Category Archives: MCAT

May 13, 2015

Medical School Curriculum Changes

Prospective students in upcoming classes for medical school are going to have a significant change in curriculum than their previous peers. Many medical schools are beginning to take into account the undeniable fact that medical training for doctors should change as the practice of medicine is changing.

Typical medical school curriculum usually involves teaching based around  Abraham Flexner‘s once-famous ’2 Plus 2 Model’, which involves two years in the classroom and two years shadowing in hospitals. The curriculum for medical school is now starting to include classes meant to build communication skills, teamwork, and adaptability to change. The new MCAT makeover released last month, April 2015, has included testing for similar qualities/traits as well. These medical school curriculum changes are going to be taking place at many medical schools, including the University of Michigan Medical School.

Dr. Raj Mangrulkar, the Associate Dean for medical student education at the University of Michigan Medical School states, “Flexner did a lot of great things, but we’ve learned a lot and now we’re absolutely ready for a new model.”

The University of Michigan Medical School is implementing many changes to adapt to a newer, more innovative model. They are including classes within their curriculum based solely on improving communication skills, by giving negotiation scenarios to students to compromise and decide upon solutions with their fellow peers.

“Listed with the new prerequisites is a group of Core Competencies. The four competencies are analytical thought and problem-solving skills, written and verbal communication, mathematical/statistical analysis and application of hypothesis-driven methods of research.” Mangrulkar states, “These competencies began as expectations for residents, but have now trickled down to the pre-medical level.”

Along with the University of Michigan Medical School, many other medical schools have already began to look for those qualities in students and incorporate the search into their admissions process. Medical schools are searching for students who can exhibit not only top grades in school and scores on their MCAT, but also for students who exhibit teamwork, compassion, and communication skills within their activities and experiences. A well-rounded student who has the ability to display intelligence and communication skills, among other traits, is ideally the type of applicant that medical schools would like to extend offers to.

Evaluating applicants based on multiple variables and qualities can become difficult for schools, especially when trying to keep information on each applicant in order. ZAP Solutions admissions software, AMP, has the ability to simplify the process for admissions offices, keeping all student information securely placed in one system. ZAP has been continuously innovating AMP to incorporate new ways to evaluate these changes. AMP has also given schools the capability to use standard interviewing, MMI interviewing, or a hybrid combination. Each step of the admissions process is within AMP, making it easier, faster, and more effective for admissions officers to go through the process from the initial/secondary application to screening, interviewing, reviewing, and matriculation with each applicant. The goal of AMP is to customize the software specifically to each school’s process, growing and innovating with the school through their changes.

How do you think medical schools will continue to incorporate the new changes into their admissions process and curriculum?

February 23, 2015

The MCAT Gets a Makeover


In order to be accepted into medical school, students must take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).  The MCAT has traditionally been comprised of 144 questions which are to be completed in a three hour and twenty minute time frame. Prospective med students spend years preparing themselves for this exam; taking classes, joining study groups, purchasing MCAT study books – the list goes on and on.  But, starting April 2015 there will be a new and improved MCAT which promises to be more difficult and extensive.  The purpose is to better forecast how well the student will perform in medical school.

The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has been conducting research for the past five years in order to constitute these changes.  By surveying faculty, admissions, and deans of medical schools, the AAMC was better able to understand what types of general knowledge and thinking skills are needed by students to succeed in their medical school programs.

Here are some changes that students can expect on the new MCAT:

  • Different scoring scale:  The old MCAT had a total possible score of 45.  On the new MCAT, sections will be scored 118-132, for a total possible score of 528.  The median score is estimated to be around 500.
  • New questions that test a variety of skills: Just like the old MCAT, the new one will test content knowledge and critical thinking, but with the added challenge of two additional skill areas.  The first is Research Design, which focuses on the fundamentals of creating research projects.  The second is Graphical Analysis & Data Interpretation, which focuses on deriving conclusions and drawing inferences from visual data (figures, graphs, tables…).
  • Double the length: Previously, the MCAT was to be completed within a three hour and twenty minute time frame.  The new MCAT now has a maximum time limit of six hours and fifteen minutes – upping the questions from 144 to 230.
  • More prerequisite classes: Three additional semesters’ worth of material will be covered in college-level biochemistry, introductory psychology, and introductory sociology.  This increases the prerequisite class number from eight to eleven.
  • A slight change to the Verbal Reasoning section: Instead of being called Verbal Reasoning, the section will now be titled Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills or CARS.  In addition, the CARS section will no longer include passages on the natural sciences but will instead focus entirely on passages from the humanities and social sciences.

