Time for a Medical School at BYU?

During lunch today with one of my best non-LDS friends, I was asked why BYU doesn’t have a medical school. My friend said that when he was growing up in Taiwan, he became aware of Catholics through the outstanding hospital they ran, and thought it would be wonderful P.R. for the LDS Church to have more of a presence through hospitals and particularly through a medical school at BYU. He said that positive public awareness of Mormons grew greatly with the prominence of BYU as a university, and then through their football team, and now the next step would be to get a strong medical school. I’m not aware of the pros and cons of having a medical school, but the idea is intriguing. Might that happen someday?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

30 thoughts on “Time for a Medical School at BYU?

  1. Cecil O. Samuelson (the current president of BYU) has a brother who is the head of medical school admissions at the University of Utah. I wonder what their thoughts are on this subject.

    The first major hurdle would probably be the cost. My wife is now finishing her 4th year of med school at the University of Utah. She said that sometime in the 80s the med school here went from having each new class of 100 students to 102 students — and that the cost of just that seemingly slight change was very significant.

    Because there are only 102 new spots annually, the competition to get accepted at the University of Utah is incredibly intense. There are a lot of Utah natives who really would prefer not to leave the state for their medical schooling. Of course each year at least a couple of hundred LDS young male applicants are rejected from the U. To say they are disappointed is a huge understatement. And not only are they disappointed — their extended families and friends are disappointed.

    Naturally, when they are rejected from the University of Utah, they would rather believe that the rejection is due to some kind of bias against them rather than to the quality of their applications (in comparison to other applications).

    The result is that there are are a number of rumors that circulate about University of Utah admissions. These rumors circulate in different forms but I think I can sum them up in two: 1) that medical school admissions at the University of Utah favor less-qualified non-LDS women and minorities over higher-qualified LDS white males and 2) that there is a bias against Utah residents.

    Neither of these rumors is true. There was a Deseret News article some years ago that provided false information that helped to fuel these rumors. When Bro. Samuelson asked the reporter to retract the wrong facts in the article, the reporter refused.

    I’m not sure many people realize the level of anguish and irritation these rumors create for minority and female students at the University of Utah. There is a real sense that many immediately judge them to be less-qualified candidates who were “thrown a bone”.

    Unfortunately the rumors are believed by many, including influential people. One result of these deeply believed rumors has been audits of the medical school by the Utah legislature for at least two years. These audits have tried and failed to establish proof of bias. A major reason the audits happened is that legislators themselves have had children, relatives and friends who have been turned down from the University of Utah.

    The really difficult thing for some applicants to handle is when they are rejected from the University of Utah but are accepted at other (more) prestigious universities. But no doubt this happens with at least some applicants every year.

    Sorry for the extended rant.


  2. How does my rant above relate to the question of whether BYU creates a medical school?

    Well, I am trying to imagine how the local culture’s perspective of medical school admissions would change if both BYU and the University of Utah carried the task of accepting and turning down medical school applications from the LDS community. I wonder how the LDS applicant would feel if he/she (particularly he) applied to medical schools at BYU and the University of Utah and wasn’t accepted.

    At the same time, the existence of two medical schools in Utah might help to relieve some of the strain and pressure felt by many. Maybe twice as many Utah residents who apply would be able to stay in Utah.

    I wonder too, how the existence of a BYU medical school would influence LDS perspectives of LDS women who apply and are accepted to medical school. I know that LDS women attend the BYU law school and wonder whether LDS women law students experience things similarly or differently from LDS women medical students.

    Sorry for opening cans of worms here. You provided a nice convenient space and I’m afraid I’ve vented a bit.


  3. If Sofie doesn’t mind, I’ll simply put the quote here:

    If your question is more general and is something like this: “Is there really a conflict between my desires in math, science or engineering and the basic doctrines of the Church?” my answer is no. You should be aware that BYU has never and will never consciously be a party to leading anyone away from the things that are most precious to us. BYU will try to provide legitimate and honorable opportunities for students to study and progress in many of the spheres of knowledge that are available at this wonderful time in the history of the world. We won’t cover every discipline – don’t hold your breath for a medical school, for example – but you can be satisfied that what is available here is viewed with honor and respect as viable fields of study for women and for men.

  4. I have heard the question of whether BYU will have a medical school answered in the negative before. Clearly this is a question or issue that stays on the table and is answered over and over again. I get the feeling the question won’t really go away until one day it is answered in the affirmative.

