The New York Times today has a story with the provocative title Getting Into Med School Without Hard Sciences, about a program at Mount Sinai that allows students to go to med school without taking the three things most dreaded by pre-meds: physics, organic chemistry, and the MCAT:
[I]t came as a total shock to Elizabeth Adler when she discovered, through a singer in her favorite a cappella group at Brown University, that one of the nation’s top medical schools admits a small number of students every year who have skipped all three requirements.
Until then, despite being the daughter of a physician, she said, “I was kind of thinking medical school was not the right track for me.”
Ms. Adler became one of the lucky few in one of the best kept secrets in the cutthroat world of medical school admissions, the Humanities and Medicine Program at the Mount Sinai medical school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
I’m kind of torn about this. On the one hand, I tend to think that anyone who is going to be allowed to prescribe drugs ought to know enough organic chemistry to have some idea how they work. On the other hand, though, I would shed no tears if the pre-med physics class disappeared entirely– most of the students resent having to take physics, and I’m not wild about being used as a weed-out course for somebody else’s major program, which is a combination that easily turns into a thoroughly miserable experience for everyone.
The story cites a new study of Mount Sinai’s program, which finds that the students from the Humanities and Medicine program are statistically no worse than their classmates from more traditional pre-med tracks. The only statistically significant differences in their performance are slightly lower scores on the licensing exam, slightly higher incidence of taking a non-academic leave of absence, and a higher tendency to go into psychiatry. I’m pretty sure a friend of mine went through this program, and I don’t think I have any qualms about him being a doctor.
Still, I’m a little uneasy about people getting to be doctors without taking science in college at all:
The students apply in their sophomore or junior years in college and agree to major in humanities or social science, rather than the hard sciences. If they are admitted, they are required to take only basic biology and chemistry, at a level many students accomplish through Advanced Placement courses in high school.
They forgo organic chemistry, physics and calculus — though they get abbreviated organic chemistry and physics courses during a summer boot camp run by Mount Sinai. They are exempt from the MCAT. Instead, they are admitted into the program based on their high school SAT scores, two personal essays, their high school and early college grades and interviews.
I suspect Mount Sinai has good results from this program because it’s just about the only one going, and they get their pick of the very best students, who are able to pick up what they need from “summer boot camp.” I’m less comfortable with the idea of making this a general policy– a lot of the students I see struggling in pre-med physics are struggling because of things that would not be positive features in a doctor.
(I don’t give a damn about the MCAT, by the way. Like most standardized tests, this exists primarily as a way to line the pockets of ETS while reducing the workload of med school admissions offices. It’s perfectly possible to imagine a system in which nobody takes the MCAT and we still end up with excellent medical staff. It would be a lot more work for people reading med school applications, but such is life.)
So, as I said, I’m torn. What do you think? Would you be comfortable moving to a system where future doctors don’t have to take physics and chemistry in college?