Although the MCAT is never the ultimate decider to get into medical school, it does play a large part in the admission decision. Since the exam is designed to test how students will stand up to the academic rigors of medical school, it is important for all aspiring doctors  to note these monumental changes to the test.

As an added incentive for test takers to not shy away from the new MCAT, the AAMC is offering a $150 Amazon gift card to all students who register for the April 17th or April 18th test dates.

According to Eric Chiu, executive director of pre-medical programs, Kaplan Test Prep, “While the new MCAT is more challenging than the old one, our experience of preparing students for the medical school admissions process for over 40 years tells us that with the right preparation, they will rise to the occasion, and succeed.”

November 12, 2014

AACRAO: Predict Performance with Evidence Based Research

aacraoA few of our team members from ZAP Solutions attended the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) SEM Conference this past week in Los Angeles.

AACRAO is a professional organization of personnel working in college and university admissions, academic records, and enrollment services. The AACRAO SEM Conference is an interesting and affluent event that brings together college enrollment management and admissions professionals from institutions throughout the country to collaborate with other individuals to discuss coordinating campus-wide efforts to ensure the success of students, from initial contact until graduation. The AACRAO SEM Conference had workshops and sessions discussing the creation of effective enrollment management plans to lead campus strategic planning efforts and improve student access and success.

One of the sessions that I attended was entitled, “Predicting Performance: using evidence based research and analytics to select best fit applicants.” It was presented by Dr. Jim Lloyd from the University of Florida College of Veterinary School, Coretta Patterson from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Hilda Mejia Abreu, a former employee of Michigan State University. The goal behind the study was to look at the datasets of accepted students to see how their traditional and non-traditional factors correlated with their academic success.

The session was extremely informative, providing research results that they took from admitted students from 2000 to 2006 at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The study used datasets from the admissions office and the student’s curriculum to compare both traditional and non-traditional characteristics. Traditional characteristics included GPA and GRE test scores, while non-traditional characteristics consisted of race/ethnicity, state, gender, age, residency, prior degree, and interview score. Using both traditional and non-traditional characteristics provided the opportunity for a more holistic admissions process in order to see if either type of characteristic was predictive of academic performance as measured by either cumulative clinical and didactic GPA.

In the research study, there were a few different types of studies that were reviewed throughout the session that were used to help evaluate the results. The studies consisted of the Astin I-E-O Model and the 2004 Sedlacek Non-cognitive Variables Model.

To what extent did traditional and non-traditional characteristics contribute to the prediction of the cumulative clinical GPA?

Research from the study showed that there were certain non-traditional and traditional characteristics that were the most predictive of the student’s academic success or cumulative clinical GPA, including the GRE Quantitative (traditional) and the interview score (non-traditional). The Accreditation Service will look at the school’s admissions process and give suggestions on what should be done, not what must be done. This means that their recommendations are solely suggestions, not mandatory requests. It is up to the institution to review their goals and implement the changes. This research study helps show the importance of a holistic admissions process that looks at more than just the applicant’s test scores and traditional characteristics.

Lessons Learned from the Research Study

  • Admissions process selection and goals should be defined and aligned with the mission and goals of institution and profession.

In the field of veterinary medicine, people skills are en extremely important need in veterinarians. Veterinarians must not only connect with animals but the humans that are at the end of the leash. People skills are needed in many fields of work, but it is particularly important in the medicine field due to the usually serious and sensitive nature of a patient’s visit. More often than not, grades and scores are viewed as the only important factor in finding a good doctor and the experience as a whole is often forgotten as a significant necessity.  This is a topic that has been the focus in the past year  when discussing the importance of people skills in doctors. The new MCAT test coming out in April 2015 is addressing this issue by including more questions in the MCAT test related to the student’s people and social science skills.

  • Complete an analysis of admissions variables and curricular performance completion as each semester concludes

Reporting and tracking the progress at the end of each semester will help to continuously update the admissions process as the time sees fit.

  • Regularly export data sets on performance to SPSS or another tool for easy mining for future use

Even if the data is not evaluated at that point, it is critical to keep data for future analysis and reporting.  Data analytics are essential for admissions offices to see what variables and factors are working the best for their institution and incoming class.

  • Establish a scholarly research agenda

Scheduled research studies can help to consistently analyze the data of your institution and applicant pool to confirm if your school’s admissions process is working towards your institution’s mission and goals.

  • Practice holistic admissions

The benefits of holistic admissions has been noted by many institutions more recently over the past five years. Looking at all aspects of the applicant will only help admissions officers to better select the applicants that will work best for their school.