    Years ago when I was growing up in New York, my parents went to a conference where a general authority said that the growth of the Church in New York simply did not justify the building of a temple and that he didn’t feel a temple would be built (if ever) in New York for many years. Now, even though not all that much time has elapsed (maybe 10-15 years) since then, there is the Manhattan temple.

    With the Church scheduled to roll forth and fill the whole earth, the question probably isn’t really whether or not there will be a BYU medical school, but how long it will be before there is a BYU medical school.

    One possibility that has occurred to me is that BYU or the Church could choose to establish a medical school in or outside of Utah. I suppose one doesn’t have to absolutely assume that a BYU medical school will be in Provo. Maybe a medical school could be adjuct to the facility in Idaho. Or Hawaii. Or somewhere else. Why not?

  5. I really doubt it will ever happen at BYU–primarily because of cost, but there are probably other reasons as well, such as regulation, ethics, etc. The Church used to own LDS Hospital but they got rid of it a couple of decades ago.

    Given the cost, I think we’re lucky the Church maintains the BYU schools at all. If they were going to make another investment in education, I would think the Brethren would favor adding more undergraduate or trade schools in order to provide basic education to more people rather than sink a whole lot of money into a higher education for a few hundred.

  6. Hey Jared you hit the nail right on the head. And not just trade schools in Utah. These should be available outside of Utah. Is there still the LDS Business college in Utah? Not every LDS kid graduating from HS won’t go to BYU nor has an interest in going there. I myself attended BYU-H I did not want to go there but went because it was what my parents expected. I love the standards of the church, and would have rather gone to a good LDS trade school instead.

  7. Having graduated from the U OF U med school and having served on the admissions committee and having had a well qualified son only make the alternate list at Utah, I would offer the following comments.
    1) You need a lot of varied pathology (sick people with different diseases) to sustain a good med school. One could question whether the Wasatch front is populous enough to carry two med schools.
    2)Reimbursement. Government money and support drives med schools. Questionable if there would be enough of either.
    3)Utah has 75 of 100 seats committed to residents. Most Utah applicants “looked” alike…3.9GPA, solid MCATs, Eagle scout, RM, speaks Mandarin, worked 3 months in an ER, father is an MD, etc. Medical schools want diversity in their classes… sometimes hard to come by in Utah.
    4)LDS applicants often appear as clones in Utah but offer a real cultural contrast to out of area schools (my son was accepted on the spot during his interviews at Washington University and Rochester University Med School. He subsequently did a residency at Mayo clinic). LDS applicants often just don’t want to leave the security of the area.

    In any event, I would hate to see the church get into the med school business. It has a much larger mission to fill.

  8. It seems to me that you shouldn’t expect BYU to have a medical school without seriously changing its view on its mission. It’s frankly amazing that there are several graduate schools on campus: the MBA program, the Law school, and I believe the accounting program. There are nominal graduate programs in many other departments, but they aren’t really supported nor encouraged. One friend of mine who is a professor basically said that research wasn’t considered a major contribution to tenure.

  9. I think a LDS trade schools would be a wonderful idea! Alot of the traditional trades are seeing a demand that puts these individuals (carpenters, plumbers, mechanics) in great demand. I also think this would be a great asset to our growing hispanic LDS population. Let’s not forget that the founder of our church was a carpenter (no, not Joseph, think Christ!).

  10. “our growing hispanic LDS population”… WHAT? You don’t think that some poor WHITE kids couldn’t benefit from this as well? I’m sure your comment was well intentioned but not very racially sensitive.

  11. Oh please, get over it. You know what he meant. Don’t get your panties all in a bunch. There is such a thing as being racially insensitive. I believe a far worse trait is being racially hyper-sensitive.

  12. The cost issue is a big one – but what if a wealthy donor dropped a hundred million or so to get things going? And what about a medical school in Mexico to create high-quality jobs? Or more generally, what about a new trade school or LDS university somewhere south of the border? It could be consistent with the vision behind the Perpetual Education Fund.

    Though I would disagree with the use of tax dollars for such things, I could easily imagine the federal government throwing in some money to support the idea in light of the current push for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA – sort of like NAFTA on steroids).

  13. Sorry to hear about the challenges of LDS people getting turned down in Utah and thinking it is bias.

    The racial tensions between those accepted and those rejected from schools (and jobs) extends all over the US, unfortunately. It must be terribly frustrating to be a highly qualified minority and to have others think you got in unfairly.

  14. I think the idea about the LDS Church creating a hospital in Mexico is very interesting. One can only imagine the good the Church could do in impoverished or underdeveloped areas by sponsoring something like this. I’m sure that in the future greater contributions will be made by the Church to the medical field, medical education, etc. There are plenty of LDS doctors out there and the Church is always growing in its financial and leadership capabilities. The Perpetual Education Fund and other similar ventures might have future applications and capabilities we haven’t even imagined yet.

