Prerequisite courses for pre-meds could soon become a thing of the past.
The American Association of Medical Colleges, which represents the nation’s 131 accredited medical schools, will meet in Boston Sunday to discuss whether medical school applicants can fulfill a checklist of skills instead of completing a set of courses. The new requirements, medical school administrators said, will rely heavily on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to evaluate applicants’ “competency.”
The checklist calls for students to acquire basic knowledge in eight areas, such as math, chemistry and biological evolution. Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, who co-chaired the committee that wrote the checklist, said eliminating prerequisite courses would give undergraduates more freedom to choose courses that interest them.
“Changing requirements so that they are more relevant to modern medicine will allow students more time for creative engagement in a broad, expansive liberal arts education,” Alpern said.
Educators began calling for competency-based requirements for medical school applicants in the 1970s, but a detailed checklist has not been published until now, Alpern said. The checklist will put less emphasis on organic chemistry and more emphasis on statistics and biochemistry, which are more relevant to modern research, he said. Medical school students currently spend their first years reviewing these subjects, Alpern said, adding that with the new requirements, medical students could spend more time on recent scientific advances.
At the earliest, the School of Medicine would start to change pre-medical requirements in January or February 2010, Alpern said.
Even if the American Association of Medical Colleges moves forward with the checklist, Alpern said, the MCAT will need to be re-written to reflect the changes. A panel from the American Association of Medical Colleges will review the MCAT over the next four years.
Alpern said he has met with William Segraves, the associate dean for science education for Yale College, to develop courses tailored to the proposed changes.
In an e-mail Wednesday, Segraves said discussions about developing new courses are underway in many science departments, though no decisions have been made.
Undergraduate Career Services Director Philip Jones said he expects pre-medical courses in Yale College to remain the same until the majority of medical schools change their requirements. Jones said he doubted whether the new requirements would not affect the number of Yale undergraduates who apply to medical school every year, which is currently about 200.
The University is not the only school considering changes to its undergraduate curriculum in response to the proposed requirements. Next year, undergraduates at Duke University will be able to take a two-semester introductory course combining biochemistry, microbiology and ecology. The course will address many of the areas on the checklist, said Brenda Armstrong, the dean of admissions at the Duke University School of Medicine.
Interdisciplinary courses, Armstrong said, will alleviate the pressure on pre-medical students to major in biology and will allow them to explore other fields.
Six pre-med and medical students interviewed said they supported the proposed requirements. Karissa Britten ’12 said current prerequisite courses had no relation to real-life medical skills.
“I don’t see how I do in my pre-med classes as a very good indicator of my success as a doctor, only of my acceptance into medical school,” Britten said.
Alex Hirsch ’12 said the proposed checklist would better reflect the courses he is taking.
“I wish the switch to competencies would happen soon enough to affect me,” Hirsch said. “I’m already taking statistics because I know it’s integral to understanding medical journals and research abstracts.”
Josh Leinwand MED ’12 said he supported the proposed changes, though he added he was not confident there would be changes to entry requirements in the near future.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, more 42,000 people applied to medical school this year.