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I was told there would be no math, II

May 6, 2013

Someone has been listening to me.  Or rather, to me and a growing number of voices that are questioning the requirements for admission to medical school.  I have argued in a past blog that you won’t get more good primary care doctors, who practice a lot of humanities in addition to the science, if the only people you admit to medical school are scientists.  Two medical schools and the American Association of Medical Colleges are beginning to agree.

Pauline Chen gives a good overview of what’s happening in this area here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/the-changing-face-of-medical-school-admissions/?ref=health.  Essentially, Boston University and the medical school at Mt. Sinai have made pretty radical efforts to apply either more than the traditional evaluation points to their admissions process, or different ones altogether.  Mt. Sinai, in particular, has an extraordinary an early-acceptance program for college sophomores and juniors in which they can get into medical school without the MCATs, and without a few of the standard pre-med science and math requirements. In return, the accepted students have to continue to major in an humanities-related field and maintain an adequate GPA.  They also have to undergo intensive science enrichment courses prior to matriculation.  BU hasn’t gone quite that far, but they have included many more “holistic” data points into their admissions decisions, a process that is extremely labor intensive for the schools’ admissions staff.

Both schools have great ideas that are showing some promising results.  I see a couple potential problems:

1. Mt. Sinai seems to be sort of cramming in all the old science requirements in off-hours, allowing students to pursue wider studies in college.  I would rather see a larger decrease in the science and math requirements.  Basic chemistry and biology are probably necessary, but no one has ever explained to me why you need physics.  Or calculus.  You don’t need most of this stuff in medical school.  All you need in medical school is the ability to put your head down and push through the memorization.  You don’t need math, you just need patience.  The thing is, the only way to get rid of the math and science is to get rid of the MCAT, because believe you me you can’t get through that behemoth with an english major.  Then, even if you do that, you eventually run into Step 1, the first of the three-part exam you take in medical school to pass medical school.  The Mt Sinai kids might need more “enrichment” courses to get through that.  If those hoops are eliminated, you might find some great doctors underneath those mountainous requirements.

2. Asking sophomores to commit to medical school means you’re asking 19 and 20 year olds to decide what they want to be when they grow up.  I couldn’t even decide what to wear on any given day when I was 19.  The path of medical school and residency is so long and so arduous that it’s a tough commitment to make at any age, let alone 2 years out of high school.  Kids should be having fun and learning a wide range of great new things in college, and even after.   It’s the perfect time in their lives to do this.  The best thing would be to at least consider the application of ANY college student who wants to apply, even if he doesn’t have the science and math.  You’d be more likely to end up with an happy, well-rounded individual.

My proposals aren’t going to come true, of course.  We hold onto the doctor-scientist identity very strongly.  But these schools and the AAMC are making a start and I bet they’re making some great doctors too.

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2 Comments
  1. Thanks, a fascinating post!

    I’m an Australian medical student. In Australia we have undergraduate and postgraduate medical schools. Postgraduate medical schools are similar to American medical schools where the applicant needs an undergraduate degree. However undergraduate medical schools admit students directly from school (by which I mean high school). The average age starting an undergraduate medical school is 17-18 years old unless a student takes a gap year(s) and graduation from medical school 23-24 years old. There are entrance exams, interviews and other requirements for both undergraduate and postgraduate medical schools. In both undergraduate and postgraduate medical schools students are at the top academically speaking.

    The trend in Australia is shifting to postgraduate medical school, but it used to be undergraduate medical schools predominated. I reckon having undergraduate medical schools in society is inherited from the U.K. where many if not most medical schools were undergraduate medical schools.

    For what it’s worth, I’d like to offer my opinion please. Obviously I’m biased since I’m currently an undergraduate medical student, not to mention my sample size (n=1) doesn’t quite help and perhaps I’m too young/immature/inexperienced to be able to pick up on differences if differences truly exist, but I don’t notice significant differences in clinical acumen between Australian undergraduate medical students and Australian postgraduate medical students or as interns and residents. At least not from what I’ve seen in hospital.

    Kind regards.

    • Thanks for reading! I totally agree with you that clinically there is no difference between undergraduate med students and postgrads. I had one person in my residency who had come from that system and she did as well as anyone else. I don’t think you need 8 years. However, the only concern I have with that is that some people may be a bit young and immature to be an MD at 22 years old. Not everyone, of course, and certainly not you!
      Shirie

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