Medical admission goes paperless

March 12, 2001

Heather Heilman

Ready or not, the admission office at Tulane University Medical School will soon take a bold jump into the paperless future. Starting June 1, all applications must be submitted online. If it were up to Joe Pisano, dean of admission at the medical school, he might choose to slowly wade into paperless rather than dive in head-first.

But like the majority of medical schools in the United States, Tulane participates in the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), a centralized clearinghouse for processing medical school applications, which allows students to apply to several schools by filling out just one application. AMCAS has decided to go paperless for the next application cycle, taking all participating schools with it.

"I'm very conservative, so it hurts me to say this, but yes, I think it's going to help," Pisano said. "It's going to save space, it's going to save manpower, but it's also going to cause a few heart palpitations before it's over."

The most immediate cause of anxiety is the possibility of technical snafus. But Pisano also is concerned about those who don't have access to technology.

"AMCAS claims that more than 90 percent of applicants are already submitting their applications online," Pisano said. "Well, that still leaves roughly 10 percent that aren't. Some of those are just old-fashioned like me. But there are a small number who don't have computing facilities. Every year we receive applications from people who are in the Peace Corps, and they might not have computer access in their little village. It's a small number of students, but nonetheless an important group of people."

Still, the benefits of going paperless are real. Not only does it save space and labor, but it's easier on the environment. The admission process is labor-intensive at every school, but at the medical school it's especially so. This admission season the office received 7,300 applications for 150 spaces in the class. Tulane sends each person who submits an application through AMCAS a secondary application in order to gauge how serious they are about the school.

Then about 900 applicants are invited for a series of interviews. Only about 60 percent of the applicants end up submitting a secondary application. So one advantage of an electronic application system is that it will save the paperwork and filing space for those who don't return a secondary application. The secondary applications will still be on paper for one more year, but after that they will also be done online.

"I can see the day coming when we will be totally paperless," Pisano said. "We're already seeing colleges send letters of recommendation via the Internet."

Another change coming for Tulane's medical school admission office is that it will begin participating in the rankings published by U.S. News and World Report. Pisano had long declined to submit information because he believes the rankings are "totally fallacious."

But he concedes that some students have chosen not to apply because the school is not ranked, and others cite the lack of ranking as a reason for declining an offer of admission. The Gourman Report, another source of rankings, lists Tulane as the 16th best medical school in the United States, although Pisano doesn't give much credence to that ranking, either.

"In my opinion, ranking medical schools is a next to impossible task," Pisano said. "The only ranking that counts is the quality of the product: the graduates. Obviously, I think ours are the best, but I don't see how I can objectively make that determination."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000