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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    MCAT changes test students’ communication, people skills

    The doctor’s office smells like too much hand sanitizer, and it’s uncomfortable sitting on that white crispy baking sheet. With eyes locked to his clipboard, he asks a few basic questions and then in a voice meant for a conversation with dry wall responds with the diagnosis. With a slam of the door and a Walgreen’s prescription, the appointment is over.

    He may have passed the Medical College Admissions Test, but does he really sound like the kind of doctor you’d want to have? Doctors need to do more than just give a diagnosis. They need to truly care about their patients. They need people skills.

    But how do you test a person’s communication and interpersonal skills on paper?

    Fortunately, Members of the Association of American Medical Colleges agree the answer lies in the format and content of the Medical College Admissions Test, the exam that decides the fate of tens of thousands of medical school hopefuls across the country every year.

    Revisions include adding a section on social, behavioral and psychological determinants of health as well as critical reasoning, similar to the Law School Admissions Test. The writing portion many medical students agonize over will now be excluded.

    These changes reflect the rapid and evolving field of medicine and the needs of society, according to admissions director Dr. James Kerwin.

    “For example, in the past we focused too much on disease and now we focus on the person, their role in the community, family and biological factors,” Kerwin said.

    The needs of society are not easy to gauge. The practice of western medicine is shifting to a more holistic picture. Experts agree that simply looking at present symptoms and a diagnosis chart can be inaccurate. Each patient has a different socio-economic status and family history and different habits. A good doctor must fully understand these determinants of health and have the ability to draw important information out of the patient.

    “We are very good at finding out who’s smart and who can take a test, but we don’t know who can play well in a sandbox. How do you find out who is a truly caring, compassionate individual paired with excellent science skills?” said Dr. Andreas Theodorou, chief medical officer and professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

    Playing well in a sandbox translates to how well the person communicates with team members from other professions such as nursing, public health, pharmacy and psychology. Combining the skill sets of nurses, public health experts, psychologists and pharmacists will paint a better picture of each individual’s health needs and increase the quality of doctor-to-patient care.

    “It’s the skill of knowing how to communicate with a fellow human being. It’s not a critical characteristic to be admitted into health care, it’s a personal characteristic,” Theodorou said.

    Advice to pass the new MCAT?

    Continue to ace all the “weeder” science classes, write an excellent personal statement, take a few more interdisciplinary courses, develop strong communication skills and be a genuinely compassionate human being.

    — Courtney L’Ecuyer is a journalism sophomore. She can be reached at or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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