Each year, I talk to applicants who say they don’t want to make a fuss about their ethnic or racial identity. Their hesitation usually comes from the desire to be judged purely on their own merits. While this is a noble principle, it’s important to look at why having underrepresented groups in medicine is desirable, and how candidates from these groups can best present themselves in their medical school applications.
Why do medical schools care about groups that are underrepresented in medicine?
Research shows that the more diverse a student’s medical class is, the better their training in cultural competence. Diversity is highly valued by medical schools for this reason. The schools are training physicians who can reflect and relate to the diverse communities they serve.
As part of its effort to increase diversity in medical education – and thus promote greater diversity in the overall medical profession – the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has long been committed to ensuring access to medical education and medicine-related careers for individuals from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. The definition of underrepresented groups is dynamic, acknowledging the changing demographics of society and the medical profession. Historically, populations in this group have included American Indian or Alaska Native; Black or African American; Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish Origin; and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
But identifying as underrepresented in medicine (URM) doesn’t mean someone can simply stroll into medical school. Every applicant must meet the rigorous admission standards demanded by medical programs, taking the same prerequisite coursework and engaging in the same range of experiences as everyone else.
If you are from a racial or ethnic group that is URM, it can be helpful to disclose this fact to admissions committees. How can you best present this information in your application?
1. Disclose your ethnicity in the biography section.
Whether applying through AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS, you will have the opportunity to voluntarily identify your racial or ethnic origin. This information is used for several purposes:
- For federal and/or state reporting requirements
- To collect aggregate applicant and matriculant data (for example, the AAMC’s FACTS data) to confirm progress toward greater diversity
- To connect applicants with relevant organizations or interest groups during interviews
And of course, this information might also come up as a talking point in interviews. You could decline to answer this question, but as a URM, providing this information will only help your application.
Self-identifying is the easiest way to let admissions committees know that you are part of an underrepresented ethnic or racial group, but it’s not the only way.
2. Share how your background has influenced your career goals.
In your personal statement and secondaries, integrate how your background and identity have influenced your decision to enter medicine. For many URM applicants, this might be a story of absence – never seeing themselves in the faces of their care providers. For others, it might include a mentor who helped them view medicine as an option. Your story will be your own but should demonstrate your desire to increase the diversity of physicians in the United States.
3. Volunteer in medically underserved communities
It will be easier to demonstrate what you hope to accomplish in your career if you’ve already gotten involved in serving your community. If you speak another language or want to improve the health of others, you might want to volunteer in medically underserved communities. It’s often one of the best experiences that students have in learning to put others first. Many students describe such work as pivotal in their decision to pursue medicine, helping them to focus and see how much they can positively affect others.
4. Explore and celebrate diversity on your campus or at your workplace
While you can’t get kicked out of an underrepresented group for being a passive member, active engagement with your identity and those of others is highly desired by medical schools. This might mean joining your university’s Black Pre-Med Society or starting a group for Latinx researchers in the lab. To demonstrate confidence and pride in your cultural background, you might take classes to learn more about it and/or get involved with groups that educate others on your campus. While it can be difficult to study topics such as slavery, it is important to understand the sociopolitical and historical factors that relate to our understanding of ethnicity and diversity today. If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem. You can take responsibility by becoming an educated citizen by studying and celebrating your personal heritage as well as that of others.
Do you need help identifying and highlighting your diversity appeal? Work one-on-one with an Accepted expert to draw out your unique experiences and history to develop an application that matches your target school’s mission for diversity. Talk to one of our admissions consultants today about this and every other element of your med school application.
A former fellowship admissions committee member and administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Cydney Foote has successfully advised healthcare applicants, including those applying to medical school, dental school, nursing and PA programs, veterinary school, public health and hospital administration programs, post-baccalaureate medical programs, residencies and fellowships. Since 2001, she has brought her marketing and writing expertise to help science-focused students communicate their strengths. Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!