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Rewarding experience open to new recruits for the IUSM Admissions Committee

May 22, 2014

The IU School of Medicine Admissions Committee is a group with a three-part mission: select the best possible candidates to matriculate to the medical school; positively influence the lives of outstanding young people interested in medical careers; and, through the selection process, position the IU School of Medicine as a leading medical education institution.

The unofficial fourth part of their mission: Have fun while doing it.

Now, they want to share that mission with other IUSM faculty to bring more contrast to the committee.

James Brokaw

James Brokaw, M.D., is co-chair of the IUSM Admissions Committee.

"We are currently in the process of restructuring the admissions dommittee to increase the diversity of voices involved in the process," James Brokaw, Ph.D., MPH, associate dean for admissions and co-chair of the admissions committee, said. "Specifically, we are building a large cadre of committee members whose only role will be to interview and rate the applicants. No other involvement will be expected. The service commitment of these members will be restricted to no more than one day per month.”

 "We are interested in hearing from any IU School of Medicine faculty member, full or part-time, who is interested in serving as an interviewer for the admissions committee,” said Karen West, M.D., professor of surgery and co-chair of the admissions committee. “This is a great way for faculty members to satisfy their service responsibilities for an especially laudable cause -- establishing the next generation of IU physicians."

It is true that the admissions committee has the reputation of being one of the most time intensive faculty committees, but according to committee members that is more than offset by the rewards of serving. The common thread is camaraderie and a desire to have an impact on the future of IU School of Medicine and the field of medicine. Moreover, the opportunity to serve just one day per month as an interviewer should broaden the appeal of joining the committee to a larger segment of the faculty.     

"For us long-term Hoosiers, with family who are Hoosiers and grandchildren who will probably remain Hoosiers, making certain we have quality physicians in the state is really important," said Dr. West, who can trace her Indiana roots to pre-Civil War years. She has served on the Admissions Committee for more than 20 years and as co-chair for five years.  

"Each year we matriculate the largest entering class in the country -- 352 students will enter this August -- to be distributed among the nine campuses comprising IUSM’s statewide system of medical education. This presents a daunting challenge to the admissions committee to interview and select such a large class without sacrificing our academic standards or diversity goals," Dr. Brokaw said.

In the 2013-14 admissions cycle, about 5,500 applications were received. Of those, the admissions committee interviewed about 1,200 applicants to fill 352 openings.  

Each applicant was interviewed for 45 minutes by a two-person interview team using a standardized set of questions that focus, in part, on the School’s nine core competencies, including effective communication, moral reasoning and ethical judgment, and the social and community contexts of health care. The interview team rated each applicant not only on his or her interview performance, but also on their record of non-academic experiences, such as community service and volunteerism, leadership roles, and the ability to work with  individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Karen West

Karen West, M.D., is co-chair of the IUSM Admissions Committee.

"Like many medical schools in the U.S., we use what is known as 'holistic review' in selecting applicants, which means we give balanced consideration to an applicant’s life experiences and personal attributes, as well as academic metrics," Dr. Brokaw said.  "This is not to say that GPA and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores are not important, because they certainly are, but they are not the sole determinants of who we select.   

"The goals of holistic review are to increase the diversity of the entering class beyond simple academic acumen to encompass other desirable characteristics, such as altruism, compassion and commitment to serve others; and to select a class whose demographic composition mirrors the patient population our graduates will serve," he said.

The non-academic attributes of the student are important to us because we are looking for people who will be the very best physicians," said Dr. West. Being adaptable, a life-long learner, a good listener, and having a sustained record of helping others are some of the things the committee looks for in successful applicants. "Universal citizenship" is the term Dr. West likes.

Marly Bradley, M.D., J.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and associate medical director of the Pediatric Urgent Visit Center at Eskenazi Health, said she has served on the committee for four years and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

"It is rewarding for a lot of reasons -- we are a congenial group and it is refreshing to fellowship with your colleagues," Dr. Bradley said. "But, the main thing I appreciate is an opportunity to interact with students. It is a huge responsibility to serve on the committee because you are impacting student's lives when you advocate for them."

In addition to reducing the time commitment of committee members, Dr. Bradley thinks it's important to bolster the membership for another reason. "We need a diverse representation because it is important for the students when they come for interviews. It is potentially their first interaction with the campus, what we are and what we believe in. Diversity is important," she said.

Andrew Beckman, M.D., assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine, said he was a non-traditional student when he applied and thought that admissions committees were created to keep students out of medical school. He found just the opposite.

"I joined the committee because I wanted to pull the curtain back and look inside," he said. "What I found was a great group of student advocates. Everyone wants the people they interview to get in to medical school. We're looking for the best colleagues and the best young doctors."

"I've been on the committee long enough that I now have interviewed some of my current colleagues," said Dr. Beckman, who joined the committee as an assistant professor in 2001. He said he plans on remaining on the committee as long as he is on faculty at IU.

"We have done a few things in the past few years to decrease the burden of time, but even if that wasn't the case, committee members keep coming back," Dr. Beckman said. "People drive from all over the state, through snow and rain to be here."

Committee membership includes emeritus faculty, clinical and basic science faculty, physicians from the community, and two fourth-year medical students.

Sable Amstutz Shew, a member of the Class of 2014, served on the admissions committee this year. "I wanted to be on the committee because I thought it would be a great opportunity to interact with the next group of students and have a hand in shaping the next class." The experience was better than she imaged.

"I think it is an opportunity to see the best and brightest and really get a chance to observe people at the beginning of their careers," Shew said. "After four years of hard work, it really gives you a little 'fire in your belly' as a reminder of why you went to medical school in the first place. It re-inspired me."

Director of Admissions Karen Smartt, Ed.D., said it is important to bring more diversity to the interview process and to share the responsibility among more faculty. She also thinks it is important to share the responsibility among the IUSM regional campuses to avoid an "Indianapolis-centric approach" to the admissions process.

"As much as possible, our applicants need to learn about the eight regional IUSM campuses, where nearly two-thirds of the entering class will ultimately matriculate," Dr. Smartt said.  "One of the ways we accomplish this is by conducting interviews at some of the regional campuses."

During the 2013-14 admissions cycle, applicants to IUSM had the option of interviewing at Ft. Wayne, Muncie, Northwest and Terre Haute, in addition to the Indianapolis campus. The interview location has no bearing on where an applicant might be assigned upon acceptance, but by offering multiple locations, it is more convenient for applicants who live in areas other than central Indiana.

"This approach also provides an opportunity for future medical students to explore a particular campus of interest and become better acquainted with the regional system. We hope to eventually expand our interview process to include all of the regional campuses," Dr. Smartt said.

Dr. Smartt explained that many students routinely apply to multiple medical schools, thus the reason for some of the increase in applications. But, she added, the IU School of Medicine reputation also plays a role since nationwide applications have increased by 6 percent over the past two years, but by 18 percent at IUSM.

"Our biggest increase is from out-of-state applicants," she said. "About 15 percent matriculate to IUSM but more than 50 percent of the applicants are from out of state."

Dr. Smartt said that there is a one-year commitment for volunteers to the admissions committee and a two-year commitment for elected members, although many serve for much longer periods. Faculty interested in joining the admissions committee should contact Dr. Smartt at kabaxter@iu.edu.

"I think it's their opportunity to give back and many see it as an opportunity to shape the characteristics of future physicians who represent out school," she said.

Another selling point for joining, as Dr. Brokaw pointed out: "We are the only committee that feeds you breakfast and lunch during meetings."

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