Medical schools use open-ended questions to weed out pro-life candidates, writes Dr. Daniel Kuebler, professor of biology here at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Dr. Kuebler is a key professor in our pre-med program which, over the past ten years, has had an average of three graduates accepted into medical schools upon graduation, out of about 5 or 6 who are known to have applied. That number has grown to about five out of eight in the past few years as our bio and pre-med programs have grown. That growth continues as the University has committed itself to growing the hard sciences further and having a greater culture-of-life impact.
In his article he talks about open-ended questions tossed into interviews that seem innocuous enough, and may well be innocuous at some schools. “Suppose a girl and her boyfriend walk into your office seeking an abortion or a referral for an abortion: what do you say to them?” At some schools this could simply be a serious question probing into the candidate’s preparation for handling some of the most sensitive areas of medicine. At other schools, this could be the question to rule all questions. Dr. Kuebler’s contention, and that of a not-insignificant body of anecdotal evidence, is that a fair number of schools use that question to identify the pro-life students and then find another, legitimate reason to opt for another candidate over the pro-life candidate.
Naturally, not all pro-life candidates for med school are the best candidate among the many applications submitted, and in those cases where another candidate is more qualified for the finite number of slots, the more qualified candidate ought to be admitted. But that’s just it: whether a person is opposed to or supports abortion rights ought not weigh into the decision at all.
(Obviously, from the Catholic perspective, anyone who supports abortion ought not be considered a viable candidate for med school, just as we wouldn’t consider someone who advocates for live vivisections or forced medical experiments on the handicapped a viable candidate, but given our present culture we have to take what we can get and work to redeem the time.)
I asked Brian Burke, a friend of mine and a relatively recent graduate of our pre-med program who is presently in med school, about his interview experience. He said that of the three schools that brought him in for an interview the first two posed abortion-related questions and University of Toledo did not. He was only accepted by Toledo, despite being a “strong candidate” on the merits.
The Toledo interviewers did still ask “in depth” about Franciscan and why he chose Franciscan. At the end of the interview the only thing evident from that line of questioning was that he considers himself a faithful Catholic. These days Burke is vice president of the student portion of the Catholic Medical Association and contributes to their blog.
Of the overall admissions and interview process he says,
The challenge is that medical school is SO competitive that it is impossible to know for certain (unless someone says something overtly) if you are being discriminated against in the application process. I was a fairly strong candidate, but I had a difficult time getting into medical school. I know that at Toledo, one of the big things that helped me was actually having a Franciscan grad who was on the admissions committee. Did I have a difficult time because of my time at Franciscan and my Catholic outreaches? Or is it because I am a white, male? I am not sure I will ever really know, but I suspect that being a faithful, Catholic, and actively pro–life did not help my cause any.
Dr. Kuebler related a story about another student applying at a different school who actually got into an argument with one of the interviewers when it became apparent that the abortion-related questioning was a fishing expedition. The student likely could have handled the situation a little more diplomatically, but the fishing expedition on the part of the professional was uncalled for, unnecessary, and, frankly, in conflict with federal law.
Federal law prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the usual host of demographics as well as conscience and religious issues like being pro-life. They do not prohibit asking abortion related questions, however, which creates, as Dr. Kuebler characterizes it, “a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.”
A new effort within the pre-med program here at Franciscan, according to Dr. Kuebler, will include interview preparation. Students ought to anticipate such questions and know how to handle them intelligently, non-confrontationally, and uncompromisingly. Recent graduates who successfully gained admission to med school, including Burke, will be tapped for talks and advice.
Ultimately, as Dr. Kuebler notes, the way forward includes stronger conscience protections for practicing doctors as well as for med school students and applicants—especially in the incredibly sensitive OB/GYN field, which Dr. Kuebler characterized as a mine field for pro-life applicants. But also, like the Franciscan alumnus on the admissions committee mentioned above, those with authority and respect in the field of medicine need to make their voices heard to ensure that candidates are admitted based on the merits and not on biases or political agendas.
And our pro-life doctors need support and prayers, especially as the rules-writing process by unelected bureaucrats established by Obamacare continues apace.