Tuesday, October 30, 2007

UAMS to Southeast Arkansas: You Suck!

Toothpaste For Dinner
Yesterday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page was fairly brimming over with indignation over the state law that requires the University of Arkansas medical school to admit at least 27 students from each of the state's congressional districts. Meredith Oakley, for example, calls it "incredible." She reports on the concerns of state legislators such as Jim Hill who asked at a Legislative Council meeting whether it was possible that a C student from one district could beat out an A student from another. He was assured by the UAMS Director of Admissions, Tom South, that "That is correct."

This is blatantly disingenuous on the part of South. Dean of the College of Medicine Debra Fiser assured a Democrat-Gazette reporter that no unqualified applicants were being admitted to the UAMS program. Oakley insinuates that the law requiring somewhat even distribution of applicants is racially based, and agreed with Hill when he said he didn't want "D-students operating on me." Of course, there's no way that D students would be placed ahead of A students from another district. The worst-case scenario is that a borderline student from one district might move ahead of a slightly more qualified student from another district.

But, you might say, even that is grossly unfair. And you might be right, if medical school admissions were determined only by MCAT scores and GPA. Of course, that isn't remotely true. Medical school applicants are subject to a completely arbitrary interview process. I was formerly on the pre-med committee at the university where I work, and met with Mr. South and his staff and pre-med advisors from other colleges. At this meeting, we were told that the interviews were conducted by instructors and other doctors at UAMS. Voluntary training for the interview procedure was available for these doctors, but many of them were unable or unwilling to undergo such training. As a result, prospective applicants were not subject to consistent questioning. Students might be rejected by an interviewer who didn't think a person of their race, or religion, or gender would make a good doctor.

If Mr. South and his fellow administrators at UAMS are so concerned that the most qualified students aren't being admitted, perhaps they should do away with this arbitrary interview scheme. But doing away with such a scheme would make it impossible to admit those lesser qualified students who might have connections--you know, a rich daddy who might be willing to make a large donation to UAMS, or a state senator with a B-student son or nephew. It turns out that students from the Delta are much less likely to have a rich relative or a state representative who's a family friend. If we're going to make everything completely level, we should make everything completely level.

There is no evidence that UAMS is producing substandard doctors, or that deserving students are being forced out of state to get their M.D. It would be very simple for Mr. South to release the test scores of those who were accepted and denied admission, and to tell which congressional district they were from, without disclosing their personal information. If there truly is a problem, and the law actually needs to be changed, this baseline information is essential. Otherwise, this whole affair smacks of a cheap power grab for the UAMS Admissions Board at the expense of the Delta.

(Cartoon stolen from toothpastefordinner.com.)

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