Accepting Undocumented Immigrants: How We Became the “Medical School of Dreams” and Dreamers



By: Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD, and Linda Brubaker, MD, MS

In October of 2012, the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine became the first medical school to amend its admissions policies to include persons “eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” In declaring “DREAMers of DACA Status Welcome,” we publicly stated our intent to be a welcoming environment for these applicants. In our recent Academic Medicine article, we describe the talents and potential contributions of Dreamer applicants. This fall 8 Dreamers are among our incoming class, and each has a financial aid package comparable to those typical of their Stritch citizen-peers. As graduates, they will be able to become licensed physicians. How did this happen?

Our school’s social justice tradition, rooted deeply in the tradition of Jesuit and Catholic education, promotes the dignity, literally the “worth,” of all persons. We believe that this social justice tradition was essential to our success in two ways. First, because of it, we see these students for who they are and were thereby moved to find a way to steward their talents for our community. Second, as this tradition is university-wide, our publicly proclaimed commitment attracted much-needed and necessary pragmatic support.

In May of 2011, we received an e-mail from Herbert Medina, professor of mathematics at Loyola Marymount University, on behalf of a student. He asked about the possibility of an outstanding Dreamer student applying and being accepted to medical school. Notice that this inquiry came from another Jesuit university. Owing to our shared tradition of social justice, Jesuit schools have quietly taken a leadership role in the education of Dreamers. This role is part of a long history of advocacy for immigrant justice by the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops here in the US. As a result, we were not distracted or impaired by the negative rhetoric and heated politics that surround the topic of undocumented immigration. We were sure that the reaction of our alumni and students would be very positive and that we were on terra firma in responding to any detractors.

We wanted our commitment to Dreamers to be very public. We wanted them to know that they were competing for admission based on the merits of their application and that we saw them as members of our communities who would, in turn, serve those communities.

Perhaps the greatest practical outcome of this public commitment has been the creation of a loan program by the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA). By publicly announcing our changed admissions criteria, Dean Brubaker attracted the attention of the IFA’s Chairman of the Board, who saw an opportunity to invest in the physician infrastructure of the state. Under Chairman William Brandt’s leadership, the IFA created a state-wide DACA loan program modeled on public health service loans. Recipients can borrow funds for tuition and fees and gain interest forgiveness for serving in underserved areas in Illinois after medical training (including during residency and fellowship). We believe that this program would not have come about without the boldness engendered by our school’s clarity of purpose.

While the social justice tradition of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine called us to take a leadership role in welcoming applicants of DACA status, we believe that the mission of medical schools to train a talented and diverse physician workforce should motivate other medical schools to do the same. The opportunities are now much greater than the barriers.

For the perspective of an incoming Dreamer student at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and that of the parent of an incoming Dreamer student, see Aspiring Docs Diaries “Medical School Dreams Come True for Undocumented Students and their Families – Three Perspectives.”  

Dr. Kuczewski is Fr. Michael I. English Professor of Medical Ethics, director, Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, and chair, Department of Medical Education, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Dr. Brubaker is dean and chief diversity officer, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and urology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

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  1. Herbert A. Medina
    July 3, 2014 at 6:18 PM

    Thank you Prof. Kuczewski and Dean Brubaker for your outstanding leadership on this issue. Because of your dedication, innovation and hard work, Stritch Medical School is at the forefront of the efforts to allow DREAMERs to pursue professional degrees. Our nation faces many health-care challenges including a shortage of physicians, especially in low-income and immigrant communities, so your work not only impacts this population of students, but also makes a contribution to improving our health care system.

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