The University’s Medical School is changing it up.
Beginning with prospective students entering in 2017, the Medical School has altered the admissions requirements for its applicants. Requirements previously included a list of eight courses in subjects such as organic chemistry and biochemistry. They now consist of qualities and experiences the Medical School looks for in its students.
Most of the new prerequisites are framed more broadly: rigorous experience in the humanities, academic strength and rigor in the fields of biology, chemistry and statistical methods and analysis; demonstrable knowledge of basic physical principles; and “a clear and distinct experience in intellectual inquiry and active participation in the independent discovery of new knowledge.”
Though these prerequisites may seem less specific than a list of classes, Rajesh Mangrulkar, associate dean for medical student education, expressed the opposite sentiment. He said the new requirements allow the admissions office to be more specific, telling the students the exact information the Medical School needs them to know prior to matriculation. He said listing a class title does not convey that information as effectively.
“When you look at a course name, do you know what you’re able to do because of having taken that course?” Mangrulkar asked.
Steven Gay, assistant dean for admissions, also discussed the logic behind requiring proficiency in topics rather than class credit. He said the old requirements did not take into account that students may learn necessary material outside of the conventional classroom.
“We see a number of students right now … with advanced degrees, or who have spent extensive time in labs,” Gay said. “I think we should give students the opportunity if they are learning in those innovative and different ways not to have to repeat things unnecessarily.”
Mangrulkar said the new application process is meant to create a dialogue in which students can reflect on how they have earned the knowledge they need, whether it be from a class or from another experience.
“The student will be able to say, ‘alright, these are the expectations, let me reflect on what I’ve done and show how these all meet those different criteria,’” Mangrulkar said. “That’s a better way to have a conversation than what we’ve had in the past, which is basically a student saying ‘I took this class, is this okay?’”
Gay said that, though students have the freedom to gain knowledge in unique ways under the new requirements, taking classes is still the easiest way to fulfill the prerequisites.
Listed with the new prerequisites is a group of Core Competencies. The four competencies are analytical thought and problem-solving skills, written and verbal communication, mathematical/statistical analysis and application of hypothesis-driven methods of research. Mangrulkar said these competencies began as expectations for residents, but have now trickled down to the pre-medical level.
“It started triggering a discussion in our realm saying, ‘What are our competencies and how do they line up with the fact that 98 to 99 percent of medical students go on to do a residency?’ ” he said. “Shouldn’t there be some alignment?”
Mangrulkar added that the University’s changed requirements are part of an overall shift in pre-medical education in the United States. He said the changes stem, in part, from collaboration with the Association of American Medical Colleges, a national organization that is strongly allied with many medical school admissions teams.
“There were sessions and conferences asking what are the issues with pre-medical requirements,” Mangrulkar said. “I think the fundamental premise is that all of medical education is moving towards much more specificity on what we, as a profession, expect physicians to be able to do.”
Implicit in the new pre-med requirements is a push for well-rounded pre-med students who have knowledge and experience beyond what one gains in the classroom. Mangrulkar said the medical profession has been searching for this type of student for some time.
“I think for the longest time the profession has wanted students who are not only academically excellent,” Mangrulkar said. “If students think that by getting the A in biochemistry and getting an outstanding MCAT score, that that is a ticket to medical school, that has not been the case for a long time, it really hasn’t.”
Mangrulkar added that, ultimately, what the Medical School looks for in its students are the same qualities that a patient would seek in his or her doctor.
“If we’re not aligned, our education program, with what our patients want in their doctor, then there’s a disconnect there,” he said.
Gay also spoke to the qualities that make a good applicant.
“Great applicants have experiences that not every applicant for medical school has,” Gay said. “They may do Teach for America, they may do the Peace Corps, they may work in the lab, they may work on Wall Street, they may build programs and do things as undergraduates that give them the opportunity to learn in great depth a lot of the topics that we look at.”
Students in the Class of 2016 will have the option of completing either the new or the old requirements. Mangrulkar said the 2016 cycle is meant to serve as a transition period.
Though the difference between the old and the new requirements may seem drastic, Mangrulkar said it really isn’t.
“The movement in the pre-med requirements, I wouldn’t see as being that big a deal,” he said. “It just allows us to be more specific, and actually to be more inclusive, giving credit for the stuff that our pre-med students already do.”