Med school requirements change

Premed WED (Color)
Photo by Jason Kim .

Applicants to the Yale School of Medicine during the 2014–’15 admissions cycle will face a newly revised set of admissions requirements.

After reviewing the admissions criteria for prospective medical students, a committee at the School of Medicine has added one semester of biochemistry to the list of course requirements and shortened the organic chemistry requirement from one year to one semester. Though the change is intended to better prepare prospective students for the medical school curriculum, premedical students interviewed said it will have little effect on their scheduled coursework.

The addition of the biochemistry requirement stemmed from a desire to even the playing field for all students entering medical school, said Michael Schwartz, the associate dean for curriculum at the medical school. Without a biochemistry requirement, first-year medical students currently enter the medical school with differing levels of expertise in the subject, he said. While some students know biochemistry very well, others have virtually no exposure to the field, Schwartz added.

“That makes it difficult to decide what level to teach it at in our curriculum; you’ll have those who are bored to tears because they know it very well, while for others it’s a real struggle,” Schwartz said. “The idea [in adding biochemistry] was how do we make the path of all our students more uniform?”

The change will not be implemented until the next admissions cycle, giving premedical students a chance to fulfill the requirement if they have not done so yet, said Michael Koelle, the director of undergraduate studies for Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. But in practice, he said the change will likely have little effect on either students’ schedules or biochemistry enrollment because Yale’s premedical advising department has been recommending that students take a semester of biochemistry for many years.

Several premedical students interviewed said the paring down of the organic chemistry requirement is also unlikely to change their coursework.

“Most students will take a full year of organic chemistry anyway, because other schools require a full year, and you won’t change your schedule just to fit this individual school,” Seungju Hwang ’17 said. “The lack of uniformity [between schools] is stupid.”

Yale is revising its requirements amid a nationwide movement to reevaluate what medical schools should be looking for in prospective students. In 2009, the Association of American Medical Colleges convened a national commission to examine outdated admissions standards that had not been updated in decades, Koelle said. The commission, which included medical school Dean Robert Alpern, published a report advocating for more competency and skill-based admissions requirements rather than requirements based solely around curricula, he said.

But Koelle said many of these recommendations have not been fully realized. The newly revised Medical College Admission Test now tests areas in the social sciences and statistics, but has not adapted any of the other areas traditionally tested, such as chemistry or physics, he said.

“I don’t think it’s a great idea to just layer on this new requirement on the students without restructuring things,” Koelle said. “The whole premed curriculum is full of absurdities, because we have a 100-year-old expectation of what you ought to take to go to medical school. Premed students are burdened with taking a huge number of course credits to be eligible to apply to medical school, and that takes away from other aspects of their liberal arts education.”

Nevertheless, Schwartz said that the discussion is ongoing, and he believes admissions criteria and medical curricula around the country will start to broaden. He cited Duke University’s medical school as one that has already modified its admissions requirements for the 2015–’16 cycle to include skills in sociology, psychology and expository writing.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has not had specific course requirements since the early 1990s, said Gaye Sheffler, the director of admissions at the Perelman School of Medicine. Instead, she said the school evaluates applicants’ competence based on a holistic review of their test scores, coursework, letters of recommendation and more.

Schwartz said the Yale School of Medicine will likely not radically change its policies in the near future because it does not want to become so different that it would be a challenge for students to meet additional requirements in order to apply to Yale compared to peer institutions.

“Our requirements for our majors reflect what we think is in the best education interest of the students,” Koelle said. “We wish that people who run the MCAT and medical schools could get together and reform their expectations of students to a more rational system, but in the meantime we have to do what’s best for actually educating our students to become physicians and scientists.”

4,103 students applied to the M.D. program for the class of 2016.

 

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