Obese, unattractive students discriminated against in medical admissions process, Duke study finds

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Researchers at Duke Health discovered that medical school admissions programs discriminated against obese and "facially unattractive" applicants.

"It's unfortunate and disturbing, but perhaps not totally unexpected," Duke Radiology's Vice Chairman of Education Charles M. Maxfield said of the study recently published in the journal Academic Medicine.

Maxfield is the lead author on the study.

He said he and his colleagues designed the study to uncover the impact of physical appearance on medical school resident selection. To do so, they created mock applicants to be reviewed by 74 faculty members at five different radiology departments.

The authors of the study chose 76 photographs to represent a various facial attractiveness and obesity. With those photos, the authors of the study then randomized academic variables--such as class rank, grades, standardized test scores--for each application.

Reviewers chose the more attractive and less obese applicants, no matter the academic scores associated with them, more regularly than the other applicants.

Applicants that were obese or facially unattractive were half as likely to receive an interview with the radiology department.

"We find no reason to believe our findings are limited to radiology resident selection," Maxfield said. "Admissions decisions-makers throughout higher education should consider any potential appearance-based bias they may hold, and invoke strategies to manage that bias."

Maxfield said he hoped the study would serve as an alert and a learning opportunity.
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