Big changes are coming to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the exam that brings a great deal of stress to potential pre-med students and probably exerts as much influence as any other factor on where those students end up attending medical school.
Explore this issue:August 2012
The changes, which are set to begin with the 2015 test, will put new emphasis on appreciation for and knowledge of social and behavioral sciences to encourage future physicians to pursue more education in these areas and bring a more diverse pool of applicants to med schools—one that is perhaps not quite so dominated by biology and chemistry majors. The new test, part of a group of changes initiated by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), could eventually make for more well-rounded doctors throughout medicine. The AAMC is also working on changes to applications and suggested interviewing techniques.
The announcement has prompted some otolaryngologists to consider which physician traits could be improved upon in their subspecialty and to think about how far-reaching the changes to the MCAT will really be in terms of the doctors who treat patients.
Darrell Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the AAMC, said the motivation for the changes is the acknowledgement that good patient care involves more than diagnosing, prescribing and operating. It’s about how doctors talk to patients. It’s understanding them and their personal situations and cultural backgrounds, and it’s understanding how social and behavioral factors affect individual health.
Understanding social barriers and helping patients overcome them might mean avoiding a hospital readmission, he said. “We have finally realized there are some very powerful determinants of health that have been underemphasized in the test historically,” Dr. Kirch said. “We’ve known for a long time that social and behavioral factors can be every bit as influential in determining a person’s health as their genetic makeup. The new test attempts to include social and behavioral sciences in the same way that we’ve included natural and physical sciences historically…. We’ve realized the breadth of knowledge that’s required to be a capable physician.”
In a letter to pre-med students in which he talked about the MCAT changes, Dr. Kirch wrote, “It is about understanding people—how they think, interact, and make decisions…. After nearly 60 years, I still remember my pediatrician, Dr. Bramley—not for his class rank or MCAT exam score, but for his kindness, compassion, and how much he truly cared.”
The new test will reflect updates in knowledge of the natural and physical sciences, and it will include two new sections: “Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior” and “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.” The first will test students’ understanding of behavior, perception, culture, poverty and other concepts from psychology, sociology and biology, as well as knowledge of basic research methods, scientific reasoning and statistics skills. The second will test analysis and reasoning skills by asking test takers to critically analyze information in reading passages. It will include ethics, philosophy and cross-cultural studies content.