National association proposes changes to MCAT

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Dan Gratie, a junior at the University of Iowa, is planning to take the Medical College Admission Test this summer. The health and human physiology major said he’s focusing primarily on organic sciences such as chemistry.

But future pre-medical students at the UI and across the country may need to reconsider what they study when preparing for the MCAT.

“No matter what I’m studying, it’s the MCAT and the situation will still be very stressful,” Gratie said.

A committee for the Association of American Medical Colleges announced 14 preliminary recommendations for changes to the exam on March 31. Those changes include eliminating the writing portion of the test and adding a section devoted to behavioral and social sciences.

This marks the first time the national exam has been reviewed in more than 20 years.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Gratie said. “Something like psychology would be more important than physics in terms of the human aspects of medicine.”

Currently, the MCAT focuses on natural sciences, verbal skills, and writing. The changes would be implemented in 2015.

“The committee believes these proposed changes will preserve what is best in the exam, eliminate what is not, and enrich the MCAT by emphasizing the concepts future physicians will need to master at this phase of their education,” Steven Gabbe, chair of the committee and CEO of the Ohio State University Medical Center said in a press release.

Kathlene Huebner, director of admission for the UI Carver College of Medicine, said UI officials conducted about 60 surveys of current medical students and faculty last year, on behalf of the association, to gauge opinions of the changes.

“We’re watching it carefully, and obviously it helps to be part of the preliminary discussion,” Huebner said. “What I think will be most affective is that they utilized those in the medical area to assist those who will experience any changes.”

Gregory Pelc, a UI senior recently admitted to Carver, said he doesn’t think students will miss the writing portion that typically takes up one hour of the five-hour exam.

“I think [the new MCAT] going to be mostly positive, adapting the test to mirror the way medicine is constantly changing,” said Pelc, who took the MCAT in June 2010.

Officials for the UI medical school will travel to Cleveland on April 14 for a conference with the Association of American Medical Colleges, Huebner said.

UI officials will review the preliminary changes and give input on how the new MCAT could impact the UI.

Assessing social skills on the MCAT can be difficult, Huebner said, and that area tends to cause disagreement among officials in medical colleges.

“Medical schools think it’s kind of iffy to use electronic assessment of more personality-based things,” said Huebner. “A lot of institutions have personal ways to assess that beyond the exam.”

At the UI, officials feel medical school applicants should be academically sound, Huebner added, but should also have a strong background in volunteering.

Gratie and Pelc both agreed volunteer hours mean more than a test score.

“What makes a good physician is someone who can have the working relationships with patients and can be talkative with patients, not just medically, but personally,” Pelc said.

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