Ramifications of Recruiting Medical Students From Lower Socioeconomic Backgrounds

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With a growing need for rural primary care providers, medical schools face an obligation to admit students most likely to serve these disadvantaged communities. We know that strong ties to and prior service in rural areas increase the likelihood of pursuing a career there.1 However, admissions committees receive endless applications emphasizing these experiences; how are they to know which claims are genuine?2 Weighting noncognitive traits helps answer this question.3 By admitting more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, medical schools can produce more rural practitioners.
Targeting these applicants during the admissions process requires identifying and confronting the cultural and financial barriers faced by underprivileged premedical students.1 Effective outreach programs would offer clinical experiences, Medical College Admission Test prep, and tips on navigating admissions, since these students are less likely to have personal connections to guide them.4,5 Medical schools can also consider conditional admissions to help fill in academic gaps these students may possess.5
Once these disadvantaged students are admitted, medical schools must ensure their success. They face unique challenges as they assimilate into a primarily middle- to upper-class environment in medical school.4 Schools must be sensitive to students’ needs for mentorship, both by assisting with acculturation and navigating the medical school system. Schools could also reconsider how cultural competency curricula address socioeconomic disparities.4
By being intentional about recruiting, admitting, and supporting students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, medical schools stand to gain a more diverse physician workforce. As a result, physicians will be more likely to serve disparate communities, thus helping to address health disparities in the rural United States.
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