Dr. Sirven: The Path To Medical School Has Changed

Published: Monday, May 18, 2015 - 10:02am
Updated: Monday, May 18, 2015 - 10:03am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

“Hey, Dr. Sirven, what was your major in college?” asked my young patient with her parents eagerly awaiting my reply.

“I was a standard premed biology major.”

“If you had to do it all over again would you major in biology?” 

I said, “I’m not sure.” I was thinking about the question more deeply than she may have known.

Let’s be clear, I’m not having a midlife crisis and questioning my career choice.  I’m just rethinking my route.

My generation of doctors — me included  — took a very traditional science path to medicine. We didn’t have a choice. You majored in chemistry or biology, took a whole host of other science courses and survived. What a shame!
There’s been a dramatic shift in the college path to medicine. Recently, the Medical College Admission Test, the MCAT, announced its first major revision in 25 years.  This test  — the SAT for medical school  — is longer, broader and more interdisciplinary. 

It used to be that when you took the MCAT, it was reflective of general science. This new test contains a large section with questions on psychology, sociology and the biological foundations of behavior. 

The official content outline for the test now includes concepts such as, and I quote here, “social inequality, class consciousness, race and ethnic identity, institutionalized racism, discrimination, power, privilege and prestige.”

Gone is the essay. Gone is the old scoring system.

I like that the MCAT has changed. Many of the common scourges of modern health like obesity, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes require a new patient-doctor relationship in order to treat or prevent these problems. This new emphasis on social sciences is great because doctors need to understand people and their environment. 

But regardless of your college major or MCAT score, what matters most is a skill that no course can teach or standardized test can measure: how well will this future doctor connect with you and me.

Dr. Sirven is the chairman of neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

One Source, My Connection!

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