The new test will take a little more than six hours, a significant increase from the four and a half hours the test currently takes. Medical schools will remain free to determine how to weigh the performance on each section in their admissions decisions.
Explore this issue:August 2012
—Darrell Kirch, MD, AAMC President and CEO
A Multidimensional Approach
The changes to the application and the suggested changes to the interviewing process will put more emphasis on how students respond to certain situations, such as ethical dilemmas. The idea is that responses will give reliable reflections of a student’s character and ability to handle complex interpersonal scenarios. “It’s a multidimensional approach to better assess applicants,” Dr. Kirch said.
Another purpose for the changes is to open the door to different kinds of undergraduates, he said. While pre-med students must have certain core competencies, there are many ways to cultivate them. Dr. Kirch, for example, was a philosophy major as an undergraduate. “Somebody could be a social scientist, somebody could be a humanist—in terms of their college preparation—and still become a fine otolaryngologist,” he said. “Medicine is a broad field with many entry points.”
Otolaryngologists might be technically inclined, Dr. Kirch said, but “they’re the first to say that they didn’t enter medicine to simply become a technician. They entered medicine to meet the needs of the patients.”
G. Richard Holt, MD, MSE, MPH, MABE, professor emeritus in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and an adjunct faculty member with the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics there, said the majority of physicians are already ethical and humanistic. But he feels the changes to the test are worthwhile. “My notion is probably that about a quarter of physicians have some issues with their bedside manner, their ability to relate to patients, communication skills, perhaps even their professionalism,” he said. “I think that’s the group of people we really need to target.”
The skills needed to relate to patients in a way that will help their medical care are not easy to hone, he added. “I tell the students and residents that it is relatively easy to treat disease,” he said. “It’s much harder to treat the person. And by that I mean all aspects of the human being.” With medical schools teaching more humanities, bioethics and professionalism, the MCAT changes are a logical addition to the learning continuum, he said.