Wannabe medical students may soon have to brush up on their social sciences before applying to medical school.
The Association of American Medical Colleges recently proposed changes to the MCAT –– the entrance exam for all medical schools –– including a new sociology and psychology section.
The proposal reflects a desire to create more well-rounded medical students, said Owen Farcy, the director of pre-health programs at Kaplan Test Prep. Traditionally, the MCAT only tested students’ knowledge of physics, chemistry, organic chemistry and biology.
“The way medicine is practiced and the knowledge that medical students need when they enter medical school has changed dramatically,” Farcy said. “That’s the basis for these changes.”
The MCAT hasn’t changed since 1991, and the AAMC board will meet in February to review the proposal. If approved, the changes will show up on all medical school entrance exams by 2015, making it the test’s fifth revision in the 90 years of its existence.
A focus on humanities could help pre-med students with their bedside manner in the future, said Holly Bui, the president of the University of Minnesota’s Pre-med American Medical Student Association. Although the Medical School curriculum is highly focused on science, Bui said the change to the test could create more interest in students pursuing degrees in humanities.
“There’s a lot more to medicine than just the symptoms and what science tells you,” she said. “Organic chemistry has nothing to do with patient interaction. Patients need emotional care, too.”
According to a Kaplan survey of 69 accredited medical schools, 73 percent of responding admissions officers said the changes were necessary.
Exactly what students will need to study in psychology or sociology is still unknown, but the concepts will be taught in introductory-level courses, Farcy said.
The inclusion of social sciences could add at least two courses to an =undergraduate degree for pre-med students, Farcy said. The University’s Medical School has seven prerequisites, six of which are science requirements.
According to the Kaplan survey, 67 percent of admissions officers said the MCAT change would require curriculum revisions. Only 52 percent said their schools would have time to make curriculum changes to accommodate the new version of the test before it went into effect.
The University was unable to comment on whether prerequisites for the Medical School would have to be amended, since the changes to the MCAT are still under consideration.
“Discussing potential changes prior to any formal implementation would be premature,” said Justin Paquette, spokesman for the University’s Academic Health Center.
But on its website, the University’s Medical School already recommends courses in psychology and social sciences to prospective medical students.
The revision would also include questions on more advanced scientific concepts. Students will have to pursue advanced study in genetics, molecular and cellular biology and biochemistry, Farcy said. The writing section, which includes two essays, would be cut.
Robin Wright, associate dean at the College of Biological Sciences, said that many students in her school already take courses in social sciences. Experience in these fields make them more competitive in medical school.
Medical schools are looking for applicants that can think critically, synthesize information and interact well with others — all important factors in social sciences, Wright said.
CBS is in discussions to develop a pre-health sciences major track that would combine science courses with liberal arts requirements and would likely include social sciences.
The changes would bring the current time for test-taking to seven-and-a-half hours –– a two hour increase from the current version.
“It makes for quite a long day for pre-med students,” Farcy said. “It does have some students concerned, but at the same time, premed students are a hardy breed –– they’re used to quite a lot of hard work.”
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