Medical-Admissions Test to Look More Broadly at Who Will Be a Good Doctor

Posted by BestPractices on March 6 2012

February 16, 2012

By Katherine Mangan

The Association of American Medical Colleges on Thursday approved sweeping changes to the Medical College Admission Test that will require aspiring doctors to show that they understand the psychological and social underpinnings of medicine, and not just the hard science.

The changes, the first in the test since 1991, will take effect in 2015, giving the current crop of premedical students a few years to broaden their course loads.

The revamped test is designed to help students prepare for a rapidly changing health-care system and a patient base that is growing, graying, and becoming increasingly diverse, officials said.

“Being a good doctor is about more than scientific knowledge. It also requires an understanding of people,” the association’s president, Darrell G. Kirch, said in a prepared statement.

The changes were developed by a 21-member advisory committee that spent three years studying the matter and analyzing 2,700 survey responses from college and medical-school faculty members, medical residents, students, and advisers. The panel released its recommendations in November.

The test will include two new sections: one on the psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior, and another on critical analysis and reasoning skills. It will also have two natural-science sections covering material learned in introductory biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics courses. The new test does away with a writing section that wasn’t widely considered.

The changes will tack an extra two hours onto a grueling test that currently takes four and a half hours to complete, Dr. Kirch said during a conference call with reporters. To prepare for it, students might want to add introductory courses in psychology and sociology to the natural-sciences courses they have traditionally been told to focus on, he said.

Critics, including some medical-student advisers, have said such a broadening of the scope of the test would burden premedical students with more requirements and discourage many from applying. But Dr. Kirch said, “We see it as giving them more freedom” to study what they’re really interested in. He added that one of the best ways to prepare for the new exam is by reading broadly.

“These changes should signal that someone who was a psychology major or a cross-cultural studies major or an English major has as much potential to enter medical school as someone who majored in chemistry,” said Dr. Kirch, who majored in philosophy before he entered medical school four decades ago.

At a time when medical schools are struggling to attract more minority students to meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural population, a broader, revamped test should help, Dr. Kirch said. That, combined with a more holistic look at applicants in both interviews and letters of recommendation, should give medical schools a better sense of which applicants have the personal, as well as the intellectual, attributes to be successful doctors.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012

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