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First-year class brings more than smarts to school

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Winter


Gaining entry to the School of Medicine remains among the academic world’s most competitive selection processes. With more than 3,000 applicants for the approximately 100 slots in each first-year class at Yale, being smart and well-prepared are givens. It takes more than that to get in. “We’re looking for people who have shown that they are truly concerned about other people and have done something in their lives that really illustrates that spirit,” says Deputy Dean for Education Robert H. Gifford, M.D., HS ’67. The 102 members of the Class of 2002 arrived in New Haven at summer’s end with just that experience.

The 57 men and 45 women represent a broad cross section of backgrounds and interests. They include 21 Yale graduates, 15 Harvard graduates, at least one lawyer, a mother of three, and two children of faculty members. The mean age of the class is 24. About half the class is Hispanic, African-American or Asian-American. As for the assessment of those more humane qualities, Dean Gifford says, “they needn’t have anything to do with medicine. We look for people who have given of themselves to others, such as working with kids, or as camp counselors, or with the disadvantaged in the community.”

Among the entering students, Vivek Murthy organized a program while in college that sent American college students to India to conduct HIV prevention workshops for teenagers. Alison Norris developed school libraries in Zanzibar and helped restore overgrazed land in Kenya before working on public health issues at Harvard and the Rockefeller Institute. Patricia Diaz traded an apartment on Central Park South and a successful career as a lawyer in New York City for a dormitory room in Harkness and a full schedule as a medical student. She finds that she’s not alone in having an unexpected background for a medical student. “Everyone here,” she says, “has an exceptional and fascinating story of their own.”

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