The University Record, March 8, 1993

Medical School team trims application response time

By Rebecca A. Doyle

At first, one hour each week seemed to be a lot of time to give to a process that might not yield the results the Medical School admissions team was looking for.

But a year later, all five “A-Team” members are enthusiastic about the results of the Total Quality Management approach to solving the problem they identified in the admission screening process for the Medical School.

The Medical School accepts only about 130 of the more than 5,000 applicants who annually vie for a spot in the first-year class. The problem: applicants in a certain group were waiting more than four months to find out whether they were accepted to the program, resulting in thousands of phone calls to the admissions office.

“Originally, we thought the problem was that the applicants were having to call too often. But we had to rethink that after we surveyed a random sample and found that they didn’t think calling twice was too often,” says Kathryn T. Horne, student services associate and team leader.

In their first brainstorming sessions, the five discussed different themes they could focus on for improvement and, using the selection matrix method, found that they handled approximately two calls from each applicant to check on the status of their applications. That meant about 10,000 phone calls.

“We really thought we had found the problem,” says Jeanne M. Beland.

But in July, when the group surveyed a number of applicants, they learned that 95 percent of them expected to make that many calls and did not feel it was a problem. Instead, when the team asked for suggestions to improve communication, applicants responded that they felt they had to wait too long to hear whether or not they were accepted.

It was a little hard to switch from focusing on the 10,000 phone calls, Beland says. But they followed the guidelines for Total Quality Management, which call for discussion based on data rather than gut feeling. This year, Beland notes, the whole screening process seems to have moved faster.

In order to cut down on the waiting time for applicants, staff concentrated their efforts on processing and reviewing applications as soon as MCAT results were received in the fall. Although the wait time has been reduced, the “A-Team” is not sure how much time they have trimmed.

In April, they will sift through data to find out how much waiting time has been reduced.

“We’re a lot more organized than we have been in the past,” says Beland. “There is more teamwork this year, even in interactions with other groups. People have made remarks about how well we all work together.”

Part of the reason the team works so well together, Horne says, is that they follow rules of conduct for meetings, respecting each other’s ideas and expressing their own openly and without malice, Horne says.

Now, having implemented countermeasures that have corrected some of the problem and increased efficiency, the group plans to repeat the telephone survey, make final adjustments in the procedure and then go on to tackle other problems.

In addition to Horne and Beland, the “A-Team” members are Kelly A. O’Leary, Patricia A. Turner and Mary Barnhart. On Feb. 1 Barnhart replaced Jena Osman, who had worked on the project for a year.