Most medical schools require that prospective students score well on a test called the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Starting in 2015, that test will include more questions dealing with the psychological and social basis of medicine.
MPR's medical analyst Dr. Jon Hallberg discussed the implications of this shift in the test's focus with Tom Crann of All Things Considered on Wednesday. Hallberg is a physician in family medicine at the University of Minnesota and medical director of the Mill City Clinic.
An edited transcript of that discussion is below.
Dr. Jon Hallberg: Medical students all take the MCAT, a half-day plus grueling exam that gets at all kinds of mainly scientific training you've had to study. And you have to score a fairly good score to even get a look at a medical school.
Tom Crann: What are they adding to the test?
Hallberg: They're adding two areas. They're testing knowledge of psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior — the various aspects that affect human behavior. Then they're also adding a section on critical analysis and reading skills.
Crann: What are they eliminating?
Hallberg: They're eliminating the writing sample, which is sort of interesting to me because when I took it 25 years ago they were piloting this writing sample, and that was actually one of my best school subjects, so I'm sad to see it go. It does get at some level of people's ability to think on their feet critically and clearly. [I'm] a little surprised by that.
Crann: Those core competencies in science that we expect — biology, chemistry, physics — all still there?
Hallberg: All still there. They break it down into two broad sections, the physical sciences, so chemistry and physics, and the biological sciences.
Crann: Why the changes now?
Hallberg: All the commentators allude to the fact that we live in this very complex society, that there's a behavioral social aspect to medicine. There always has been. But I think we finally have data to prove that.
For example; they think in the United States one of the reasons that we live as long as we do boils down to two major social pieces. That is that we smoke less and we're exercising more. We're taking care of ourselves. And that has all kinds of determinants — economics, geographic — and we want our physicians to be able to speak to that.
Crann: These changes are scheduled to go into effect in 2015, what do they say about what kind of student med schools will be looking for in a few years?
Hallberg: The folks who put this new recommendation together are from the AAMC, the American Association of Medical Colleges. They're very clear about this, they want to attract a broader range of students to medicine. We need more doctors, we need people who are thinking broadly and have really interesting backgrounds.
The other piece is that by adding this emphasis on the psychological and social aspects of medicine, maybe we're going to get people who are more inclined to go into primary care, an area that we really need more folks to enter.
Interview transcribed and edited by Jon Collins, MPR reporter.