Context: The use of race as a criterion for admission to medical schools and other professional schools has become increasingly controversial. This study documents the experience of students at one medical school, admitted through a special admissions process that included race as one consideration.
Objective: To examine the medical school, postgraduate training, and career experiences of students admitted by a special consideration admission program that included traditional affirmative action admissions.
Design: Twenty-year, retrospective, matched-cohort study.
Setting: A public medical school.
Study population: All affirmative action and other special consideration admissions between 1968 and 1987 (20 years).
Main outcome measures: Academic progress, national board examination scores, graduation, residency evaluations, and practice characteristics.
Results: During the study period, 20% of students were special consideration admissions (range, 10%-45% per year). Of special consideration admissions, 53.5% were minority students, while 19% of regular admissions were minority students. When only underrepresented minority groups are analyzed, 42.7% of special consideration admissions and 4.0% of regular admissions were minorities. Of special consideration admissions, 94% graduated vs 97% of regular admissions. Regular admission students were more likely to receive honors or an A grade on core basic and clinical science courses. There was no difference in failure rates of core courses. Regular admission students had higher scores on Parts I and II of the National Board of Medical Examiners examination, and special consideration students were more likely to repeat the examination to receive a passing grade. Following graduation, the experience of the special consideration admission students was very similar to that of regular admission students. There was no difference in completion of residency training or evaluation of performance by residency directors. Both populations selected primary care disciplines at the same rate. The practice characteristics of the 2 populations were remarkably similar.
Conclusions: Criteria other than undergraduate grade point average and Medical College Admission Test scores can be used in predicting success in medical school. An admissions process that allows for ethnicity and other special characteristics to be used heavily in admission decisions yields powerful effects on the diversity of the student population and shows no evidence of diluting the quality of the graduates.