Deans of admissions from several of the top medical schools in the country sought to address the concerns of underrepresented minority premeds in a panel discussion on Monday night.
The deans shared their own experiences as minorities studying and working in medicine and discussed the future of the medical field before an audience of about 20 students in Rosenfeld Hall. They addressed the unique opportunities for minority students to effect social change through medicine as well as medical school admissions in general. While some students said they were interested in the panel because of its focus on minority issues, many said they came simply because of the star power of the invited panelists.
The Health Professions Advisory Program and the Yale College Dean’s Office hosted the panel, which featured Dr. Brenda Armstrong from Duke University, Dr. Gabriel Garcia from Stanford University and Dr. Steven Gay ’86 from the University of Michigan.
Gay, who went to medical school at the University of Illinois after graduating from Yale, said although he was a good student during his time at Yale, he spent as much of his time playing varsity sports, volunteering and being involved in the Yale community as he did studying.
“I would not trade the experiences I had here for the world,” he said. “This place has colored my experiences as a physician and made me a better one for it.”
Armstrong had a different experience as a minority in college. As a part of only the third class at Duke University to include black students, she said she felt out of place and uncomfortable at the school. But after medical school she returned to Duke despite still having “raw feelings about the place” in order to promote diversity at the school.
“Excellence trumps everything: gender, race, class — excellence comes first,” she said. “There are a lot of underrepresented minority students who want to go to medical school … People just don’t want to see them, but they’re there, under the radar, waiting to be seen. [My job] is to encourage people to dream and hope to provide a thoroughfare for them to succeed.”
Garcia, who emigrated from Puerto Rico, said what was most important to him was using his medical degree to bring about social change.
“Medicine offers you a license to do an amazing amount of good,” he said. “But this is a privilege we don’t take lightly. There is a need to inform those who don’t have the means or the measure to have access to good health care.”
The deans also answered questions from the students about what their schools are looking for in applicants. In addition to searching for students who sought academic challenges in their undergraduate years, admissions officers look for those who were active in other pursuits, Gay said.
Armstrong said there was a vast difference between a technician who can do the science and a healer or doctor, and the difference has to do with ethics and social or environmental factors.
“You need to have been humbled at some point in your life,” she said. “If you’ve never been humbled, then you can’t go to medical school. And if you have never encountered an ethical [dilemma], then you can’t become a physician.”
Several students, including Nick Abreu ’08, said they were surprised at the relatively small number of students who attended the panel, despite considerable publicity for the event.
“The talk was really inspirational and definitely gave me a better impression of what admissions committees look for,” Quynh Chu ’07 said. “I know they always say they want good scores, but I’m glad that they recognize the greater importance of life experience in forming a good physician.”
Abreu said he felt more secure in his decisions to go into medicine after hearing the life experiences and passion shown by the panelists.
“I’m so pumped,” Abreu said. “Being here just makes you want to do it more and right now I just want to go out and conquer the world and make a difference.”