AACOM’s Pathways to Practice Workgroup Is Advancing Innovation and Adaptability Among the Nation’s Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

September 17, 2020

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, many components of medical school and residency applications that were once widely used have become unavailable, or delayed or changed in ways that have caused unprecedented disruptions to the application system.

Colleges have sent students home and adapted many of their courses to online learning formats, often cancelling or altering laboratory courses that students need for medical school admissions. Many undergraduate universities and graduate programs have offered students the option of having these courses graded using a pass-fail system, rather than letter grades, or required that the course be graded pass-fail.

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), used by many colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMs) as a primary admissions filter, was suspended by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) in March, and while it is now available it is being offered as pandemic issues allow. The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners (NBOME) have likewise postponsed, rescheduled or even suspended administrations of USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 CK and CS examinations, and COMLEX Level 1 and COMLEX Level 2 CE.

“The Pathways to Practice group has been instrumental in the review and development of tools that will better equip our applicants to be prepared for applying to medical school and residency,”     
–Jayme Bograd, AACOM Director of Application Services, Recruitment and Student Affairs

So many osteopathic medical students have not yet taken the COMLEX Level 2 PE that the accreditation body for colleges of osteopathic medicine, the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, issued a joint statement (with NBOME and AACOM) allowing COMs to use other means to evaluate the clinical competence of students prior to graduation. These examinations have been widely used in residency application assessment. Many COMs and residency programs have gone to virtual interviews.

In response to these many challenges, AACOM’s Pathways to Practice adaptive workgroup is reviewing possible solutions for the application process to not only promote innovation at this time of crisis, but also to keep in close communication with the COMs as solutions are developed. In addition to working with the COMs, the workgroup is also looking to other health professions education settings for innovation possibilities, along with other settings within the economy.

“The Pathways to Practice group is focused on innovations that support our COMs, students and applicants in the time of COVID,” said Pathways member Mark Speicher, PhD, MHA, AACOM’s Senior Vice President for Medical Education and Research. “But it also aims to make these processes more applicant friendly and result in a better alignment of future physicians with their educational program.”

One of the focuses of the Pathways project is to improve the COMs’ ability to identify students who will be successful and who will Choose DO—using artificial intelligence (AI) and other methods to make the process more inclusive and more meaningful to our COMs.

Some of the current projects include application text mining—using an applicant's personal statement and description of experiences to augment and predict admissions status—and collaborating with a virtual interview coaching platform to be used by COM applicants and students for admissions or residency interview practice. A proof of concept is also being developed to produce a “Best Fit Score,” which will be a calculation using big data from applications and used to predict admissions.

“The Pathways to Practice group has been instrumental in the review and development of tools that will better equip our applicants to be prepared for applying to medical school and residency,” said Pathways member Jayme Bograd, AACOM’s Director of Application Services, Recruitment and Student Affairs. “Furthermore, they assisted in the timely review and creation of revised admissions practices during the AACOMAS cycle to ensure fairness to all applicants.”