A Liberal Arts Education: How you can become a better doctor through non-premedical requirements
Prior to the announcement of MCAT 20151 and the new Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section, one of the biggest hurdles I had was getting my pre-med and pre-dent students to understand why it was important for them to consider taking yet another course in preparation for professional school. Helping them to understanding that they are not simply trying to get into professional school, but planning to be successful in a health care career was the first step. The second step was helping them realize that non-science courses are just as pertinent as the science courses to their future careers, regardless of whether the professional schools list them as prerequisites or not.
Meet the behavioral/social sciences: psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, etc. While pre-med students tend to place these valuable courses in the back seat to courses like anatomy and biochemistry, studies have shown that these behavioral factors influence health outcomes as well. As a health professional, you do not get to choose who walks through your door for treatment. People from all walks of life and with backgrounds very different from your own will potentially come to you for health care. All of the medical brilliance in the world will not help you treat your patients if they don’t understand your treatment plan, can’t afford it, or just don’t believe that it will work and therefore, do not follow it.
Think about it. Let imagine that physics is not an actual prerequisite for medical or dental school, and your advisor simply told you to take a physics course and gave no explanation, you’d probably be skeptical, right? Some of the things that may immediately pop into your head are:
- Why are you trying to ruin my GPA? Who has time to take another challenging course?
- How do I even afford to take this other course that I’m not sure will actually be helpful?
- None of my other pre-health friends are doing this because it’s not required, and my roommates’ cousins’ wife, who just got into medical school, didn’t take it either.
- Do you even know the prerequisites for medical school? Why are you telling me to take something that is not required?
Roughly speaking, within that one scenario, concepts of psychology (your way of thinking), sociology (how you relate to your community’s way of thinking), anthropology (your community/cultural history), and economics (funding) all came into play at the prospect of taking a course. Now if your advisor had explained how physics actually comes into play as a doctor2, then you’d probably be a lot more relaxed and maybe even excited to learn the information needed to help you save lives in the future, right? You might even come back to see them again prior to applying to discuss more ways that you could become a competitive applicant because they have gained your trust.
The health field understands that the same holds true for treating patients, so much so that the new MCAT of 2015 will test “your knowledge of the ways in which psychological, social, and biological factors influence perceptions and reactions to the world”. A patients’ culture, history, religion, gender, socio-economic status, view of themselves and their view of society, and a host of other factors will all becoming through the door with them when they seek out your expertise as a health care professional. It’s very important to have some understanding of how these various factors could potentially affect the treatment plans that you’re making to return them or keep them in good health. It builds your credibility not only as a health care provider but as someone that they can trust with one of the most important things they have: their health.