Those who have applied to medical school know the famous secondary interview question: How would you contribute to the diversity of our institution and the medical profession?
Diversity can come in many different forms, but for many the first thought that comes to mind is race and ethnicity. As the U.S. population becomes more racially, ethnically and culturally diverse, having a health care workforce that can relate to individuals of different backgrounds, skin colors and ethnicities could improve quality of care.
In fact, this is backed up by research. For example, studies show that when African American patients are seen by a Black physician, they may receive better quality care.
This has left many med school applicants discouraged, as they assume that if they are not from an ethnic or racial minority group, they will not be able to contribute diversity in any way. The good news is diversity goes beyond race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Any facet of an individual’s identity or experience that is unique or less common could make that individual more diverse. Here are a few examples of such experiences that applicants could share as a way to highlight diversity.
An Outside Passion or Interest
Pursuing an outside interest like art, music or athletics can give you a unique set of skills and a different perspective that sets you apart from others, allowing you to contribute diversity. Students involved in these activities develop strong time management skills, as they have to juggle their responsibilities in school with this outside passion. Having such skills can make them uniquely suited to handle the rigors of a medical education and a career as a physician.
The arts also offer students a unique perspective or way of thinking that broadens their worldview and makes them diverse. Artists express human emotion through their work, whether it is a painting, a piece of music or a sculpture.
Being involved in art allows an individual to understand the human condition and better relate to the emotions of others. This ability can make an individual more diverse and capable of bringing a unique point of view to interactions with patients. It can also help make the individual better capable of relating to peers.
Initiatives such as one at the University of California–Irvine School of Medicine have engaged medical students in the arts. Research on these programs has shown that taking part in artistic activity can make medical students better capable of recognizing different emotions and appreciating different perspectives.
Med schools seek diversity because they want to train future doctors who are capable of caring for a wide range of patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious views. One way to become diverse and to highlight this diversity is by working in environments where you are serving a diverse population of people from different backgrounds.
You may not be able to change the color of your skin or the country of your birth, but by serving people who are from other races or ethnicities, you can show admissions committees that you understand some of the unique issues that these populations face. A person who has had experience supporting African American, immigrant or transgender patient populations is better suited to provide care for such populations and will be perceived as more diverse by medical schools.
A person’s life experiences can also help make him or her unique, enabling him or her to bring a different perspective to a med school class and the medical profession.
We recently worked with a student whose family moved to Europe when she was in high school because of her father’s job. In responding to questions about diversity, she talked about this experience, highlighting how moving to another country, learning a new language and making new friends increased her appreciation of people different than her.
Among a pool of med school applicants, the majority of whom have backgrounds in biomedical sciences, one way to stand out is through a different college major. Any field or discipline that offers you skills or a perspective that allows you to excel in med school, enhance the group learning experience as a student or provide better quality care to your future patients can make you diverse.
For example, some of our students who major in math or engineering find that the strong problem-solving skills they develop in these fields can make them better critical thinkers in medical school.
Similarly, certain disciplines in the humanities, such as anthropology, can uniquely position students to understand people of different cultures, listen to their stories and be sensitive toward their worldviews, which is invaluable for any care provider.
One of my peers in medical school had received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. In small group discussions, where we examined the humanistic side of medicine, he always provided logical, well-thought-out and nuanced arguments.
My peers and I benefited from this perspective, as it allowed us to think more systematically about the complexities of every patient encounter and break it down into its different components. This classmate contributed diversity to our medical school simply by being present and applying his way of thinking in group settings.
Ultimately, diversity is different for every individual, and what makes one person diverse can be very different than another person. For those in the earlier stages of your premed journey, it’s worth thinking about the types of experiences, activities and educational pursuits that could help you become more diverse. For those who are getting ready to apply to med school, as you prepare to answer questions about what makes you diverse, approach these questions with an open mind and consider the many different ways that you may stand out and bring a fresh perspective.
More importantly, all applicants should make sure — whether it’s their race, academic history or artistic experiences — that they show in their essays how such aspects of their identity have made them diverse.
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Ways Medical School Applicants Can Show Diversity Beyond Race, Ethnicity originally appeared on usnews.com