McGovern Admissions Virtual graphic

A virtually new process

One of the most stressful parts in the journey of medical education is the admission process for acceptance into medical school. At McGovern Medical School alone, over 5,000 applicants compete for just 240 spots each cycle. Therefore, the interview process is an important step in determining who is accepted into each incoming class.

Since early 2020, however, the admissions process — much like nearly every other process in medical education — was changed completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Medical School admissions is a holistic process, where we consider multiple different aspects of each applicant,” said Curtis Wray, MD, professor in the Department of Surgery and chair of the McGovern Medical School Admissions Committee. “It’s always very competitive and a lot goes into the initial screening and review of each applicant.”

Prior to the pandemic, applicants who met all the requirements after an initial screening process would visit the Medical School for an in-person interview. This would serve not only as a way for interviewers to meet the applicant face-to-face, but also as an opportunity for the student to become familiar with McGovern, the Texas Medical Center, and the Houston area.

Now, those interviews happen virtually via a Zoom call.

“It’s been a unique challenge since the pandemic, and I think that goes for a lot of medical schools where many of these interviews have been conducted virtually,” Wray said. “Moving to Zoom, in some regards, is more convenient for both parties. However, if the applicant is not on campus, then they don’t necessarily get to see in person all of the great things that McGovern Medical School and the Texas Medical Center have to offer.”

Several aspects of virtual interviews are certainly more convenient for both parties. Travel costs for an applicant to visit Houston could be very high in some instances, and the time commitment of those travels adds up as well. However, without an in-person meeting, you lose some of the aspects of an interview that can only be gained when meeting someone in a face-to-face human interaction.

“It’s just been something that we’ve all had to adjust to, and honestly it will probably take several years for us to analyze the data to figure out if the virtual process has resulted in a different composition of medical school,” Wray said. “Over the last 18 months, there has been a lot of discussion about how much longer we are going to be doing this online format. Will we ever go back to in-person interviews?”

Over the last few years, administration leading the admissions process has been able to adapt the online interviews to enhance the process that was brand new in 2020. While screening and interview processes remain the same, albeit virtual, new steps to the method have been added to help each side gather more information about each other. The admissions team hosts optional “open house” opportunities, which allow prospective students to take a tour of facilities and interact with student ambassadors. Student ambassadors also host virtual socials and Q and A sessions to ensure applicants get as much information about the school as possible.

For the McGovern Admissions Committee, they utilize a holistic review process, which considers each applicant by individually balancing their academic metrics with their experiences and attributes. The admissions application also includes the CASPER exam, which is a national standardized test that creates a numerical score to evaluate certain intrinsic personality traits for applicants.

Each of these features is designed to make the interview process smoother for both the applicants and for McGovern Medical School. However, Wray said the adjustment to virtual may not be as jarring for the applicants.

“Honestly, that’s probably all they know, because they’ve been going through this almost four years now,” he said. “That’s been the environment they’ve grown up in and studied in undergraduate programs that were affected by this. Obviously, whenever there’s a major disruptive event, such as the pandemic, then there’s some sort of evolution that occurs from it. Hopefully, that evolution continues in learning how to make these processes better.”