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Study confirms need to diversify physician workforce to improve health outcomes

Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) and Tiber Health Innovation (THI) have published a report, titled “Increasing Diversity in the Physician Workforce: Pathway Programs and Predictive Analytics,” which is intended to assist medical schools in diversifying their MD programs through a master’s-level pathway program and utilizing predictive analytics.

The initiative seeks to increase access to medical and health care careers for underrepresented groups to improve patient outcomes, according to the report, which also describes a multiyear project to develop such a system in medical schools.

The report was published in Academic Medicine, the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The model presented in the report allows MD admissions committees to rely less on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – which peer-reviewed studies have found to be a weak to moderate predictor of success in medical school, especially for underrepresented groups – and more on performance data when evaluating MD applicants from the pathway program.

“The challenge of achieving ethnic and economic diversity among medical education students has been long-standing, and this research highlights how our approach can level the playing field,” said David Lenihan, CEO of Tiber Health Corp. and former PHSU president.

“We now have tangible proof that a pathway program used with THI’s predictive analytics platform can be an effective way for MD admissions committees to evaluate the capabilities of applicants from underrepresented and lower socioeconomic backgrounds without relying on the MCAT,” he said.

The report presents findings from a 10-year research project being conducted by PHSU and THI. The three phases of the project are (1) creating and implementing a pathway program; (2) building and validating a predictive analytics platform; and (3) working with the MD admissions committee to gain trust and adoption, including ongoing evaluation and monitoring. The project started in 2015 and is in phase 3.

PHSU’s pathway program, the Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS), has the same curriculum as year one of PHSU’s MD program. Paired with THI’s predictive analytics platform, the PHSU MD Admissions Committee has a more data-driven process for evaluating medical school applicants from the MSMS pathway compared to non-MSMS students.

The report analyzed data from 2016-2021 for PHSU’s MD students in Puerto Rico who are Hispanic, with the majority coming from households earning less than $100,000 per year. Two groups were compared: students who were directly admitted to PHSU’s MD program versus students who went through the MSMS pathway before PHSU MD.

The non-MSMS students had significantly higher MCAT scores compared to the MSMS students; however, there was no significant difference in United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 scores when comparing MSMS and non-MSMS groups.

This finding is important because it confirms the hypothesis that underrepresented students from lower economic backgrounds with below 500 MCAT scores can be successful in medical school and pass the USMLE Step 1 exam, the release reads.

“MD admissions committees that rely on the MCAT can upgrade their evaluation process by implementing this data-driven, performance-based approach,” the release adds. “It’s a more accurate measure of the capabilities of MD applicants from lower economic backgrounds who might not fit the traditional profile but possess the proficiencies and ambition to become the future physicians needed for an ever-changing U.S. population.”

PHSU/THI’s goal is to expand this model across the U.S. by partnering with universities that want to offer the MSMS program to their own students. The expansion launched in 2019 with the creation of the MSMS University Network now includes more than 400 students and alumni and university partners.

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