  • Implement both traditional and non-traditional components in review process

As shown in this research study, both traditional and non-traditional components are both useful in predicting academic success. Many schools are taking the initiative to focus on both traditional and non-traditional components when admitting applicants into their programs. This does however lengthen the process and adds time to the already complex process of selecting future students. In efforts to maximize efficiency and create a more dedicated and observant process, many schools are turning to admissions software to organize, track, and assist with the entire enrollment process. Enrollment management software, such as AMP, are saving institutions money and time by holding the entire process in one place. By utilizing a centralized management system, admissions staff are able to easily, seamlessly and securely manage the student lifecycle from prospect to alumni, enabling schools to turn complex data into business intelligence and choose the candidates who are the very best fit for  their program.

 How is your institution selecting your admissions process?

February 18, 2014

Admissions Trends to Watch in 2014

2014With 2013 behind us, it is time to start planning for 2014′s admissions season. By following the ever-changing world of higher education admissions trends, you can ensure that your admissions staff is working to their full potential and that your department is selecting the best fit candidates.

A Focus on Competency

Competency based education gives credit for mastery of skills and real-life work experience. “We actually measure what students know and can do, not how long they’ve spent in a seat,” says Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University (Quinton). A focus on competency credit will help President Obama to achieve his goal of reducing college debt for current and future students.

Next-level Data and Analytic Tools

For years now, an increasing number of schools have been making the switch to admissions software solutions such as AMP online admissions. Analyzing reports on applicant data has become the norm for a well-rounded admissions process. Now, schools are taking that data to the next level and looking for long-term trends in the admissions world. “Performance metrics and dashboards are the beginning, but using data to understand deeper correlations and causality so we can shape change will be critical as we strive to advance our effectiveness,” says David Lassner, interim presided and former chief information officer at the University of Hawaii (The Chronicle).

Price-savvy Prospects

According to data from Sallie Mae, a majority of families eliminated colleges based on cost at some stage during their college shopping and admissions process. Colleges looking for continued steady growth will do well to plan for predicted demographic shifts that foretell a lower volume of high-income applicants. Schools can track their success in recruiting new groups of prospective students by using a prospect module in an end-to-end admissions tool like AMP Paperless Admissions.

 Alternative Admissions

Amidst a looming doctor shortage, medical school admissions have been under the microscope. With a lot of attention on the need for change in medical admissions in 2013, the situation may appear dire at first glance.  However, it is also evident that high pressure breeds creativity. A number of medical schools have implemented new approaches to medical admissions. At the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai University, their innovative FlexMed option allows students to apply without completing a PreMed program or taking the MCAT. Several schools have begun taking a holistic approach to applicant review, evaluating non-cognitive personality traits for compatibility with the medical profession. Additionally, Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) have begun to gain traction as an alternative to the traditional 1-on-1 office interview.

What is your admissions office doing differently in 2014?

April 5, 2013

FlexMed at Mt. Sinai: Med School without the MCAT

The Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine recently announced a daring new admissions plan that would populate half of each class with students who were accepted as undergraduate sophomores, without requiring the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or certain premed requirements like Organic Chemistry. The new program, FlexMed, allows premedical students to pursue undergraduate degrees in the humanities instead of being immediately pigeonholed into a rigorous science curriculum. After acceptance into the FlexMed program, students are required to maintain a 3.5 GPA and attend a remedial science course during the summer before the first year of med school (assuming that they had skipped the science prerequisites).

The FlexMed program was borne from the success of a similar small-scale program that admitted a limited number of humanities undergraduates into the School of Medicine. In a study published by Academic Medicine, Mt. Sinai found that academic performance in medical school was equivalent for the humanities students and traditional premed students. The smaller program was part of a larger effort from the American Association of Medical Colleges to reevaluate the medical admissions process and to seek out atypical applicants. “We must consider whether current premedical education requirements — some a century old —”fit” with how basic science and medical practice have changed,” says AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.

Commenting on the status quo in medical school admissions, Dr. Kase of Mt. Sinai said, “The default pathway is: Well, how did they do on the MCAT? How did they do on organic chemistry? What was their grade-point average? That excludes a lot of kids… it makes science into an obstacle rather than something that is an insight into the biology of human disease.” The FlexMed program is a method to move away from the status quo. In a press release from Mt. Sinai, Dennis S. Charney, MD, the dean of the medical school, said:

“The current model of medical school training has stagnated despite major advances in science and medicine. We want to attract students with bright, creative minds who understand the role of precision medicine and big data and want to change the world. We also want innovators in clinical care who think of medicine in the larger social context and identify new practices for better care delivery. We believe FlexMed signals a paradigm shift in how we select, prepare, and educate the next generation of physicians, and hope other medical schools will follow suit.”

