Biology depts mull premed changes

Premed culture at Yale may be changing as medical school requirements go through revisions.

Several science departments are considering changing their undergraduate curricula in response to a 2009 national report by the Association for American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute recommending that premed requirements include a checklist of relevant skills like applied quantitative reasoning instead of prerequisite courses. The Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (E&EB) departments especially are looking to restructure their requirements, in order to plan ahead for these changes while giving its majors a more comprehensive knowledge of the biological sciences.

Both departments have formed committees composed of undergraduates and professors to discuss potential major revisions.

The departments may decide to create a year-long introductory biology course that would be required for all biology majors, instead of two individual courses for each department, said ecology professor Stephen Stearns ’67, who is on the committee for E&EB departmental changes. Students would also not be able to place out of the course with high school test scores, which is possible now for the introductory course MCDB 120: “Principles of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.”

But the discussions are only in their first stages, and could go in a variety of different ways.

“Usually changes are made piecemeal over the years,” said Leo Buss, director of undergraduate studies for the E&EB department. “Premed changes has definitely been a driver, but it’s not the only thing we worry about.”

Douglas Kankel, the MCDB director of undergraduate studies, said the committee is constantly looking at the major in an ongoing process and that decisions may not be made for a few months. If the premed requirements were to change in the near future, the department would ensure that students were well-prepared to deal with them, he said.

“We might have something substantive by the end of this academic year and we might not,” he said.

Because the MCDB major is designed to be the most efficient way to fulfill premed requirements while completing a major due to course overlaps, the department would be most directly affected by the change, Stearns said.

But E&EB would also be affected.

The 2009 report recommends that premed students be able show competency in the structure, function and physiology of living organisms. There is currently no one course offered by Yale College that could fulfill this requirement, outside of organismal biology courses, Buss said.

Since Stearns, who has been teaching the introductory ecology course E&EB 122: “Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior” for years, announced that he is stepping down after this academic year, the department is using the transition as a reason to re-examine the structure of the introductory biology course, Buss said.

Medical schools will not instate new premed requirements until the Association for American Medical Colleges meets to revise the structure of the MCAT, said Robert Alpern, the dean of the School of Medicine, and a co-chair of the committee that developed the 2009 report.

But he said colleges can and should change the structures of their undergraduate science departments in order to make sure the subjects are taught well.

“For example, there’s too much organic chemistry. We can’t change that until they change the MCATs but we can teach it better,” he said.

A new MCAT test will be introduced after 2014, according to the Association for American Medical Colleges.

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