    As for the issue of bias or a perception of bias … it is (as was said) a real issue all over the United States. The tensions often arise over salient ethnic differences and perceptions of prejudice or favoritism towards one ethnicity or gender at the expense of another ethnicity or gender. The more often competitive desires are created and disappointed, the stronger the feelings of resentment that arise.

    Many caucasian men in the United States these days feel that they are losing valuable opportunities to minorities and women. Fairly or not, often the feeling of loss is further accentuated by the perception that the women and minorities applicants are less-qualified. The women and minorities who are successful then get regular feedback (in offhand comments or the like) that makes them feel as if their real achievements are not being recognized and appreciated. And on the rare occasion that a female or minority person in that position stumbles (momentarily or permanently) there is a sense that many eyes are watching and saying: “See, we told you so … this shows the flaws of this biased admissions process.”

    To be more specific, years ago a female minority medical student at the University of Utah had to repeat her first year more than once. We don’t know her and have never met her. But it is amazing how many times (in informal unmedical-related settings) my wife and I have heard her story as proof of the admissions bias. We feel like saying to people that they should give it a rest. One person’s difficult or even failure should not be used to judge the quality of all minority and female students.

    Needless to say, the sense that some find so much affirmation in another person’s difficulty or even failure is a serious source of tension.

    I suppose that these are the natural rigors of competition to a certain extent and some may say “Tough, you got the spot … you have to succeed.” They are right to an extent.

    Is this a total threadjack? I’m not so sure if this issue is completely irrelevant to the topic. If BYU or the Church decides to build a medical school program they will no doubt already know ahead of time that there is extreme competition between applicants. Many disappointed applicants talk away with resentment towards the schools involved. And the disappointed applicants often come from well-to-do families with political influence.

    That is probably the least of concerns in deciding whether BYU should create a medical school. Still, it has been surprising to note how thoroughly these seemingly small things filter out and saturate the general LDS community in Utah. Our first two years here, we were amazed at how often the issue of medical school admission biases arose in casual conversations. It seems that almost everyone here knows at least one person who has applied (successfully or not) to the local medical school.

    The Church population is only barely becoming accustomed to LDS women or LDS minorities becoming medical doctors. Yet this is a world-wide Church that is now encouraging women to get “all the education you can.” Soon the de facto LDS culture will obviously contradict the assumption that LDS doctors are white males. That means that LDS people are going to have to develop a new breadth and sensitivity to their perspectives of this issue.

    Again, I’m sorry for the extended rant. From my experiences during the past four years I feel it is necessary to counter certain common assumptions in LDS/Utah culture and so when the opportunity arises, I express these thoughts and feelings.

  15. I live in Indiana, and attend Indiana University, which has a highly accredited medical school. Every year, we have many families coming in and out of our wards from Utah for medical and dental school. These med and dental students have a unique opportunity to share the gospel with those they come in contact with at school. That alone might be an excellent reason to NOT establish a medical school at BYU.

    If nothing else, I hope BYU doesn’t establish a med/dental school because I find it somewhat amusing when a med/dental student’s baby is blessed in sacrament meeting. Almost the entire population of LDS IU med/dental students stand in the circle. It’s a pretty big circle, too.

  16. Disclaimer: I never meant to be “racially insensitive” should anyone have taken my comment wrongly. Anyways, I do happen to be a white LDS, however I personally have worked carpenty, plumbing, factory jobs, lawn service, and am now on my way to becoming a police officer, I am clearly not a “white collar” boy, and I find that alot of the hispanic LDS population in my neck of the woods (Eastern PA and cental New Jersey) are also pursuing the types of jobs that I have done. Of course the benifit of a trade school would reach to all races within the church.

  17. Check out the response to this question on Pres. Samuelson’s website (the answer to this question was actually written by Pres. Bateman):

    Q: Why don’t we have a medical school?

    A: That’s a very good question. I don’t know if you understand, but a medical school would double the cost of the university. A medical school at a major university accounts for about half the cost of running the university.

    A long time ago, the Board of Trustees determined that we would not have a medical school here precisely for that reason, because it is extraordinarily expensive. And the state has one.

    Our students don’t have any problems getting into good medical schools. We have among the highest acceptance rates in the country for students who apply to medical and dental schools. We are doing better than most major universities with medical schools in terms of getting undergraduates involved in meaningful research that gets them into medical school.

