Dean's Update 2020-12

December 21, 2020

As I reflect back to January 2018, it was a time when, as a college, we were facing incredible tribulation with the realization that individuals affiliated with our school violated the trust of so many young women and undermined the work and teaching being conducted by an overall community of good and hard-working people.

It was a time when I was ultimately asked to lead our great medical school. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how we would fare. I was not only genuinely afraid for our future, but also worried as to how the osteopathic profession would progress.

Although, I didn’t publicly express these concerns (at least up until now), I now realize how much I benefited from the counsel and expertise of numerous leaders and groups, including faculty, staff and students, along with great partners with which we continue to benefit from to this day. Listening to this tremendous amount of good judgement not only helped calm my fears, but also helped us move forward together as a college to meet the multiple challenges we faced.

For that support and team effort, I am forever grateful – to those across our college, university and throughout the osteopathic profession.

With guidance from our college community to address the shortcomings of our past, we have continued to forge ahead by creating opportunities to engage in numerous discussions that have led to the development of a strategic plan, the creation of our Creating COMmunity plan, and our climate and professionalism CommonGround framework. All of these efforts were implemented to fulfill a desire to create an inclusive and diverse osteopathic medical school that prospective students will want to attend, and current students will feel good about being a part of.

Given this background, I’m bolstered by the fact that since 2016, we have seen a 50% increase in the number of applicants to our college, an 83% increase in those who self-identify as female, and a 50% increase in those who self-identify as under-represented in medicine, or URiM. These are outcomes we can be proud of today and into the future, as they suggest we are on the right path.

Much of this can be attributed to the great work of our admissions and student life team led by Dr. Katherine Ruger, associate dean. Their work has helped ensure that we continue down this bright path. Below, Dr. Ruger shares her thoughts as to how our college will move forward.


Q&A with Dr. Katherine Ruger

Q: Applications to the college have been at their highest ever. What do you attribute to this?

Many news articles and broadcasts refer to the “Fauci effect,” which suggests that an individual’s decision to pursue medicine may be inspired by COVID. Across the DO and MD professions, we have seen application increases up to 18% based on the same time last year. Our college is RugerKatie2018.jpgexperiencing a similar phenomenon with a 22% increase in applications so far this cycle, which is based on the entire 2020 application pool.

For our college, there are a number of factors that could be playing into this increase beyond the “Fauci effect.” These include:

  • A recent decrease in our out-of-state tuition costs.
  • Broader efforts to increase awareness and interest in the DO profession. Students seem to be attracted to the principles of osteopathic medicine as they are exposed to and learn more about the DO philosophy.
  • Our continued expansion of pre-college initiatives, Osteopathic Medical Scholars Program and national recruitment efforts.

It’s important to note that the rate of high school graduates in Michigan is predicted to decrease over the next few years as well – which means there may be fewer Michigan undergraduates prepared to pursue medical school.

As such, we will continue to expand our recruitment strategies within and beyond the state of Michigan. Because the circumstances of COVID accelerated changes to our recruitment and admissions efforts, allowing for virtual accessibility to students throughout the world, we have identified ways in which some of these new efforts may be sustained moving forward.

Q: How has having a more holistic approach helped the admissions process?

Our college has always embraced a holistic admissions process. Leveraging our osteopathic principles, we look at the whole person in the application process, rather than just focusing on grades and test scores.

We evaluate applicants based on our mission, asking questions such as: “How has this individual contributed to their community and how do their values align with those of the college’s?”

One of the best parts of the job is getting to know our applicants; through the stories they share in their personal statements, through the comments shared by individuals who recommend them, and by learning about their life experiences that have made them the person they are today. As such, we attract and select students with a wide variety of personal and professional successes, challenges and goals who add great value to the classroom and to the future of health care.

Q: What does diversity mean when it comes to being admitted into an osteopathic medical school?

Osteopathic medicine is centered around the idea of holism. Understanding and appreciating the whole person, mind-body-spirit and recognizing the unique factors and experiences which contribute to a person’s life. This mindset is essential for realizing diversity and achieving inclusive excellence in health care.

Our college is committed to offering a safe environment to support, promote and enhance inclusion and diversity in every aspect of its mission and the student experience. Diversity in our community will translate into improved health outcomes for all those impacted by our profession’s efforts in clinical care, outreach and scholarly activity.

Q: How is the college increasing diversity within its applicant pool?

Our college offers many initiatives that are focused on increasing the diversity of our community. These include our pre-college programs such as Future DOcs, OsteoCHAMPS and the Osteopathic Medical Scholars Program. Additionally, we have expanded our recruitment efforts to engage in national associations such as Student National Medical Association, Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans, etc. in order to improve the college’s visibility throughout the country.

The college’s diversity committee has also partnered with students to develop a SpartanDO diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, campaign. This collaboration, which leverages social media, allows the college to outwardly showcase diverse initiatives and highlight values that are important to our community. The campaign also serves as a connector to a wide range of potential students across the nation and globally.

Creating an environment that is welcoming, safe and ensures that our college community is representative of the overall population is important to us. Our Student National Medical Association, which encompasses a diverse set of students, historically has reached out to newly admitted students in order to provide mentorship, offering prospective students an experience that feels safe and welcoming.

Q: How does the admissions process ensure that all students who are accepted graduate on time?

Our holistic approach to applicant selection allows us to assess one’s academic potential, grit and genuine interest in pursuing the field of osteopathic medicine. In reviewing the experiences of applicants and continually reviewing the student experience, we are able to identify and implement resources which complement the skillsets of our incoming students, but also strive to enhance student success – such as peer networking as well as advising and counseling services.

Q: A high percentage of students end up staying in Michigan to practice osteopathic medicine. What do you attribute to this?

More than 85% of our students come from the state of Michigan, so many intend to stay, live and practice here once they graduate. However, even our students who come to us from outside of the state often choose to stay and practice in Michigan as well.

I would attribute these trends to the strength of our Statewide Campus System, and the numerous opportunities it offers our students. With access to more than 20 community-based hospitals for clinical rotations, students develop long-lasting networks while in school and throughout their residencies, becoming well-embedded in their communities.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities you see in the admissions process moving forward?

COVID has inspired us to look at our process differently.

Before, we ran what I would describe as a “traditional” admissions process – evaluating applications, inviting candidates to campus for in-person interviews, etc. Now, after making adjustments throughout the last year, we may develop a hybrid model from past and current practices. With virtual interviews this year, not only were applicants able to access our interview process from anywhere in the world, but we were also able to activate our wonderful alumni network throughout the country and invite them to participate. These were individuals who were eager to contribute to our interview process but were geographically limited in the past.

Additionally, with our out-of-state tuition having been recently reduced, the college is now a more affordable option for future DOs across the world. We have a tremendous team of admissions professionals, who are committed to identifying opportunities that increase the awareness of the osteopathic profession, and of our college, globally.

We also will be launching the PA Medicine admissions process in the new year. At that same time, we will begin to develop strategic enrollment management plans which will work to further advance admissions and recruitment efforts for both DO and PA students, focusing on enhancing strategies for identifying diverse, mission-fit applicants.


Andy Amalfitano                                   

Katherine Ruger
Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Life