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Letters to the Editor

Medical School Admissions and Enhancing Holistic Review Practices During COVID-19

Ballejos, Marlene P. PhD, MPA; Sapien, Robert MD, MMM

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003578
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To the Editor:

The medical school admissions community has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and has faced challenges caused by new grading options; Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) postponements; interruptions in clinical, volunteer, and research opportunities; financial barriers; and admissions timeline changes. At the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, we recognized an increased need to remain committed to holistic review to help address the effects of the pandemic on the application process. Throughout our crisis decision making, we considered our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. To ensure we remained committed to holistic review and the selection of students based on our mission, our approach included the following actions.

We remotely reconvened our committee on admissions. The Office of Admissions made available a general faculty resolution addressing emergency measures for student academic success, which we used to ensure that applicants would not suffer from or be held accountable for circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee decided to holististically consider the effects of the pandemic on each application, while maintaining the current minimum standards and requirements.

We communicated transparently with the premedical community. We generated a COVID-19 update message that discussed the disruption in admissions requirements and the impact to applicants and incoming medical students, and we posted it to our admissions webpage. We created a frequently asked questions section that addressed new grading options; MCAT exam postponements; interruptions in clinical, volunteer, and research opportunities; and application timeline changes. We added a new question in the secondary application for applicants to describe how COVID-19 has affected their pathway to medical school and created virtual premed advisement workshops to provide applicants with the most up-to-date information regarding current admissions challenges.

We converted our regularly scheduled Second Look Day event to a virtual experience, which included the integration of a COVID-19 block on public health and other curriculum information.

We designed a virtual postapplication workshop and individual advisement repertoire. We converted our postapplication advisement workshop and individual consults to a virtual experience to assist applicants with identifying ways to improve their application, illustrate how best to document and discuss lessons learned from interrupted experiences, construct a plan for reapplication, and describe how COVID-19 has affected their pathway to medical school. The admissions deans met individually (via Zoom) with unsuccessful applicants to our school and provided them with specific prioritized recommendations to improve their application. These efforts support our mission and align our practices with diversity-related workforce development and social accountability principles.1

The flexibility of holistic admissions has allowed us to remain committed to our mission. We hope these actions can be generalized for other schools to address issues related to COVID-19 and reenforce their mission during crisis decision making.


1. Ballejos MP, Schmitt CL, McKinney KL, Sapien R. Postapplication advisement for U.S. medical school reapplicants: One school’s program. Acad Med. 2019;94:688–691
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