Community Interviewers Join in Admissions Decisions
In selecting the Class of 2026, the Lewis Katz School of Medicine for the first time included the perspectives of North Philadelphia community members, who interviewed each of the prospective medical students and had a say in the Admissions Committee’s decisions.
“They had a voice and they had a vote,” said Maria Zimmerman, Director of MD Admissions, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, who welcomed the role the five community interviewers had played in the selection process.
Though adding community involvement to admissions had been discussed before, it was the Student Diversity Council that was instrumental in putting forth an initial design and then working closely with the Admissions Office to implement it, according to Jacob W. Ufberg, MD ‘96, Associate Dean of Admissions.
The result was a program that helped the candidates better understand the local community, better assessed the applicants’ readiness to work with individuals who face disparities and highlighted the medical school’s ethos. It also helped to deepen ties with the local community.
Dr. Ufberg said he thought the community interviewers, drawn from those who live or work in the neighborhoods surrounding the medical school, provided a valuable perspective.
“I think it has been very beneficial,” he said. “There is a unique community in North Philadelphia. A big part of a medical student’s education is providing care within this community and learning to understand the people who live in our community and the challenges they face.”
The Student Diversity Council is a group of about 60 Temple medical students that are both represented and underrepresented in medicine. Until his graduation in May, Randolph Lyde, MD’22, PhD, served as the council’s chair.
He said he considered it “a badge of honor” that the medical school and fellow students had involved the local community in the admissions process in such an appreciable way.
“We feel it makes our admissions process better. It makes our school community better, and it makes us a better steward and partner in our community,” Dr. Lyde said. “And hopefully, it will allow us to bring more culturally sensitive and culturally aware students into our medical school.”
One of the community interviewers, Naida Elena Montes, said she had found the engagement with the medical school candidates to be meaningful. “I think this process was helpful. There were certain times when I got to express to the students that this was what they were thinking of as their career or their profession, but this is real for me because I am a patient of Temple, I’ve had family at Temple, and I’ve had a loved one die at Temple. So, to be able to share that and have students reflect on that and share comments on that was really insightful. It becomes less of a ‘process’ and more of engaging with a person, human to human, who desires to serve people who are essentially my people.”
Each year, the Katz School of Medicine invites candidates to “Interview Day,” to help discern which of the highly qualified applicants would be the best fit. Because of the pandemic, in-person interviews have been conducted virtually for the last two years.
Typically, “Interview Day” included a 30-minute, one-on-one interview with a faculty member who is familiar with the details in the student’s application as well as a 30-minute “blind” interview, with an interviewer who has no such knowledge. During the most recent “Interview Day” cycle, which ran from September 2021 to April 2022, a community interviewer met with prospective students, in groups of two or three, for about 30 minutes.
They asked questions that plumbed the prospective students’ interpersonal skills, their ability to learn from and work with communities suffering disparities, and even if they would feel comfortable with the applicants providing medical care for themselves or their families.
“They asked very specific questions about the students’ experiences working with marginalized groups, their volunteer experiences, and their biases, to gain insight into not only their willingness but also their readiness to work in the community,” Dr. Lyde said.
Afterward, the community interviewer wrote an evaluation of each candidate, and those comments were forwarded to another community interviewer, who presented them during Admissions Committee meetings. That community member was a full voting member of the committee.
Support for the program from the top was important in getting it off the ground. Ms. Zimmerman said that Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, Interim Dean of the Katz School of Medicine, “from the very beginning was very invested in this becoming a successful additional component to the Interview Day.”
“The addition of community members to our interview process is incredibly valuable,” states Dr. Goldberg. “Through the interviews, prospective students gain a deeper understanding of our mission and the patients we serve.”
Temple’s Center for Urban Bioethics, directed by Kathleen Reeves, MD, FAAP, played a big role in recruiting the community interviewers from the center’s collaborative network of organizations that are active in North Philadelphia. The community interviewers included people with more than 30 years of experience living or working in the neighborhood. They came from social service backgrounds and were paid for their interview time and expertise.
In an anonymous survey of the prospective students taken after the interviews, respondents overwhelmingly (90 percent) reported the community interviewers had added value to their day by giving them a better understanding of the local community and a better sense of the medical school’s values.
Dr. Ufberg said he thought integrating the community members into the process was “exceedingly valuable” and will continue in the future.
“They are our patients, but they are also our neighbors and our co-workers. So, having their input is really important,” he said.
There’s no doubt that the initiative required a lot of work by all involved. The Admissions Office provided training for the community interviewers. And a team from the Student Diversity Council held mock interviews with the interviewers, provided feedback, and kept tabs on how the interviews were faring.
“I just think they did an amazing job,” Dr. Ufberg said of the Student Diversity Council’s involvement.
Dr. Lyde was among those who presented a poster about the new program in April at the American Association of Medical Colleges — Group on Student Affairs conference in Denver. There, he spoke with representatives of a few other medical schools involving community interviewers, but none who had defined them as long-time residents or activists in the neighborhood.
“For me, this has been a labor of love,” he said. “It’s been a way to really support the local community and build these connections.”