Admission by degree

A change to the rules is going to eliminate what the director of admissions calls hedge hopping by students seeking a coveted seat in the U of S College of Medicine.

New admission qualifications will mean that students entering the college in the fall of 2015 will be required to have a four-year baccalaureate degree rather than rely on their grade point average (GPA) from their best two years of post-secondary education. "It's that little fourletter word ‘best' that's been causing progressively more problems," said Barry Ziola.

What has been happening, he explained, is that despite the college requirement that students be progressing toward a degree, many are moving from program to program looking to drive up their GPA calculation for admission purposes. He gave one example of an applicant who spent one year in the Edwards School of Business, one year in arts and science and one year in kinesiology, taking junior classes in each program. That applicant was denied because he did not have two years toward a degree.

"This kind of gamesmanship," said Ziola, "is distorting the true GPA that leads to selection for an admission interview. It gives an unfair advantage to those students who enter a degree program and progress steadily through toward completion."

Ziola illustrated his point with figures: in 2007, the GPA required for an admission interview was 78 per cent; by 2013, that number had climbed to 84.3 per cent. At the same time, the number of students admitted with degrees fell to 36 per cent of the class this year from 46.4 per cent five years ago and a high of 67 per cent in 1999.

In addition to the pressure on the admissions process by "hedge hoppers," Ziola said student advising resources in the college are being taxed. "The word on the street is that if you start switching programs, you'd better have it approved, and that's keeping us extraordinarily busy with advising."

The degree requirement, which cleared its final approval hurdle April 20 at University Senate, is the first change to academic requirements for admission in 25 years and brings the U of S program in line with most other medical schools in Canada. The change has been public for some time and although most medical faculty, medical students and lay people support it, Ziola has heard some dissenting views.

One concern is that requiring a degree is just going to add time and cost for students, to which Ziola responds that "once they get into medicine, these kids don't worry about money. And I believe we've got a social obligation to the 80 per cent of applicants who don't get in each year to ensure they have a plan B." He speculates that with a degree in hand, many of those denied admission to medicine "would do something with it," whether that is graduate programs, research and other new opportunities.

Some people have also said the degree required for admission should be in the health sciences "but we want diversity among our physicians. We want them all to be good people with good cognitive and academic function and that can come from any degree program." Ziola added the degree requirement is expected to raise the average age of incoming students by 1.5-2 years, bringing added maturity and worldliness that is beneficial for both students and the college.

In addition to the new degree requirement, Ziola said discussion is underway about bringing back the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) as a requirement for all college applicants. Currently, U of S students can opt to write the MCAT or take a number of prerequisite classes. Students applying from outside the province, including Saskatchewan residents studying elsewhere, are required to write the test.

The exam, administered by the American Association of Medical Colleges, has recently undergone a complete revision; the new version will be available in January 2015. "I think the new MCAT format is wonderful," said Ziola. "It's very good for assessing behavioural, social science and humanistic aspects of medicine, verbal reasons, biological and physical science, and critical analysis."

He added the discussion about re-instituting the MCAT is in its infancy and the change requires many levels of approval "so you've got to figure it will be at least 18 months before approval is finalized, if everything goes well."

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