Can the medical profession’s often myopic technophilia be reformed by incorporating cross-cultural, social, and ethical questions into the MCAT?
Prof. Piers J. Hale knew something was up when his students at the University of Oklahoma were clamoring this spring to get into his medical ethics class, which was formerly populated largely by social science majors. What led to the sudden burst of popularity, he discovered, were plans by the Association of American Medical Colleges to revise the medical school admissions test to incorporate a hefty dose of social science.The big question, of course, is how well a multiple-choice test can help screen for the ethereal mix of scientist and humanist and spiritualist that makes a good doctor. That is uncharted territory.
In addition to the hard-science and math questions that have for decades defined this rite of passage into the medical profession, nearly half of the new MCAT will focus on squishier topics in two new sections: one covering social and behavioral sciences and another on critical analysis and reading that will require students to analyze passages covering areas like ethics and cross-cultural studies…
“Yes, we’ve fallen in love with technology, and patients are crying out, saying, ‘Sit down and listen to me,’ ” said Dr. Charles Hatem, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert in medical education. “So what the MCAT is doing has a laudable goal. But will recalibrating this instrument work? Do more courses in the humanities make you more humane? I think the best we can say is a qualified maybe.”
…“With the growth in scientific knowledge, we were focused on making sure doctors had a good foundation in hard science,” Dr. [Darrell] Kirch [,president of the American Association of Medical Colleges,] said. Indeed, from 1942 to 1976, the MCAT had included a broad-based knowledge section called “Understanding Modern Society.” Liberal arts questions were eliminated in 1977.
Over the next two decades, the pressure in medicine to maximize the technology and minimize the healing arts only increased, as efficiency-oriented health care systems gave doctors less time to talk to patients, and insurance reimbursements rewarded doctors with high-tech specialties like radiology or those who performed procedures.
“I’m not a Luddite,” Dr. Hatem said, noting that the tide appears to be turning. “I know the importance of technology and testing advances, but we’ve let this substitute for listening and examining.”