Innovation in undergraduate biology education is constrained by medical school admission requirements and specifically by the MCAT exam. The committee recommends that an independent review of medical school admission requirements and testing be conducted in light of the rapidly changing nature of biological and biomedical research, and the consequent need to transform undergraduate science education.
The curricular demands placed on undergraduate programs by students who want to score well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) have a major impact on the curriculum and course content of all life science majors, especially at schools where the same courses are offered to premeds and those headed for research careers. This is especially true of the chemistry courses taken by the majority of life science majors. Most medical schools in the United States require applicants to have completed one year of general chemistry and one year of organic chemistry. In addition, satisfactory performance on the MCAT is a key admission requirement for medical school. Changes that would likely benefit both groups of students are limited by the need to prepare premedical students for medical school admission committees and the current format of the MCAT itself, although it is by no means clear that the current testing regime is particularly relevant to preparing future physicians of the 21st century. Indeed, premedical students constitute a substantial proportion of the next generation of biomedical researchers who will need to be leaders in the same dynamically changing landscape of biomedical research as life science majors. Medicine itself is becoming more interdisciplinary, and future physicians could also benefit from the interdisciplinary changes called for in this report.
A change in the MCAT itself, or in the way it is used for medical school admissions, would allow the biology curriculum to develop in a way that is beneficial to all students instead of allowing the content of the MCAT to dictate what students are taught.
Undergraduate biology education can be effectively transformed only through close and sustained collaboration between colleges, universities, government agencies, professional societies, and foundations. It is often assumed that once a useful pedagogical approach is identified, it will be reproducible, easy to disseminate, and simple for another faculty member