Students wishing to enter medical school will soon be required to show proficiency in psychology, the Association of American Medical Colleges has announced.
In a move that reflects the growing importance attached to the behavioral and social sciences, the AAMC is adding 59 new questions to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) covering “the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.”
The changes to the MCAT will be introduced in 2015 and will apply to all pre-med students wishing to enter medical school in the fall of 2016.
A new section on Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills will replace the writing sample. Questions for this section will be drawn from across the spectrum of the humanities, including anthropology, art, theater, literature, philosophy, linguistics, cross-cultural studies and dance.
In explaining their decision, the AAMC declared that these changes reflected “the importance of socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health and health outcomes.” This follows a report published in January 2012 by the AAMC which found that health is influenced not only by biology and genetics but also behavior, interpersonal relationships, culture, and physical environment.
The AAMC hopes that by transitioning the MCAT from being 75% hard sciences to only 50%, that the medical field will be opened up to potential pre-med students who might not have a background in science but still have skills relating to people. It is also hoped that these changes will test whether someone with skills in the sciences possesses the necessary critical thinking and interpersonal skills needed for appropriate social interactions with patients.
These changes to the MCAT reflect larger changes in the public’s understanding of psychology and sociology. In recent decades, ground-breaking discoveries about the brain have allowed psychology to acquire a more scientific grounding. This can be seen in the fact that many psychotherapists are turning to neuroscience to better understand and explain human behavior. Moreover, the licensure exam for psychologists, known as the EPPP, contains an entire section on the Physiological Basis of Behavior & Psychopharmacology, conveying psychology’s knowledge of the biological and neural determinants of behavior. Conversely, the rise of multiculturalism and globalism has seen many medical doctors turning to psychology and the social sciences to understand the larger context of human health and well-being.
Dr. Graham Taylor, a psychologist from Hawaii and popular speaker, commented that these changes to the MCAT show the increasing interplay between psychology and medicine, suggesting that being a good doctor is about more than medical knowledge.
“The inclusion of a psychology component in an exam that was previously dominated by the hard sciences can be seen as a signpost to an important paradigm shift,” Dr. Taylor told members of the press today. “We know that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2008) found that mental health problems led to 156 million visits to doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospital outpatient departments back in 2005, making mental health one of the top three reasons why Americans seek medical treatment. What we are seeing in the professional community is the desire to embrace a more holistic view of the human person. I applaud the AAMC on taking this important step towards helping potential medical students thoroughly conceptualize a person and their treatment.”
Dr. Taylor, who runs an online EPPP test preparation program for psychology students seeking to become licensed, continued: “just as psychologists have recently learned that they cannot neglect the findings of science and medicine, so the medical community is now realizing that they cannot neglect the unseen dimensions of human persons. Psychology and medicine working together in a multi-disciplinary manner reflects the most holistic and efficacious approach to patient care. Bringing these two professions together is a long needed paradigm shift in treating the person from a phenomenological perspective.”
Not everyone is happy with the new exam, which social conservatives fear could transition the MCAT into what Robin Phillips has called “a vaudeville-show of political correctness.” Meanwhile, many pre-med students are concerned that these changes, which will take the exam from 5 hours to 7, will make it harder to enter medical school. College faculty are also among those with mixed feelings, as they are now having to quickly reassess the content of their pre-med programs.
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