The end goal of this program is to produce a more diverse medical community that has a broader insight into the human condition. However, some people are skeptical at discarding the pre-med curriculum. One Chronicle commentator had an interesting view on the FlexMed program and others like it:

Are they really saying that doctors need so little understanding of biology that it could be completely covered in a six week long remedial course? This seems quite unlikely, being a physician is to biology like being an engineer is to math and physics; ie the applied side of the same field. However, maybe this is actually an acknowledgement that our current US system with four years of college prior to medical school just restricts the production of doctors and increases medical costs.  In almost all other countries in the world, being a doctor is just a four to six year bachelors/masters level degree.  It seems like such trends are making it harder and harder for US medical schools to justify the need for a bachelors degree prior to entering medical school…

With such a prominent medical school making such a drastic shift in admissions procedures, it should be very interesting to see if other schools follow suit in the coming semesters. For any school that is contemplating an alternative admissions process such as FlexMed, the infinitely customizable AMP online admissions system is a perfect tool for implementing a new admissions workflow with ease.

December 11, 2012

The Doctor Shortage & Medical Admissions

The Origin

AAMC Physician Supply & Demand ChartA perfect storm is brewing in the American healthcare system; too many new patients and not enough new doctors.

The U.S. is experiencing a demographic shift. The Baby Boom population is aging and increasing the numbers of elderly patients who require healthcare for age-sensitive conditions. Those numbers will continue to rise for many years to come. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare“) is a less influential factor that will allow 30 million new patients access to insured healthcare.

“This is a national problem across the board and it is going to get much worse,” said Christiane Mitchell, director of medical affairs for the [Association of American Medical Colleges]. “We have an aging population and a whole lot of doctors retiring. We need to increase the pipeline of new doctors.”

It is estimated that the U.S. will need 65,000 additional primary care doctors by 2025. That sounds like a long time to prepare, but it takes a decade for most doctors to complete their schooling – action needs to be taken right away in order to avoid a crisis.

Implications for Patients

With fewer available doctors, patients will soon feel the healthcare pinch.

As a solution, The American Academy of Family Physicians believes that the best way to reduce the shortage is through patient-centered medical homes. The medical home is a team-based approach, where every patient has a personal physician who leads a team of professionals, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and other health care professionals. With plenty of staff support for a small number of M.D.’s, patient care is streamlined.  However, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) doesn’t believe that medical homes are the cure-all solution for the looming shortage. Team-based approaches may help reduce the shortage, but will not eliminate it.

Why don’t we have enough Family Physicians?

The doctor shortage isn’t really a “Doctor” shortage per se; there are 17,364 new doctors that graduated in 2011 according to the AAMC. The real problem is that too few of those doctors chose primary care as a career, preferring to specialize in more lucrative areas of medicine.

In a 2008 census by the AAMC and the American Medical Association, research revealed that the number of medical graduates choosing a career in family medicine dropped nearly 27 percent. This is partially a financial decision; primary care physicians in the United States make $140,000 to $150,000 annually, but specialists can make up to 2-3 times as much. For medical school students buried under a mountain of debt after 10+ years of schooling, choosing a more lucrative career choice is the logical course of action.

Students also take into consideration their future satisfaction in their chosen field. During medical school, 2-week rounds of clinical rotations is where students get first-hand experience in many different medical specialties. In these clinical rotations, Dr. Phillips of Harvard said that medical students often observe “primary care doctors unhappy doing with what they are doing…Practicing [family] doctors feel overworked and under supported and are generally unhappy,” he added. Clinical rotations don’t do justice to the benefits of a career in primary care; the true payoff in family medicine comes from long-term relationships with patients. “The values of primary care don’t come out in a two-week rotation. You don’t get that experience that a primary care physician loves,” said Jon Kole, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Implications for Medical Admissions

Many academics say that medical schools could do a lot more to encourage students to study primary care, and it all starts in the Admissions department. Professors suggest that admissions could select more students whose applications indicate a preference for family medicine. The AAMC has also put forth an initiative urging all U.S. medical schools to increase enrollment by 30%. According to the AAMC’s annual enrollment survey, many schools will have met that goal by 2016.

Some schools are already trying to counteract negative perceptions about family medicine. Seeing an opportunity to fill a gap, New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine is starting a new Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of the medical school, says “It’s a big deal for our institution. We want to be one of the leading medical schools that educates the next generation of primary care doctors.”

Schools can’t do it all alone, though. Amidst a climate of deep budget cuts for education, Congress must switch gears and support medical education funding, especially for primary care physicians. The U.S. government has already offered financial incentives such as loan repayments and scholarships to get doctors to practice in under-served areas.

