Med school admission sans hard science? Mount Sinai says it's so

While traditionally, medical schools have used indicators like Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores and performance in advanced science and math courses to evaluate and admit students, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is trying to change things in a drastic way. The school offers a very limited number of spots (35) each year to students who lack MCAT scores, and instead agree to study humanities and social sciences as undergraduates in lieu of classes like organic chemistry, reports the New York Times

The idea is that some of these non-traditional students can not only become more well-rounded physicians with more of a "sense of mission," but can also turn out to be just as good doctors as their more conventional peers. A study conducted by Dr. Nathan Kase, the school's dean for medical education, and published this week in the journal Academic Medicine actually shows the academic performance between the two sets of students to be equal. The study compared classroom performance of 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with 606 "traditionally prepared" students, all of whom graduated between 2004 and 2009. 

"[S]tudents' keen awareness of the competitive nature of the admission process and the need for outstanding performance in science GPA and on the MCAT induces them to cram for grades without appreciating the science being studied, and their retention of the information is only to be transient," Kase writes in the study. "Our data, collected over the course of six years, confirm ... that a significant reduction in standard premed requirements does not limit students' ability to assimilate the basic science knowledge necessary for promotion to the clinical clerkship years." 

Despite the study's results and Mount Sinai's innovative program, Dr. David Battinelli, senior associate dean for education at Hofstra University School of Medicine, wants to see more long-term statistics about students who graduate after taking the non-traditional path. 

"You have to have the proper amount of moral courage to say 'OK, we're going to skip over a lot of the huge barriers to a lot of our students,'" Battinelli said. "Now let's see how they're doing five and 10 years down the road." 

The study also found that students on the humanities track were more likely to train either in psychiatry or primary-care, fields that provided "greater interpersonal connections between patient and physician." 

To learn more:
- read this New York Times piece
- here's the study in Academic Medicine