  18. The result is that there are are a number of rumors that circulate about University of Utah admissions. These rumors circulate in different forms but I think I can sum them up in two: 1) that medical school admissions at the University of Utah favor less-qualified non-LDS women and minorities over higher-qualified LDS white males and 2) that there is a bias against Utah residents.

    Good to know. I had a room mate (Alejandro Paz) with an MCAT of 6 who was accepted at the U, and a guy in my class at law school with an MCAT of 6 who was accepted a couple of years later.

    I didn’t realize that an MCAT of 6 was considered “solid” for the U’s medical school.

    On the other hand, I’m glad Alejandro got in, disgusted that the other individual did (he was a typical millionaire’s kid).

    It is a complex issue.

    BYU or the Church decides to build a medical school program they will no doubt already know ahead of time that there is extreme competition between applicants. Many disappointed applicants talk away with resentment towards the schools involved. And the disappointed applicants often come from well-to-do families with political influence.

    Very true.

  19. Stephen,

    Let me just start by saying how weird I feel talking so much about this. I am not a medical student — nor will I ever be a medical student. To a certain extent I admire anyone who makes it into any medical school and aknowledge that they are my intellectual superiors in many ways. The only reason I’m saying so much on this thread is because in recent years I’ve had a glimpse into some of the events and workings of the UofU medical school because of my wife. So let it plainly be said that that’s my disclaimer or caveat. On that basis many should feel free to ignore anything I say.

    Having said that, I find it extremely hard to believe that two people with a 6 MCAT score got into the University of Utah medical school. My first response is: “Really?” Second, if in fact that is true, how many years ago was this? From what I’ve heard, students who don’t pass certain GPA and MCAT thresholds are cut automatically at the beginning of the admissions process. I would think a student with a 6 MCAT score would be dropped immediately without further thought.

    Having said that, there are many students who obsess too much over MCAT scores and GPAs. Almost all the applicants have very high GPAs and most have high MCAT scores as well. Some draw too much comfort from doing really well in these two areas. Besides these two criteria the UofU gives very serious consideration to the personal essay, multiple letters of recommendation, personal interviews with the candidates, past student research and work experience, etc. They really do look at the “whole package” the student has to offer. If a student has a very high GPA and a very high MCAT score and still fails or flubs one of these other areas, it might be enough to knock a student out of contention.

    At the same time, if a student has a GPA or MCAT score that isn’t the absolute highest of the group — but the student demonstrates maturity, insight and perseverance in other significant or unusual ways, that might count heavily in his/her favor and boost the overall impression. If a student already has a graduate or advanced degree, for example, that would be significant. I also heard another example given once of a student who didn’t have the absolute highest MCAT or GPA scores. But he had already published personal medical research in a peer-reviewed journal. That kind of achievement is going to get noticed and it will boost the student’s standing in the admissions process.

    How the student communicates during interviews and in the personal essay is crucial. If a student comes across as arrogant, condescending or careless, it will damage the candidate. The same is true if the student has limited service or work experience or if a student’s letters of recommendation are less than glowing.

    About a year ago I was working at the UofU hospital and my wife asked me to sit in and listen as Dr. Samuelson (current head of admissions) spoke to a new class of students regarding admissions policies and the controversies that have arisen over them. My wife couldn’t be there and wanted to know what he said.

    Dr. Samuelson spoke for approximately an hour and assured the students that 1) every single student present had been judged by the same criteria; 2) that every single student there was completely capable and worthy to be a medical student and 3) that the process of decision-making is as fair and possible. I was impressed with how forthright he was about the process and the students. He also pointed out that the medical school “has no diversity policy.” That is, there are no ethnic or gender quotas in the medical school admissions process.

    Towards the end of his presentation to the class, Dr. Samuelson stated something to the following effect: “Do we make mistakes? Yes. Will students we turn down go on to do great things in other medical school programs? Yes.” But he stated emphatically that the admissions people do everything in their power to be fair and that the process is in fact fair.

  20. Interesting. I knew both individuals personally.

    One started in I believe ’79 (may have been ’78) and the other around ’81.

    The one guy was the first in his family to graduate high school, had his own FBI agent who followed him around (he was a major player in the communist end of MECHA) and was a great room mate.

    The other guy was on another nation’s olympic team, had a millionaire father, and could game affirmative action like no one I’ve known.

    Obviously in 20+ years, a lot could happen to a University’s programs and policies.

    Thanks for the clairification.

  21. Dear Danithew,

    Please see http://le.utah.gov/audit/03_07rpt.pdf. This is an audit of the University of Utah’s Medical School Admissions process by the Utah State Legislature in 2003. It shows that females and minorities are preferentially treated over white males.

