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Urban Universities for HEALTH Launches National Study on Holistic Review in the Health Professions

December 16, 2013—The Urban Universities for HEALTH Learning Collaborative launched a national study on universities’ use of holistic review as part of their admission process for students pursuing careers in the health professions. The study will examine how universities are using holistic review and other admission practices, with the goal of improving evidence in support of admission strategies that lead to a more diverse and culturally competent health workforce.

Holistic review is a flexible, individualized way of assessing how an applicant will fare as a student and as a future professional and member of society. Under holistic review, admission committees consider a student’s life experiences and personal qualities alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores.

The practice has been used extensively among schools of medicine, where evidence in support of its success is strong. However, the practice is inconsistently applied within other health professions. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), 92 percent of USU medical schools and 87.5 percent of USU dentistry schools utilize holistic review, while only 43 percent of USU nursing schools have adopted the practice. This study hopes to find out why.

“I am delighted that Urban Universities for HEALTH has decided to invest in additional research on this topic, and that the University of Cincinnati team will be at the helm,” said Dr. Greer Glazer, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati (UC), who is leading the study. “Holistic review is a very promising practice, and we are hopeful that by improving evidence around holistic review we will increase universities’ capacity to move the dial on training a future health workforce that meets community needs.”

A diverse class exposes all students to the variety of cultures and perspectives they will experience as future professionals. Learning how to interact effectively with patients from different backgrounds is essential for graduates in all health fields. Although universities pursue a variety of strategies to achieve diversity, holistic review is one strategy that shows particular promise. However, because the practice is so new there is a need to examine the evidence, and understand what outcomes are changing as a result.

“Our universities are constantly looking for more effective, evidence-based methods of achieving the diverse body of students they seek while ensuring successful outcomes for all students,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). “Holistic review is one strategy that shows a great deal of potential, but we need to learn more, which is why this new study is so important.”

The researchers will collect both quantitative and qualitative data, surveying a broad group of health professional schools and engaging experts from the fields of medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. An analysis of key findings will be published and presented to a cohort of universities seeking to improve admission practices at their campuses. The study will provide much-needed evidence regarding the effectiveness of holistic review, which will aid university leaders considering changes to their institutions’ admission processes. The study is expected to conclude at the end of October 2014.

Support for the study is provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in partnership with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A supplemental grant has been awarded to the AAMC and USU/APLU to fund additional research and activities associated with the study.


Urban Universities for HEALTH (Health Equity through Alignment, Leadership and Transformation of theHealth Workforce) is a partnership effort of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The project aims to address the severe shortage of qualified health professionals in underserved areas by leveraging the power of urban universities to enhance and expand a culturally sensitive, diverse, and prepared health workforce. For more information, please visit our website at: www.urbanuniversitiesforhealth.org.

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