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  September 3, 2002

Med School Admissions an Eclectic Process
By Pat Keefe

Each year, the University of Connecticut School of Medicine receives about 2,000 applications for its 80 positions, and selecting from among that pool is a challenging and complex task.

As you might expect, students accepted into the school have superb academic records. The admission process requires them to have completed courses in general and organic chemistry, physics, and biology or zoology. Classes in math, foreign languages, literature, history, art, religion, psychology, and political science are also required. "Medicine is best served by physicians whose learning has been thoroughly grounded in both the sciences and the humanities," asserts the web page dealing with academic preparation.

That assertion is validated in the brainpower plus the special mix of skills and interests of the class members. Six have advanced degrees, including one with a doctorate; and the students' undergraduat e majors include anthropology, zoology, biochemistry, sociology, neuroscience, nutritional science, Greek, French, art history, government, and geology; and 48 different undergraduate institutions are represented - including UConn, which has eight alumni in the class.

The class demographics also are impressive. Sixty of the 80 students are state residents; 48, or 64 percent, are women; and 15 percent are underrepresented minorities;

But most importantly, the class embraces a wide spectrum of talent and interesting, well-rounded individuals. Members of the class of 2006, who started their medical careers Aug. 19, include skiers, scuba- and sky-divers, marathoners, martial artists, mountaineers, and musicians; among them also are a couple of certified emergency medical technicians; an aide from the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston; volunteers with VISTA and AmeriCares; elementary teachers from schools in Harlem and Los Angeles; an escapee from a Southeast Asia prisoner-of-war camp; a researcher into Icelandic sheep disease; an HBO intern; and a national speed-skating contestant.

"We do not want someone who is only good at taking tests," says Dr. Mark Greenstein, chair of the admissions committee. "You may be able to perform well on a test, but what if you're unable to communicate with a grieving or a joyously happy patient?

"Medicine is complex," he said. "We look for people who have other, wider interests. They make better physicians; physicians who can relate to, interact and communicate with their patients."

Richard Zeff, an associate professor of pathology and chair-elect of the admissions committee says a commitment to both academic and extramural activities is a measure of the applicants' "drive, determination, and level of preparation for the rigors of medical school and a career in medicine.

"Well-rounded individuals are likely to have a better understanding of themselves, including their strengths and limitations, by having been confronted with unique, challenging experiences," he adds. "In combination with a strong sense of service to others, this balanced perspective is an attribute we look for in building the Health Center's student community."

Humanitarian service plays a key role in the admitting process, too.

"In addition to those with an outstanding academic preparation, we are looking for applicants with a special dedication to human service," says Keat Sanford, assistant dean for admissions. "It translates into qualities the students will bring to their training and later, as physicians, to their practices. These are qualities our medical school seeks to promote."

Tarun Bhalla, an M.D./Ph.D. student and member of the admissions committee, notes that "Voltaire said, 'The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease'. A doctor who's only fluent in science probably couldn't keep the patient interested while nature does the healing. Medicine is a social enterprise and if you need a doctor, you want the best physician possible," Bhalla says.

"A physician who looks at just the science of a medical problem may not look at the big picture," he adds. "Multiple experiences will cause you to look at something from a different point of view. In medicine if you focus in on one viewpoint, you may forget what's going on with the big picture. And that could have not-so-friendly consequences for your patient."

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