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How med school admissions could work post-affirmative action

Scripps News' Lindsey Theis speaks with Dr. Ashley Denmark, a Black family PCP who helps coach pre-med students through Project Diversify Medicine.
How med school admissions could work post-affirmative action
Posted at 1:18 PM, Jul 13, 2023

Dr. Ashley Denmark is a board-certified family medicine doctor and the founder of Project Diversify Medicine, a digital community where she helps minority students make a path for pre-med or medical school.

"We're not just fighting for the badge of honor to be able to say, 'I'm a doctor' or 'I have a white coat,' but we're fighting to heal our community," said Denmark.

In California, UC Davis medical school could be a model for what post-affirmative action med school admissions might look like. 

It's ranked the third-most diverse medical school in the country, and they haven't used characteristics like race or gender for decades.

"The qualities that will make a good physician are ultimately those things that allow patients to connect better and believe their doctors and have a trust in their doctors' abilities," said Denmark. 

Some California history: In 1996, voters approved a law which banned affirmative action practices in public employment, education and contracting. Students at several state universities staged walkouts and protests.

The next year, nearly 200 Black aspiring doctors applied at the University of California, San Diego. Not one was accepted.

Research showed in the decade following the ban, med schools saw a drop in applications from underrepresented students of color. 

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Cut to 2006. UC Davis admissions shifted to looking at how an applicant's background could help treat the communities they're from and combat health workforce shortages.

"If you're poor or if you live in a rural county where your nearest emergency room is more than maybe 50 to 100 miles away, it is possible for you to become a physician and have the training to go back and serve the community that you love," said Denmark. 

Items like location resiliency, ethical values and ability to listen are weighed.

The school still requires certain courses and the medical college admission test, or MCAT. This year they've begun requiring a professional readiness test that grades cultural competency, social skills and reliability.

The model has worked. In 2020, half of UC Davis' med students were from a group underrepresented in medicine.

The school says more work needs to be done, and Dr. Denmark agrees. But they're both optimistic.

"I encourage anyone to really try to continue their journey and not give up and realize the bigger picture, the resilient generations of our history and our families," said Denmark. 

The UC Davis medical school has done plenty more: $12 million in scholarships, programs and accelerated paths to encourage diverse applicants for family doctors and those who want to practice in rural or tribal communities and inner cities.

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