Posted on April 29, 2011

Wanted: Fewer Science Nerds, More ‘Culturally Competent’ Doctors

Madison Park, CNN, April 28, 2011

The test that all medical school applicants take could place greater emphasis on behavioral and social sciences, adding a new component and lengthening the test to seven hours, if proposed changes are accepted.

Members of the committee that proposed the changes to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) say that this could help better identify applicants who have a greater understanding of behavioral and social factors that contribute to health problems.

Students have a wide selection of medical assistant schools and degree programs to choose from.


“What they learn in medical school are the ways social factors and behavior relate to health,” she said. “What medical faculty want them to know is something about individual behavior, group behavior, culture, motivation, sensory–that they come in with the basic vocabulary and understanding of the foundational knowledge.”

These proposals came after three years of outreach events and surveys, the gathering of advisory groups’ opinions and more than 2,700 responses from students, staff, administrators and medical residents.

“That kind of input caused us to say, we need to at least test some of the principles of sociology, psychology, statistics, so that students are preparing to be physicians and taking the coursework required to be that knowledgeable,” said Ronald D. Franks, M.D., vice-chair of the committee and vice president of health sciences at the University of South Alabama. “The purpose of the test helps identify those applicants who would be well-prepared of dealing with those aspects.”

This also pertains to diversity.

“It speaks to an awareness of cultures outside of the one they grew up in,” he said. “We’re going to be more sensitive to those issues.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing and frequent critic of standardized exams, said the proposals are headed in the right direction.

{snip} “There is a growing perception because of the emphasis of MCAT in medical school admissions, you’re getting science nerds–kids who are strong at mastering scientific facts, but are not so strong at dealing with patients, real human beings with real human problems, which have to be dealt with a broader array of disposition.”

“The kind of diversity they’re looking for are intellectual, cultural, racial.”

As statistics indicate, students from lower economic backgrounds tend to score lower on MCATs, which are crucial in determining medical school admissions.

Of nearly 80,000 medical students in the U.S, about 7% are African American and 8% are of Hispanic descent in a country that is increasingly more diverse. Asians and whites comprise nearly 80 percent.