“As a result of ongoing budget discussions, cuts to doctor training will worsen the physician shortage and jeopardize the health of patients around the nation.  It takes years to train a doctor.  For more doctors tomorrow, there must be increased funding for doctor training today,” says the AAMC

A good defense is the best offense

Medical schools must take action now in anticipation of the doctor shortage. They can begin by re-evaluating the end goal of their admissions procedures and adjusting school culture to be more encouraging of family care physicians. For example, Texas Tech is trying to encourage students to choose family medicine, by reducing the cost of medical school with an accelerated three-year program that allows primary care physicians to graduate a year early.

AMP is another example of an admissions tool that medical school admissions offices can use to prepare for this complicated and ever-changing world of medical admissions. Customizable applicant reports can allow admissions staff to efficiently evaluate the demographics of students, including ratios of how many students are interested in family medicine vs. pursuing a specialty. Visit Paperless Admissions to learn about how AMP can streamline and help your admissions office better evaluate applicants in your medical admissions process.

January 30, 2012

The Smoother, Faster Common App

The Common Application began in 1975 with just 15 colleges.  Today, it is accepted and currently used by 456 colleges, where they all share the same mission to promote access through holistic admissions.  With 45 of them just signing on within the last application year, this now leaves the Common App membership association to handle over three million applications.

Last week the New York Times featured an article about the Common App revising and updating many of its overall features, so that it will have a smoother, faster, and more intuitive application for the 2013 admissions season.  The Common App has plans to have a feature where students can ask college counselors questions about their applications in real time while in the process of filling it out.  Other updates include being able to access and complete the Common App on iPads and tablets, which is predicted to be a huge trend for higher education technology this upcoming year.

There are still some colleges that prefer not to use it, and many believe that their school may lose its identity.  They would rather have their applicants complete a more unique and comprehensive application then the standard Common App.  Of the schools that did switch to the Common App, some of them had increased applicant numbers and a rise in the diversity of students.  Your school could experience these same improvements and lower acceptance rates if there is an increase in applicants from switching, but don’t forget about how it will affect your admission staff’s workload and the amount of increased student rejections.  The real benefit from the Common App depends on the particular school.  If your school uses the Common App, what other updates would you like to see that might benefit your school even further?

December 8, 2011

The MCAT Makeover

Looking back at an article in The Chronicle from 1991 when the MCAT was revised to what it is today, the ability to communicate was a significant concern for admissions officers.  According to The Chronicle, AAMC officials stated, “The essay section was added because medical schools wanted a way to assess the applicants’ communications skills.”  The officials went on to say that, “Patients frequently complain that their doctors have poor bedside manners and either fail to tell them about important matters or talk in terms they don’t understand.”

Yet again it was decided that poor bedside manners are still an issue that patients face.  After the AAMC’s Annual Meeting this November, the association’s board of directors decided that the MCAT will be revised by 2015 to test for these recurring issues, leading to a MCAT makeover.  It is essential that communication skills are able to be correctly tested in the updated MCAT.  This will be a monumental change for upcoming applicants, considering the MCAT has been in the same format since 1991.  Some colleges have already started to change their curriculums in an effort to help applicant’s prepare for the adjustments on the test.  According to a recent article from The Chronicle, “A 21-member advisory committee, working with the medical colleges’ association, made the final recommendations after three years of study that involved analyzing 2,700 surveys from college and medical-school faculty members, medical residents, students, and advisers.”

Potential changes include adding sections on humanities and social sciences to test the applicant’s knowledge on biological systems, ethics, and psychology.  Additionally, there are plans to add a section testing critical analysis and reasoning skills while removing the current writing section, which was added in 1991 in hopes to test for communication skills.  Many of these modifications are to ensure that applicants have a good bedside manner on top of being academically competent.

So, what exactly does having a good bedside manner mean?  It implies that applicants are able to care for their patients and co-workers needs in an appropriate and responsive manner.  This requires applicants to have basic communication and social skills, along with the ability to work well in a team.  Many Canadian schools and a few U.S. medical colleges are currently testing for these skills by interviewing applicants using a multiple mini interview (MMI) process, which was discussed in last month’s College Admissions Today article.  Based on the upcoming revisions to the MCAT and some individual schools’ changing interview processes, it looks like it will be essential for future applicants to have personal skills besides from what they learn in their science and medical classes.

View the entire 1991 article and 2011 article from The Chronicle.

Interested in learning more about the MCAT 2015? View helpful resources from the AAMC for students and admissions officers.