Changes planned for MCAT

The organization that oversees medical school entrance exams proposed broad changes last week for the test to put a higher emphasis on bedside manner.

The Association of American Medical Colleges board made the final set of recommendations in a months-long deliberation to ensure future doctors can connect with patients and have a knowledge base that extends past medical science. The revisions would also eliminate the test’s writing section.

The recommendations – likely to be approved in February 2012 and implemented by 2015 – are based on reviews of more than 2,700 surveys of medical school faculty, students and residents from across the country.

“The new social [and] behavioral skills section will test concepts, needed in today’s diverse world, related to socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health outcomes,” Diane McQuail, assistant dean for admissions for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said.

McQuail said the update to the 2015 entrance exam, which seeks to measure biological, chemical, psychological and social foundations of health, will “test skills needed for success in medical school and beyond.”

She stressed that these updates are not only “needed in today’s diverse world,” but also are critical in assuring that the medical school accepts applicants with varied interests and skills outside of their desire to study medicine.

The new test will also gather more data on the personal characteristics of each applicant through reflection pieces and letters of recommendation.

The new sections on social sciences and critical thinking will help attract candidates that McQuail calls “well-rounded in academic choices as well as experiences” – also a target of the Association of American Medical College’s recommendations.

After a review process that began in 2008, the medical association released 14 preliminary recommendations to overhaul the test last April. The changes were spurred by advancements in medical science and the evolving medical job market.

Karen Mitchell of the AAMC’s policy research unit said the additions to the MCAT will “make sure that students know and can use content in social sciences that provides the foundation for what they will learn in medical school about health and health outcomes.”

Elizabeth Cobbs, an associate professor of medicine, said she is “supportive of shifting the emphasis toward knowledge that helps doctors be more ‘person and family-centered’ in their practice.”

The addition of a social and behavioral sciences section will be balanced by the removal of the exam’s writing section, which admissions officers say they usually don’t consider.

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