WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine uses ‘holistic review,’ including life experiences, to admit students


SPOKANE, Wash – Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is one of the 24% of medical schools that reside in the nine states that ban affirmative action 

To ensure that each student is accepted based off of academic and personal merit, the medicine school admits applicants after taking a holistic review of each student. 

Christina Verheul, director of communications for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, says this process evaluates the student through a balanced approach, not just GPA and MCAT scores. 

Verheul said, “Our students, by having this balanced approach, does not make them any less qualified to be physicians. In fact, it could make them as qualified or arguably more qualified than folks who have those scores.”

Dr. Leila Harrison is the Vice Dean for Admissions for WSU’s Elson S Floyd College of Medicine, and a national expert on holistic review. She says while test scores may be an indicator of good moral, they just don’t account for specific experiences you need to serve different populations:

“When you think about attributes you might not get from a GPA, like adaptability, resilience, leadership, or ethnical responsibility, you can discern that those attributes may be present in academic metrics, but the likelihood of serving a rural community? You’re not going to get that from just test scores,” she explained. ” We have a lot of veterans that live in our state, and they suffer differently because of their combat experience. So, when we bring in people that have prior service experience, they uniquely understand what it means to serve our veterans. That’s one really clear example where those lived experiences are really important to helping understand serving a [specific] population.”

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearings in two cases regarding the future of affirmative action 

Verheul says this approach could bridge the gap for schools if affirmative action is struck down by SCOTUS.  

“These admissions could serve as a viable alternative model for colleges and universities should affirmative action be overturned,” she said. “The result is not only greater levels of diversity, but also students who are more well-rounded [and] attuned to rural, underserved and other health care disparities.”  

Dr. Harrison says being a physician is not just about mental skills, it also involves connecting with others.

“It’s not all about the smarts and academic knowledge base. It’s the ability to interact with people, solve problems, and lead teams,” she said. “So, it is so important that we are producing physicians that represent the broad diversity in our state, that represent our rural communities, that represent our marginalized and vulnerable voices.”