An innovative new way of selecting students for medicine seeks to alleviate the intensity of pre-health requirements—allowing pre-med students to explore other areas in college—without sacrificing the academic ability of its applicants to perform as doctors. Furthermore, it aspires to produce personable, worldly doctors who can handle the changing requirements of the modern-day medical profession.
Students wishing to study at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York do not have to undergo the traditional set of rigorous pre-health requirements, nor do they need to take the MCAT. In addition, they are guaranteed a place providing they maintain a GPA of 3.5. This program, called FlexMed, is starting this year, and half of each class at Mount Sinai will be accepted through it. The other half will consist of traditional applicants, applying in their senior year of college.
Prior to the introduction of FlexMed, Mount Sinai had a similar program on a smaller scale that admitted humanities students early. A peer-reviewed study concluded that the academic performance at Mount Sinai of the humanities program admits was equal to that of traditional admits. The study also found program participants were, in some ways, more sensitive doctors. Mount Sinai calls FlexMed a “response to major changes in the priorities of biomedical science and health care.” These fields have certainly undergone rapid transformation in recent decades, including a shift towards more personal doctor-patient relationships and the introduction of complex ethical issues as technology evolves.
The FlexMed Program has significant potential benefits for individual students and society.
First, it de-emphasizes credit for on traditionally required pre-health classes, like calculus and physics. It gives students more time to take advantage of the rest of their undergraduate liberal arts education, ideally with no cost to their preparedness for medical school.
Second, it alleviates some stress of pre-med students. By guaranteeing students a place in medical school in sophomore year, FlexMed students can explore in a way that traditional admits often feel they cannot due to rigorous medical school subject and grade requirements. If this application methodology were applied by more medical schools, it would reduce behaviors like pre-med students picking a class, not because they have an interest in the material, but because it is a requirement to fulfill and they ‘need’ an easy A.
Third, it seems to be a reasonable assumption that doctors who have been exposed to areas like ethics, health policy and the humanities would be better able to communicate and relate with their patients. Society would benefit from having doctors with a wide understanding of the public policy relevant to their profession and awareness of the ethical and technological evolution of medicine. However, an obvious consideration is whether students in the FlexMed program are missing out on essential science material with the relaxed course requirements.
We applaud Mount Sinai for its willingness to try something new. But more research is necessary before widespread change across the country or at Duke is considered. At this stage, the key point to take from FlexMed is that we must critically analyze the relevance of pre-health requirements to ensure that we keep up with a continually changing field.