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Medical students need to study human behavior as well as science

The changes coming with the 2015 MCAT exam represent an important shift in the way we assess and prepare tomorrow's doctors ("A better MCAT may not produce better doctors," July 10).

We recognize that these changes may bring challenges for aspiring doctors, especially those who have taken non-traditional paths to medical school. Yet this evolution of the MCAT exam will help medical schools better identify not only the students who are the most academically prepared to become physicians, but also those who have the potential to become the best doctors in a changing health care system.

Testing students' understanding of introductory psychology and sociology is especially critical, as we know that being a good physician requires knowledge beyond the natural sciences. It is about understanding people — how they think, interact, make decisions and behave. By balancing the two natural sciences tests with two sections that focus on behavioral and social sciences and critical analysis and reasoning, the nation's medical schools hope to encourage students studying humanities, economics, anthropology and other diverse fields to walk through their doors.

Recognizing the new exam will require additional preparation, the American Association of Medical Colleges is taking steps to provide low- and no-cost resources to help pre-med students prepare. Earlier this year, we formed a collaboration with Khan Academy and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide all students — particularly non-traditional students who aspire to begin careers in medicine — with access to free comprehensive video tutorials to help them study the concepts that will be tested by the new exam.

While volunteer and service opportunities are very much valued by admissions committees, a solid foundation in the psychological, social and biological factors that help explain behavior — and the impact of cultural, social, and socio-economic differences on well-being — is critical for producing well-rounded physicians who are best equipped to have good bedside manners, communication skills and the ability to connect with people.

Darrell G. Kirch, Washington, D.C.

The writer is president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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