Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 487–498 | Cite as

Impact of holistic review on student interview pool diversity

  • Christina J. GrabowskiEmail author


Diversity in the physician workforce lags behind the rapidly changing US population. Since the gateway to becoming a physician is medical school, diversity must be addressed in the admissions process. The Association of American Medical Colleges has implemented a Holistic Review Initiative aimed at assisting medical schools with broadening admission criteria to include relevant, mission-driven attributes and experiences in addition to academic preparation to identify applicants poised to meet the needs of a diverse patient population. More evidence is needed to determine whether holistic review results in a more diverse selection process. One of the keys to holistic review is to apply holistic principles in all stages of the selection process to ensure qualified applicants are not overlooked. This study examines whether the use of holistic review during application screening at a new medical school increased the diversity of applicants selected for interview. Using retrospective data from the first five application cycles at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB), the author compared demographic and experiential differences between the applicants selected using holistic review, including experiences, attributes and academic metrics, to a test sample selected solely using academic metrics. The dataset consisted of the total group of applicants selected for interview in 2011 through 2015 using holistic review (n = 2773) and the same number of applicants who would have been selected for an interview using an academic-only selection model (n = 2773), which included 1204 applicants who were selected using both methods (final n = 4342). The author used a combination of cross-tabulation and analysis of variance to identify differences between applicants selected using holistic review and applicants in the test sample selected using only academics. The holistic review process yielded a significantly higher than expected percent of female (adj. resid. = 13.2, p < .01), traditionally underrepresented in medicine (adj. resid. = 15.8, p < .01), first generation (adj. resid. = 5.8, p < .01), and self-identified disadvantaged (adj resid. = 11.5, p < .01) applicants in the interview pool than selected using academic metrics alone. In addition, holistically selected applicants averaged significantly more hours than academically selected students in the areas of pre-medical school paid employment (F = 10.99, mean difference = 657.99, p < .01) and community service (F = 15.36, mean difference = 475.58, p < .01). Using mission-driven, holistic admissions criteria comprised of applicant attributes and experiences in addition to academic metrics resulted in a more diverse interview pool than using academic metrics alone. These findings add support for the use of holistic review in the application screening process as a means for increasing diversity in medical school interview pools.


Holistic review Medical school admissions Medical school selection 



The author thanks Dr. Julia Smith, Dr. Robert McAuley, and Dr. Eileen Johnson for guidance and support for this study, from conception to completion.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

Approval for exempt status for this study was granted by the Oakland University Institutional Review Board on December 2, 2015.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Alabama School of MedicineBirminghamUSA

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