Premed proposal changes science classes

Pre-meds could see changes in all major required courses within the next year.

At least eight departments or schools at Yale — including Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry (MB&B), Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (E&EB), Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB), Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics and the School of Engineering — are planning to provide more courses relevant to those interested in the life sciences in response to a 2009 national report recommending pre-meds focus less on specific prerequisite courses and more on competency in general areas.

Medical schools have not yet decided whether to implement all the recommendations from the report, which was sponsored by the Association for American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, but science department administrators are preemptively revising their curricula to reflect the report’s vision.

William Segraves, associate dean for science education, said most science departments have been thinking about how to use the report to enhance their classes and make them more skills-based.

“New course options have already been introduced in physics, mathematics and statistics,” he said in an e-mail. “There are going to be some exciting things happening over the next few years.”

CHANGING SCIENCE

This year, the physics department added a new introductory course, called PHYS 170/171: “University Physics for the Life Sciences,” specifically for pre-meds and life science majors as a direct response to the report’s recommendation, said physics director of undergraduate studies Peter Parker.

Because pre-meds can only use a calculus-based physics course to fulfill medical school requirements, all introductory physics courses will require calculus next year, Parker said. The introductory lab courses PHYS 165/166: “General Physics Laboratory” have also been changed to accommodate pre-med and life science students, he said.

“We are making labs much more computer-based because pre-med students, doctors, should be familiar with that,” he said.

Other science departments have also been working on improving pre-med course offerings.

Though MB&B does not contain any freshman-level courses, it has also been affected by the report. Medical schools have been demanding that applicants take at least one semester of biochemistry, which was not required until the past few years, MB&B director of undergraduate studies Michael Koelle said. The number of students taking the department’s two-semester course has jumped to 155 this fall from 70 about five years ago.

“It’s not so much that we need to change how we teach but we need to be able to teach more students and recognize that the population of students taking pre-med requirements is increasing,” he said.

The yearlong course MB&B 300/301: “Principles of Biochemistry I and II” is so oversubscribed that the department has added new sections and teaching assistants to accommodate for it. In biology, MCDB also offers a biochemistry course, which spans a semester, and Koelle said he will be talking with MCDB Director of Undergraduate Studies Douglas Kankel about future interaction between the courses.

MATHEMATICAL MEDICINE

The sciences are not the only areas undergoing change — the report also asks that pre-meds be able to apply quantitative reasoning skills to the life sciences.

But in the mathematics department, the move toward complying with these recommendations is less urgent. Mathematics professor Michael Frame said he is the only person in the department thinking about the overlap and intersection between math and biology.

Before the report even came out, Frame designed a section of MATH 115 specifically for life science majors, which incorporates examples from clinical practice and biological models into calculus.

“The most interesting relationships now are between math and biology,” he said. “Biology is asking interesting questions and we don’t have the math to solve it.”

He is now planning another course for next spring, which will teach students to develop mathematical models for curing disease.

THE FUTURE OF Pre-med ADVISING

Though courses will be changing, medical school prerequisites are not disappearing just yet. School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, who co-chaired the committee that developed the 2009 report, said medical schools will wait until the MCAT exam is redesigned, which could take more than four years.

Because of this, Kristin McJunkins, director of Yale’s health professions advisory program, said it is too soon to jump to major revisions in medical school preparation.

“Going forward, we will definitely relate pre-med advising, but I don’t expect requirements to change anytime soon,” she said.

Segraves said pre-med advising will become more “nuanced” as medical schools slowly change their requirements.

“There will be more ways for students to fulfill the requirements, and advising will change to reflect that,” he said in an e-mail.

Seven percent of the Class of 2008 attended medical school one year after graduation.

Comments

  • townieexprof

    Anyone ever ask doctors out there how many times they used calculus in the practices?
    That’s right, zero.
    Eliminate calculus please.
    So a physics class based on calculus is a waste of time.
    Teaching future physicians how to think about physics is important, just not with calculus.

    Applying quantitative reasoning to medicine makes sense.
    Probably the most helpful thing would be to teach a decent statistics class so the practicing doctors can read articles and understand the type of stats used in medical journals, and figure out for themselves what a load of crap 80-90% of articles are in medicine and science. They could be taught this in their undergraduate years so much more effectively by scientists who are not (yet) so entangled in the conflict of interests and career self-promotion that so many med-school faculty get caught up in.

  • River Tam

    > Teaching future physicians how to think about physics is important, just not with calculus.

    You can’t understand physics without calculus. Any other way is just a sham.

    It’s like trying to learn calculus while restricting yourself to the natural numbers.