Diversity has become an increasingly important factor in medical school admissions.  The future of medicine requires a diverse workforce with strong cross-cultural competencies; for instance, medical school curriculums have increasingly expanded testing on cultural sensitivity and communications [1].  Clinical research has shown that culturally and racial sensitivities play a major role in patient adherence and outcomes [2]. Therefore, you will need to prepare diversity responses for both secondary statements and interviews.  In my mentorship of students, diversity questions are the third most common type of question asked on the interview trail, only behind “Tell me about yourself” and “Why would you attend our school.” 

Diversity can take many forms

Some aspects of diversity are more obvious than others, such as race or ethnicity. Yet there are so many other aspects of diversity you may not have considered.  Have you studied abroad or traveled extensively?  Did you live in a rural setting?  Are you from a part of the US that the particular medical school does not typically take students from?  Is your family unit non-traditional? Was your major/minor in a subject that is not common in medical school applications? All these factors of life can contribute to your diversity and represent something unique that only you bring to the table.  These factors are all things that you can showcase in your essay and discuss in depth. It is important to demonstrate the miles walked and path you have taken that makes you unique. 

For example, as a Harvard Medical School student, many of our classmates have a lot of “diversity” that one might miss at first glance. Some of my classmates are older and have worked in consulting, obtained masters in various fields, or have volunteered abroad. Other classmates are international, from rural states, or underserved cities. When students have the opportunity, I often encourage them to travel abroad because it is a fantastic way to learn new culture, values, and perspectives whether it is through relationships, food, or language. Through these experiences, students are able to view life from a different lens; foundational to patient care, being a doctor, and connecting with a others who come from different walks of life. That is just one example of many. Ultimately, schools are looking for a student body with a rich spectrum of perspectives and lived experiences, and “diversity” in this context therefore can represent any number of different factors.  Working with Cambridge Coaching Tutors can help us identify all the avenues by which your background may be considered diverse. 

Expand your perspective

In this increasingly tough admissions environment, I have noticed that the students who succeed are those who have a story.  Simply discussing diversity is increasingly insufficient; you must show how your perspectives matter.  For instance, in an HMS class on healthcare policy, a few students who had more conservative backgrounds contributed counterpoints to the Affordable Care Act, and this produced a rich discussion that lasted over an hour.  In another situation, a student who had lost a parent to the opioid pandemic provided powerful testimony to why needle clinics and decriminalization was so essential to healing from the opioid crisis.  The best applicants not only discuss their aspects of diversity, but also highlight how their background can directly help enrich classroom discussions and enhance their cohort’s understanding of challenging topics.  These examples are meant to showcase why schools care about diversity and highlight ideas you can consider as you undertake the writing of these essays. There are so many ways you already stand out! 

[1] https://www.aamc.org/professional-development/affinity-groups/cfas/diversity-inclusion-toolkit/resources 

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19194767

Fang is a MD candidate at Harvard Medical School, spending his time conducting research at the Harvard Institute of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. He holds a DPhil in Cardiovascular Medicine from Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.


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