If you get bored, try imagining what medicine would look like if doctors actually did use all of the information they memorized for the MCAT. A man comes in the Emergency Department clinching his chest and collapses. Because I studied hard for the MCAT some four years earlier, I know exactly what to do. I shout with assurance to my staff, “This man won’t see the morning unless he gets a bimolecular elimination! I need tert-butoxide stat!” We work well together and he finally comes around. When the man wakes up, he tells me how thankful he is for good doctors like me. I place my hand on his shoulder and look into his grateful eyes, “Don’t thank me, sir. Thank the MCAT.”
I must admit, being a PreMed student lately has been interesting. It is likely that you have probably heard rumors of the new version of the medical school entrance exam. Once a three and a half hour standardized exam, the MCAT has now developed into a six-hour exam with more material to account for. Along with the traditional subjects, the test now includes biochemistry, psychology, and sociology.
Ask any doctor if they believe performance on the MCAT determines the physician you will become. Relatively soon, you might discover a trend: taking the MCAT and being a physician are two completely different things. When taking a standardized exam, you are studying a great deal of information, more than half that may not ever be used within that context again. As a doctor, you are dealing with real life scenarios and living patients. Contrary to common belief, the ability to perform well on the MCAT still seems to say little about how much we actually care for patients, and that is okay. Still, it does not keep me from wondering why the MCAT exists from time to time.
Why is the MCAT necessary?
Because the MCAT incorporates a good amount of information, it naturally bridges the gap between being a PreMed and a medical student. It serves to kick-start your clinical mindedness and matches the intensity of a medical school study schedule. Because everybody has a slightly different PreMed experience, it can provide medical schools with an easy method to compare the academic capabilities of applicants. Although I agree fully, I think there is another reason why the MCAT exists that is not stressed enough.
I had a sort of “epiphany” a few weeks ago as I started approaching finals. I realized that I had fallen into the trap of viewing my finals as a negative circumstance – even an inconvenience in my life as a future doctor. It occurred to me that they could only be as difficult as I allowed myself to perceive them. Although a positive attitude surely did not guarantee an A, it helped my finals seem more like an opportunity than a curse.
Sadly, I came to the realization that finals were not the only “inconveniences” I labeled in my life. Without a doubt, the new MCAT had become one of them too. The more I thought about it, the more the MCAT appealed to me as a chance to be challenged as a student, and as a chance for my character to be improved. Although it does not necessarily determine the doctor you will be 10+ years from now, it does represent your character today. Your effort on the MCAT represents your willingness to make sacrifices in order to become a doctor. It occurred to me that we might never use physics, organic chemistry, and psychology to the extent that it demands, but it does not change the fact that the life of a doctor requires integrity and perseverance.
As future physicians of the world, maybe what we should fear more than the new MCAT is a world where the MCAT does not exist. More than I fear the inconvenience that the MCAT places on my life, I fear the physician I would be without it. Maybe we will be challenged enough in medical school, but for some reason I cannot escape one of my recent thoughts. How could I expect to handle the pressure of a patient’s life in my hands if I cannot accept the pressure of a standardized exam?
Until I am proven otherwise, my generation of PreMeds can handle the MCAT regardless of how difficult it becomes. We have to believe that if we ever expect to assume the pressure of a patient’s life that we could take a ten-hour MCAT if needed. Regardless of where you are in your PreMed journey, remember to take a step back and remove any perceptions that you have created that make it seem inconvenient. In the meantime, think about a hilarious parallel universe where doctors actually treated patients by using MCAT information – like molecular orbital theory and electromagnetic fields calculated by hand.