Expert educational consultant and college admissions adviser Mark Montgomery discusses the newer requirements of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT): be prepared to understand not just how to cure your patients, but the socioeconomic context of their ailments as well.
You know, in everything in life, there are fads, things that come and go, and in higher education the current fad in thinking about what kinds of education we should be offering our students and how we can be improving our educational system is to focus on STEM education: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is everywhere. You can hardly pick up a newspaper, or even the more specialized press like the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, and not bump into an article that is stressing how much we need to focus in this country on STEM education.
So it was against this backdrop that I picked up the Wall Street Journal this morning and was looking online at the changes that have now been implemented for the Medical College Admissions Test, or the MCAT. This is a test that every student must take in order to gain admission to medical school. There have been many changes to the test, not the least of which is to lengthen the test from about three and half hours or three hours to seven and a half (much more rigorous in that regard), and they changed the grading scale and whatnot.
But really, what is most interesting to me is that even while everyone else is focusing on STEM education, the medical school examination boards are more interested in the liberal arts! They have added sociology, psychology, an understanding of things like economics and politics and the idea of racism and power. Because, let’s face it, if you want to be a doctor in this country, you need to understand the context in which you are practicing medicine. Clearly, number 1, medicine is a business. In this country, it’s primarily a private business offered to us by very large corporations, not on a non-profit basis anymore. And at the same time we have problems, as highlighted in the article, we have problems like diabetes that really do relate not just to the physical condition of the human being that we’re talking about, but also relate to the context of that person and where he or she lives.
So one of the things it talks about in here is that, I’ll read you one little quote here, it says, “A large new section, one quarter of the test, covers psychology, sociology, and the biological foundations of behavior. Official review material includes concepts such as social inequality, class consciousness, racial and ethnic identity, institutional racism and discrimination, and power, privilege, and prestige,” which of course is about politics.
So you can see that in order to get into med school now, it is not enough just to get a lot of chemistry and a lot of biology under your belt. If you really want to be a doctor, you need to take a variety of classes in a wide-ranging set of subject areas to help prepare you to be a doctor. So what does that mean for you if you’re interested in medical school? You actually might consider attending a liberal arts college rather than a big university with a medical school attached. Yes, you probably would do well to get clinical experience while you are in college in order to get admitted to medical school. Yes, you might want to also do scientific research while you are in undergraduate school in order to get into med school. But if you do not study things like sociology and psychology, politics and economics, you also will be at a disadvantage when take this test.
So while everyone else is focused on STEM education, actually, medical schools are looking for students in the liberal arts. Keep that in mind as you’re getting ready to prepare for a medical education and when you are choosing which undergraduate college to attend.