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Study takes `pulse' of medical school

Affirmative-action students admitted to a California medical school with low grades and test scores became just as good doctors as the higher-scoring applicants, researchers say.

The study, conducted at the University of California at Davis, was undertaken by two UC doctors con-cerned about the recent rollback of affirmative action in the state university system.The authors found no difference between special admissions students and regular admissions students in completing residency training, in their residency performance or in ultimately obtaining board certification.

The special admissions students did have a higher failure rate on the national science examinations taken in medical school and had to repeat the exam more often before passing. The exam is among three that doctors must pass to obtain a license.

But the authors concluded that the UC admissions policy that takes race and unique skills into account showed "no evidence of diluting the quality of the graduates."

The findings, published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, drew quick fire from opponents of affirmative action, who said the authors manipulated the data to favor minority preferences.

The authors, Drs. Robert C. Davidson and Ernest L. Lewis of the UC-Davis School of Medicine, examined admissions at the institution from 1968 through 1987. They analyzed student files and sent questionnaires to graduates and directors of their residency programs.

During the period studied, 20 percent - 356 of 1,784 students - were admitted with special considerations.

About 43 percent of the special admissions were minorities covered by affirmative action. The rest demonstrated unique leadership qualities, had overcome barriers such as poverty or physical disability or had special skills such as fluency in multiple languages.

Davidson and Lewis found a graduation rate of 94 percent for special admissions students, compared with 98 percent for regular admissions. Although regular admissions students were more likely to receive honors or A grades, there was no difference in rates of failing core courses.

Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor and co-chairman of the Proposition 209 campaign that barred racial preferences in public hiring, contracting and education, called the lumping of minority admissions with other unusual admissions "a very significant sleight of hand."

"That's going to dilute the effect of affirmative action all the way through," she said.

Dr. Randall Morgan, past president of the National Medical Association in Washington, which represents more than 22,000 black doctors, said the findings support his group's contention that affirmative action makes good doctors.

Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who spearheaded the affirmative action rollback, called the study irrelevant.