Getting into medical school is getting more and more competitive. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of applications to U.S. medical schools rose by more than 35 percent between 2006 and 2016. And while most schools talk about assessing individual achievements beyond  GPAs and MCAT scores, most still focus on those numbers.

“I think that's a shame,” says Margaret Lambert, vice president and dean for enrollment planning and director of university communications at St. George’s University in Grenada. “You're not recruiting any diversity. A cumulative GPA is directional, but people treat it as a be-all and end-all. You have to look at the totality of how people achieved what they’ve achieved.”

Beyond grades

St. George’s graduate Justin Roberts, M.D., an anesthesiology resident physician at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, knows medical school isn’t one size fits all.

“I kind of ‛took the scenic route to medical school,” he says. “I went to college on a full athletic scholarship — I had an opportunity to play professional football. I did a bunch of things before I made the decision to go to medical school. I understand the reliance on GPA and test scores; there needs to be some sort of uniformity. However, as a physician, you can't just read and regurgitate information. You have to interpret that information and make decisions — in real time.”

“Your MCAT score doesn't dictate what type of doctor you're going to be,” echoes fellow SGU grad Katrina M. von Kriegenbergh, M.D., D.ABA of The Pain and Rehabilitation Medical Group in Los Angeles.

Reading every application

Like Roberts and von Kriegenbergh, pediatric gastroenterologist Jacqueline Larson, M.D. believes the admissions process and diversity at St. George’s University was crucial to her success.

“SGU uses a holistic approach when evaluating applicants,” she points out. “They are looking to see how this person is going to contribute not only as a medical student but also as a future physician.”

Von Kriegenbergh, who took time off between undergraduate and medical school, also believes the SGU approach to admissions was beneficial to her career. “SGU does not have cut offs for GPA or MCAT scores,” she points out. “Instead, they look at the applicant as a whole to see what other strengths make them a well-rounded applicant. SGU gives nontraditional students a chance to succeed in medicine. Entering the workforce prior to medical school was beneficial for me, and SGU didn’t penalize me for that.”

“At SGU, we have members of the committee read every application,” Lambert says. “There’s a story in every application. Each class is diverse and has all types of people in it — we recruit from over 40 countries — which actually makes it very strong.”

Roberts, for his part, believes the diversity he encountered at SGU is incredibly beneficial. “Going to St George's, there were a lot of times when I sat down for lunch and I was the only one from the United States at my table,” he notes. “Today, physicians need to be culturally diverse and culturally sensitive and be able to talk to people and have in-depth discussions with their patients and their families.”

For Lambert, this just means SGU has its priorities in place. “What we think we're doing is training physicians to actually practice medicine,” she says, noting the focus on academic research at other medical schools. “Seventy-five percent of SGU graduates go into primary care, and we celebrate that.”