horizon. From The New York Times: “… many medical educators, including members of the advisory committee, remain cautious about tampering with a test that has proved successful so far.”
The new MCAT will try again to create more extrapolative questions, but there is only so much that can be gleaned from a multiple-choice test designed by an advisory board set in its ways. What the MCAT committee doesn’t understand is that a score cannot define a candidate for medical school. However, when a decision comes down to cold, unforgiving numbers, it is difficult to see the student behind the score. For every student that is accepted because of a high MCAT score, there will always be a Dr. Reinhardt waiting in the wings.