Registration for the new Medical College Admission Test opens this month and will be administered for the first time in April. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, which develops the test, the adjustments were made to “reflect the changes in medicine and science and to test examinees on not only what they know but how well they use what they know.” While the new test is certainly a step in the right direction, further changes need to be made in the undergraduate requirements for medical school applicants if the AAMC is to shape the best possible future physicians.
The new MCAT will add questions about biochemistry, psychology and sociology in order to expand the repertoire of knowledge required of future applicants. It will also be nearly double the length, swelling from 144 questions over 3 hours and 20 minutes to 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes.
It is clear that the amended MCAT — in its quest to create better students — is taking strides to be more holistic as well as more practical. Inclusion of questions from the social sciences indicate that there is more to being a doctor than just biology, physics and chemistry. The new MCAT also aims to be more pragmatic by including questions related to research design as well as graphical analysis and data interpretation so that students are tested on material they may actually use later in their career.
However, a new test is not enough to produce the highest-quality physicians possible. The changes brought by the new MCAT need to be nationally implemented in the undergraduate class curriculum required by medical school as well. The early acceptance FlexMed program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is at the forefront of a new integrated, practical set of class requirements. It requires undergraduate students who are admitted to the medical school take a semester each of public health, ethics and statistics to replace certain science classes. It is also becoming more common for medical school prerequisites to include biochemistry — 28 schools currently require the course and over 70 recommend it. While these schools have taken a step in the right direction, more social science classes should be introduced to the mandatory curriculum.
Health care and treatment in the United States are constantly evolving. Some of the most common causes of death are the results of behavioral and environmental factors like diet, smoking and drug use. Class requirements should reflect the changing nature of medicine and the evolving social skills and knowledge sets doctors need. The changes to the 2015 MCAT are positive, but must be followed by complementary changes within the medical schools and universities to produce the most well-rounded doctors.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 3 print edition. Email Adnan Zarif at [email protected]