    And there are many more than just a “few” white males who get rejected from Utah but are accepted to other, more prestigous schools. How about 75% of those accepted to medical school from BYU each year (representing nearly 125 applicants). I should know — it’s my job to compile these stats at BYU every year. Some of the best applicants, even by the U’s admissions criteria, are rejected annually due to the poor admissions process at the U. Again, see the audit follow up at the link posted.

    On another note, Pres. Samuelson (Cecil) has also mentioned at student Q&A forums that the patient-base in the Greater Provo Area is not sufficient to justify a large teaching hospital/medical school to be built as a part of BYU. While this is unfortunate, it seems to make a lot of sense.

  22. If opening a medical school would double the cost of operating the school, then (obviously) the money could be better spent in other areas.

    If the church really was willing to spend that much, though, it could probably open ten universities of 30,000 students (same size as BYU, though probably smaller in scope i.e. less research) in poorer foreign countries for the same price as a single medical school for 100 students in the U.S.

  23. I asked this question myself to President Samuelson during a lunch of the Pre Med club in the Sky Room at the wilk. President Samuelson usually goes to this lunch which is held once a year. At the end some question are asked, and i asked how long would it take to have a med school at BYU, or if it was going to happen at all. President Samuelson said this: (im paraphrasing)Neither you children nor your grandchildren will see a med school at BYU. The price for a any med school is exorbitantly high. And if we want to have a GOOD med school at BYU, you (mine) tuition and every BYU student tuition will have to at least quadruple pay the cost of a med school. But at the end he said…. : but you never know… unless the lord wants us to have a med school at BYU, it wont happen. And that was his answer.

  24. I’m surprised at how defensive Danithew appears to be about the apparent fact that his wife (a female) attends the University of Utah.

    Although I have not lived in Utah for many years, I grew up in Utah and attended BYU. As a student in highschool along the Wasatch Front I remember the recruiter from the University of Utah proudly telling the gathered students that the U favors (undergrad) applicants who “are not from the dominant culture.” The very definition of diversity (either understood as racially or culturally) dictates that if the U of U seeks diversity it conversely selects against White LDS males in Utah. For people like Danithew, I am sorry that your wife has felt insecure about this, but it is a definitional fact. The U continues to brag about the fact that is seeks diversity. The more it brags about this, the more it cannot deny that it selects against LDS White Males (who are the majority of the applicants for med school in Utah.) Concerning a med school for BYU, I think it would be great, primarily because it would substantially increase the stature of all of the other programs at BYU. For whatever reason, schools get ranked “in their totality.” If BYU were to have a med. school, all of its rankings (undergrad, legal, MBA, etc.) would go up.

    Personally, I think the academic concept of “diversity” is a total farse. I’ve been in plenty of classes in my life (I have two advanced degrees) and never once have I thought to myself “wow am I learning a lot because the people sitting next to me are different then me” nor have I thought “it is difficult to learnt this concept because the people sitting next to me are too much like me.”

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  26. I don't know about medical school, but at the University of Utah I applied 3 times for either the molecular biology PhD. or pharm D. grad programs and was rejected each time. Why? Because I am local, white, male and LDS. I can prove it!!
    The U of U graduate acceptance procedures are biased. I scored way above average on the GRE and in the 99th %tile on the PCAT. That's the top one percent… and rejected every time. My GPA was about 3.5.
    I know of two people rejected from the U who got into Harvard and Yale grad programs (no suprise: white, local males.)
    I respect the U of U's attempt to encourage diversity, but when it comes at the expense of Utah native white males… it's discrimination and unfair.
    I have all the documentaion and proof to show what I am saying is true.
    F*** you U of U!!!! (grad programs only)
    Angry U of U alum
    P.S. maybe if BYU has more grad program there might be fairness in Utah

  27. President Eyring explained in this talk how the Church owned and operated a hospital system in Utah, but decided that it was outside of their core mission. In the 1970's this was spun off as Intermountain Healthcare. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/the-enduring-legacy-of-relief-society?lang=eng

    I don't think the Church will get back into that business in the USA, but I could maybe see us doing something like that in the third world. The Perpetual Education Fund would probably help LDS people who want to become healthcare providers in those countries, but maybe a more focused effort could be useful.

    I did undergrad at the U, but didn't even score an interview when I applied there for medical school: https://mormondoctor.com/2018/01/14/it-becomes-you-part-ii-apply-yourself/

    I was upset at the time, but now I don't really care because I went to a good medical school anyway and it was good for me to leave Utah for a while.

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