Queen’s University introduces med school lottery to increase doctor diversity
Queen’s University introduces med school lottery to increase doctor diversity

Queen’s University has unveiled a lottery system for its medical school admissions process, claiming that the new process will help address equity issues on a broad scale.

The new admissions process builds on an existing pathway that supported recruiting black and Indigenous high school students on an accelerated track.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the university claimed that inflated thresholds intended to manage applicant volume and emphasize extracurricular or volunteer activities “disadvantage certain groups, either due to inherent biases with the required tests, or by favouring the privilege required to build one’s application package.”

Dr. Jane Philpott, Dean of Health Sciences, said that the thousands of applicants who would make excellent doctors will be given an equal opportunity to be selected for the interview stage. 

“This will help level the playing field for prospective students,” she said.

However, Dr. Chris Milburn offered a different viewpoint in an exclusive interview with True North, a point he said led to him being fired from Dalhousie University’s medical school admissions committee. 

Instead of lowering standards, he suggested reaching out to communities not generally meeting standards and figuring out how to assist them.

Queen’s University’s new MD Program admissions process will still set admissions thresholds for grade points average, Medical College Admissions Test scores, and a situational judgment test score “at levels that align with the potential for predicting success in medical school.”

All applicants who meet these thresholds will be entered into a lottery to determine who will be invited to interviews.

Milburn said similar processes are occurring in medical schools across Canada, though some are happening more quietly. 

He said that Dalhousie University, for example, wanted to give black and Indigenous students with a certain GPA and MCAT automatic interviews. In contrast, white applicants would have to overcome more hurdles to receive interviews.

The University of Manitoba implemented a similar “adversity score,” where someone who could claim they faced more adversity in life, such as having a single mother or a poor family, would be bumped up on the interview list, said Milburn.

There are several reasons that the public should be concerned, according to Milburn. Firstly, he said that no person has ever been in a life-or-death situation or surgery and wished their doctor was more diverse, just that they are a hard worker, were at the top of their class, and are conscientious.

This is even more relevant at a family doctor level than a specialist doctor, such as a neuroscientist. 

“You want a good family doctor almost more than you want a good specialist because the specialist’s role is very technical. The family doctor figures out what’s wrong with you, what you need, and they send you to a specialist to do it right,” said Milburn.

“There is no such thing as a part of medicine where it doesn’t matter if you’re really smart. It’s all people’s lives we’re dealing with, wherever we are,” he added.

Dr. Eugenia Piliotis, Associate Dean at Queen’s University, said that increased diversity in Queen’s’ medical school will lead to more diversity in the health workforce.

“To support health equity, all communities need to see themselves reflected in their care providers,” she said.

Dr. Shawn Whatley echoed Milburn’s concerns.

“It seems wise to train students that reflect the cultural diversity present in Canada. Patients appreciate when their physician can speak their first language, especially for new Canadians. Having said that, patients care first and foremost that their physicians are smart, well-trained, and eager to learn. Cultural relevance, although important, is nowhere near as important as clinical ability,” said Whatley.

The second reason that the public, as well as doctors, should be worried, according to  Milburn, is that trust in medicine will decline in the future if processes not solely based on meritocracy are implemented. 

“If you end up at a doctor in ten years, and that doctor is a young black guy who just graduated, your first thought, quite rightly, would be: wait a minute, is this guy really qualified, or did he get in because it was easy for him to get in?”

Milburn said that many of his minority friends who work in medicine have brought up their concerns to him, saying that processes such as this will cause the public to respect them less and wonder if they’re qualified or not.

“It’s a bit denigrating to minorities to say you guys can’t possibly meet the high standards, so we’re going to lower the standard a bit to get more of you in,” said Milburn.

He said getting into medical school in Canada has always been extremely challenging. He added that shifting away from meritocracy could not only be concerning for the public but also discourage many students from trying their best to succeed in a hyper-competitive field.

The new medical student admissions process will launch at Queen’s University in the fall for 2025 admissions.

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