Unnecessary course requirements are keeping pre-med attrition rates at Yale College high, according to undergraduates interviewed.
The pre-med sequence requires students to take specific science courses as well as one year of English. Of 10 pre-med undergraduates interviewed, eight said that large class sizes are hindering students’ ability to engage with the subject material. In some instances, the large class sizes are even dissuading these students from pursuing medicine, some students said.
“I think a very small percentage of people come to Yale and then decide they want to be doctors because of the classes,” said Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major Joel Bervell ’17, who is also on the pre-med track, adding that the classes simply do not inspire students.
The pre-med sequence at Yale requires that undergraduates take at least one year of each of the following: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics, as well as other courses such as statistics and biochemistry.
Bervell said that large introductory science classes made it harder for him to get to know people in his classes and form study groups.
Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern noted that the large class sizes in pre-med courses resulted from a resource constraint. Having smaller classes, he said, requires hiring more faculty, which in turn costs the University more money.
“I think the more you can teach science and math in small groups, the better it is,” Alpern said. “It’s a question of cost.”
Other popular programs of study at Yale do not necessarily suffer from the same dearth of smaller courses. Caroline Ayinon ’17, a chemistry major on the pre-med track, noted that there are plenty of seminars in the Political Science Department. In contrast, the large science majors do not have classes that allow students to closely interact in smaller environments with professors and fellow classmates.
Most students interviewed voiced concern about Yale’s biology sequence, consisting of Biology 101 through 104, that pre-med students must complete.
“Most people don’t like Biology 101 or 102 because you are thrown into it, and it seems like a weird conglomeration of facts that don’t connect together,” Bervell said, though he acknowledged that the University has been trying to improve the courses.
Bervell said he was more concerned about the discrepancy between the quality of science and social science lectures. He said he has found political science lectures, such as “Bioethics and Law,” more engaging than his biology courses.
Andi Shahu MED ’17, who studied biology and French at Johns Hopkins University, noted that pre-med requirements vary by college and that it is important that colleges prepare students enough to be able to apply wherever they want.
Alpern, who co-chaired the Committee to Establish the Scientific Foundation for Future Physicians in 2009, said that he would prefer a move towards competency-based assessments for medical school admission. He said that many students take sufficiently rigorous high school courses to prepare them for medical school, adding that it is not always necessary for such students to take college science courses.
However, Alpern noted that undergraduate institutions opposed competency-based assessments because they did not want to assume the responsibility of certifying the competency of their students.
To improve attrition rates in Yale’s pre-med track, Bervell suggested creating a “buddy system” that would link freshmen interested in the pre-med track to upperclassmen who have completed their pre-med requirements in order to offer support and information about the process.
“I’ve wavered back and forth in regards to how committed I am to pre-med,” Bervell said, adding that having a student mentor might have prevented this uncertainty.
For its 2014–15 admissions cycle, the Yale School of Medicine implemented new requirements for applicants.