Open Letter to the AAMC Concerning the Medical School Application Cycle During COVID-19
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To the Members of the Association of American Medical Colleges:
We are writing to convey our concerns about changes made to the 2021 medical school application cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone and that the AAMC has had to make difficult decisions concerning this admission cycle. However, we believe this crisis presents an opportunity for the AAMC to redefine their approach to the medical school admission process. We would first like to discuss the numerous challenges confronted by students who are preparing for this upcoming admission cycle and then suggest ways that we believe the AAMC can help to alleviate these challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world on an unprecedented scale. The height of this global pandemic has coincided with a key time during the 2021 medical school admission cycle. On top of managing their classes and extracurricular activities, premedical students applying this cycle have spent the past several months working on personal statements, drafting school-specific essays, and requesting letters of recommendation. That’s not to mention the endless hours many have spent preparing for one of the most important components of the medical school application: the MCAT. Some had been studying for this lengthy exam for months until tests were canceled from mid-March to the end of May for safety measures. Now many are in a state of limbo, unsure how to adjust their study plans and whether they will even be able to secure a new test date. The AAMC's most recent decision concerning the MCAT adjustments is harming the majority of premedical applicants who are still planning to apply for the 2021 medical school admission cycle.
To address the test cancellations, the AAMC sent an email on April 10th to all applicants, informing them that a solution would be announced soon. On April 24th, the AAMC finally released changes made to this year's MCAT that have made testing conditions even more difficult than before. Instead of adding as many test dates as were canceled (8), the AAMC only added three, two of which are so late in the application cycle that testing on these dates would put an applicant at an almost insurmountable disadvantage due to delays in submitting applications. Additionally, the exams have been shortened with less time per question in order to offer 3 tests per day instead of one. While test-takers prior to March took the MCAT at 8AM and had a testing time of 7.5 hours, tests are now at 6:30AM, 12PM, and 6PM with a test time of 5 hours and 45 minutes. Holding 5+ hour long exams at such extreme hours is not only harmful for the test-takers' mental health, but it also puts many at a severe disadvantage. With hotel closures and limited transportation options, students are struggling to figure out how to even get to their exams at these times of day.
Additionally, it is no secret that the AAMC greatly profits from the medical school application. The AAMC charges $300 for simply registering for the MCAT, along with the hundreds of thousands in dollars of preparation materials that they sell. Worst of all, this change in MCAT testing means that all the study material students have already purchased no longer fully reflect the exam we will take this summer. Changing the length of the MCAT test, even if the question difficulty is the same, affects the endurance that is required for the MCAT. The current modifications have compromised the validity of the MCAT by implementing changes that are inherently unstandardized between applicants based on test date, test location, and individual circumstances.
So what can be done?
Right now, while much remains uncertain, one thing that has stayed constant is the drive of many to enter the medical field. It is clear that the world needs doctors right now. This process should not be hindered because of social distancing; the medical school application process should be made more accessible. We recognize that the AAMC has made many efforts to ensure proper testing and a smooth application cycle. However, we believe the following interventions are essential to alleviating the burden of this year's applicants, as well as the admission in the future:
1) Offer more transparency regarding the reasoning behind MCAT testing modifications. As mentioned, this is a standardized test, and standardized tests should not change. We would like to receive a justification for why the AAMC changed test start times and test timing, as well as what other options were considered.
2) Revise the AAMC study materials to reflect the adjusted exam, free of cost for all students whose test date was canceled due to COVID-19. This should be done in a timely manner so students have enough time to prepare for the modified MCAT.
3) Enforce a standard policy regarding a response to COVID-19 across medical schools. Many students have been forced into pass/fail classes, online lab work, and insufficient learning situations at no fault of their own. Medical colleges should adopt a uniform procedure of this situation and should not change their policies individually.
4) Inform students with updates at a specific time of the day, instead of providing a window of time that information can be expected. This is particularly relevant to the reopening of the MCAT registration system, for which the AAMC has only provided a general date. This lack of specificity is putting students in different time zones across the US at a severe disadvantage.
5) Create an advocating body representing the premedical community as part of the AAMC. Despite the fact that all doctors start off as premedical students, there is no advocating body for this population. This precludes our voices as the primary stakeholders when decisions concerning our future are made.
6) The AAMC needs to allocate part of their budget to invest into better and/or new servers capable of handling high traffic on their site. The emphasis should be on servers responsible for MCAT registration. The AAMc should also consider staggering registration dates or any other method limiting the changes of IT catastrophe.
We urge the AAMC to evaluate the above options as soon as possible. In a time where there is a desperate need for healthcare workers worldwide, the time for solutions that support aspiring physicians is urgent now more than ever. We are dealing with an unprecedented pandemic and many of us have personally been affected. We hope that the AAMC will acknowledge the unwavering determination applicants have to become doctors and support for the future of healthcare through sound, conscientious action and system design.
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