Science Directions

A much-anticipated revision of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is now official. In February, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) approved changes to the MCAT. Starting in 2015, the exam will include a new section on Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.

This will be the first major revision of the venerable MCAT exam in 20 years. Future physicians will now need to demonstrate a basic understanding of human behavior before they will even be considered for admission to medical school.

As APA fellow Barry A. Hong, PhD, explained to the Monitor in its September 2011 coverage of this development, “People, in particular physicians, see how psychological principles are enmeshed in life and biology.” Dr. Hong should know — he was a member of the AAMC committee that recommended the MCAT revisions.

In setting the stage for this dramatic revision, AAMC prepared a report on Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians. AAMC has stated clearly what most of us have known for quite some time:

“A complete medical education must include, alongside physical and biological science, the perspectives and findings that flow from the behavioral and social sciences.” In the long run, this is sure to improve public health. In the short run, it represents an enormous opportunity and responsibility for psychology. We must seize the moment.

More students than ever will be flowing into psychology classes, especially the introductory class. They will be highly motivated, science-oriented students. We need to make sure that our courses prepare them well for the MCAT, and that we provide them with a fundamental understanding of human behavior that they will need as future physicians.

In addition to these basic responsibilities, we have before us an incredible opportunity. Most students who complete introductory psychology courses in college do not continue with advanced psychology courses, and even fewer pursue graduate education in psychology. We have always recognized that most future business people, artists, writers, politicians and scientists get their one and only exposure to psychology from the introductory college class.

But now the psychologyliterate among us will include most future physicians. Thus, one opportunity is to acquaint an even broader segment of society to psychology.

Yet an even greater opportunity lies before us. It is to capture the hearts, minds and passions of new students. Some among the would-be future physicians will discover something in psychology that appeals to them deeply. Many may decide — as I did — to shift their career goals and interests to psychology. Some will see psychology as a better path for satisfying their interests in service delivery. Others will see psychology as a way to pursue their passion and talent for science.

Accommodating the flood of new students into college psychology classes will be a challenge. Rising to that challenge — seizing the moment — will yield great benefits. Physicians will be better educated, health care will improve and the psychology workforce itself may benefit from one of its greatest expansions in decades.