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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events

Holistic approach to educational program admissions increases future workforce diversity
December 7, 2023

Implementation and outcomes of USC Chan’s holistic admission practices explained in new American Journal of Occupational Therapy editorial.

Academics and Courses Diversity, Access, Equity Students

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By Mike McNulty

Visual model of applicant attributes accounted for within USC Chan's approach to holistic admissions.

USC Chan’s holistic admissions model. (Copyright 2023, USC Chan)

An editorial published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy details the USC Chan Division’s approach to holistic admissions, the gold-standard processes for reviewing and admitting professional program applicants who demonstrate academic excellence and represent the division’s mission, vision and core values.

Holistic admission practices in health care professional programs can increase future workforce diversity, so that occupational therapy practitioners will more proportionally represent the demographic distribution of the US population. According to the editorial’s authors, a more diverse workforce can better address and, ideally, eliminate health care disparities.

Arameh Anvarizadeh headshot photograph

Arameh Anvarizadeh, associate professor of clinical occupational therapy

“Academic admissions officers are essentially gatekeepers, and for too long, too many barriers have minimized diversity in health care education,” said the editorial’s lead author Arameh Anvarizadeh, associate professor of clinical occupational therapy. “Holistic admission opens the gates wider for traditionally minoritized students, and that is critical to delivering client-centered care in such a socially- and culturally-grounded profession like occupational therapy.”

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association’s 2023 workforce and compensation survey, current racial demographics of occupational therapy practitioners in the US are 85 percent White, 4 percent Hispanic/Latino/Latin American, 4 percent African American/Black, 3 percent multi-ethnic and 2 percent East Asian.

The USC Chan Division began implementing holistic admissions for its professional program in 2020. The authors explain how restructuring the program’s application criteria, weighting cognitive and non-cognitive factors and implementing committee review led to a more diverse cohort of admitted students. They also outline targeted recruitment and visibility efforts that can yield more applicants from more diverse populations.

Grace Baranek headshot photograph

Grace Baranek, associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

“Since implementing holistic admissions, USC Chan has continued to welcome the most diverse entry-level cohorts in our program’s history,” said co-author Grace Baranek, associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “USC is showing the entire profession how we can intentionally deploy solutions to increase health equity by narrowing the disparities gap.”

Faculty members Amber Bennett and Julie McLaughlin Gray, and former faculty member Kristin Nxumalo are co-authors.

Designing and implementing USC Chan’s holistic admissions was a collective effort that involved a number of division community members for more than two years. An admissions committee was established, and is typically composed of at least seven faculty members who have a wide range of personal and professional experiences and backgrounds. Faculty members rotate on and off the admissions committee each year, and also participate in an annual orientation and calibration training to minimize bias and standardize rubric scoring.

The student cohort that enrolled in USC Chan’s entry-level OTD program starting in the fall 2023 semester is 33 percent Asian, 14 percent Black/African-American, 37 percent Hispanic/Latinx/e, 42 percent White, 3 percent Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 2 percent Native American/American Indian (note: students can endorse more than one category).

“Admissions officers at the 200-plus accredited OT educational programs across the nation face an urgent call to immediately improve health equity,” Anvarizadeh said. “Using holistic admissions, we can quickly make occupational therapy a far more inclusive, equitable and diverse profession, and I know that will benefit every single one of our clients and communities we serve.”

“Promoting Health Equity Through Holistic Admissions in Occupational Therapy Education” is available open-access at the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.