Five years ago, if someone told me that I would be pursuing my undergraduate education at an Ivy League university in the United States, I would have regarded the statement as a joke. Medical education in India commences right after high school, and I was well on track to be among the millions that enter the profession at the age of 17.
Fast forward a few years. At Yale, my love for medicine grew stronger, and my passion for science, deeper. Early sophomore year, my faculty advisors introduced me to the concept of a physician-scientist — a clinician who is trained to utilize his medical acumen and advance medical science. This training — widely referred to as M.D./Ph.D. — seemed like God’s creation for split souls like myself.
If you’re an international student on an F-1 visa applying for M.D./Ph.D. programs in the U.S., statistics are generally piled up against you. In the recent past, international students have filled only 1 percent of the approximately 600 spots each year. But as they say, where there is a will, there generally is a way.
As an applicant this cycle, I learned two important things: first, about the process, that most institutions evaluate a candidate holistically, certainly beyond mere numbers. The fact that I was accepted to several M.D./Ph.D. programs has led me to believe that I’m an example of this. This application cycle has been incredibly humbling. Yale gave an average kid from a small North Indian town the opportunity to form meaningful connections and be a successful M.D./Ph.D. applicant.
It would have been a dream to get the chance to continue my undergraduate experience by pursuing my training here. Unfortunately, among the six Ivy League universities that offer M.D./Ph.D. training, the Yale School of Medicine is the only one that does not consider international applicants for its program. This was the second most important thing I learned during the process.
While I have loved my time at Yale and can’t thank my soon-to-be alma mater enough for all it has given me, I’m sorry that the University has missed out on an important opportunity. International students are part of both the regular M.D. and Ph.D. classes at the medical school. Not admitting them to the combined program seems baffling, if not completely unacceptable.
Some might think that international students simply have not expressed interest in these programs, but looking at other top institutions tells us that this is not true. Our university mission statement is to be “on par with the best institutions in the world” and “attract a diverse group of exceptionally talented men and women from across the nation and around the world,” but regrettably, the M.D./Ph.D. policies defy this sentiment and are simply not in Yale’s self-interest.
Further, this policy seems to be part of a bigger theme of segregating communities at Yale. Over the last few years, the University has been grappling with issues of race and gender equality. Many of our female and ethnically diverse leaders are now enriching other institutions with their cultural and intellectual experience. For example, former Provost Judith Rodin went on to be the first female president of the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Similarly, former Provost Susan Hockfield was named president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004.
Instances like these, of which there are several more, raise several crucial questions. Why have no permanent presidents in the institution’s history ever been women, or of diverse ethnic background? Why do the experiences of my female, ethnically diverse and international colleagues differ significantly from those of my other male friends? Why does Yale, which strives to make its students culturally receptive, have administrative policies that oppose all-encompassing inclusion of diverse individuals?
I do not have the answers to these questions. Perhaps in some avenues, Yale might not have the resources just yet, but at least shows the intent to improve; in others, the situation is worse. We have umpteen resources but completely lack intent. Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. policy is one such example. Our program is one of the 43 that gets funded by the National Institutes of Health. Yale also has various other funding mechanisms, including private donor money and institutional grants that support training physician-scientists by providing a modest stipend during the seven-to-nine-year training period. Thus, if the University wanted to, it could easily allow a foreign national to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. training and experience the adventure of scientific investigation.
In all areas of running a University, just as in all areas of life, there is lots of work to be done. With the evolving landscape of biomedical sciences, I remain hopeful that an institution as wise as Yale will realize that future is an opportunity. Let’s hope that Yale changes its policies and open its doors to qualified students, regardless of nationality, for M.D./Ph.D. training. To become a world leader in the truest sense, Yale needs to set the trends that other institutions follow.
Divyansh Agarwal is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .