Withdraw the MCAT from the September 2022 Canadian Medical School Admission Requirement

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The Corona virus has undoubtedly had significant impact on many aspects of our society thus far. Sectors of the economy, from big corporations to small businesses, have had their markets closed down completely and thus require financial assistance from the government to hopefully repair the damage. One sector that has experienced the inverse is the health sector. Doctors, nurses and care givers are likely the most at risk of the general public, yet they knowingly go to work to save people’s lives. A new generation of doctors are soon to join the workforce, however under slightly more difficult circumstances. Attending university with the ambition of studying medicine is already a demanding task in itself with pressures ranging from personal life to economic and academic.

The COVID-19 situation and measures pose additional and unforeseen challenges for future medical students. At first glance, this may seem like a perfect opportunity to further test their ability to adapt under pressure or their readiness for the difficult years of medical school which may very well be justifiable in an ideal world. Unfortunately, however, the virus has not affected us all equally due to the fact that 27% (or >9 million) of the Canadian population are potentially at high risk due to chronic conditions [1]. It is completely unreasonable to demand these students to choose their career over the health of either themselves or their loved ones.

Especially, now that the curve of infection cases is rising due to the gradual re-opening of society, it seems absurd that medical schools would allow students to expose themselves to an unnecessary risk for the prolonged period of the MCAT exam in the midst of a pandemic. Furthermore, many students that have already taken that risk are speaking out on social media about the unsanitary conditions of the test centers. Additionally, many “pre-med” students, current students, graduates, medical professionals, news outlets as well as petitions aimed at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have expressed concern and disapproval for the MCAT exam during the pandemic. Several factors underlie these concerns and possibly most important of all are the health and fairness aspects. During these times, we would instead expect medical schools to promote good health and set the example for the rest of the public.

An examination such as the MCAT may be a decent performance indicator under normal circumstances, however, it has never been clearer that the AAMC has let the students down. Schools such as UBC have extended the MCAT score reporting deadline to December in an attempt to alleviate some of the stress. The AAMC, however, has not provided more test dates in September, none in October or later nor have they taken the initiative to provide the remote online option as has been done for other exams such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This effectively makes UBC’s intervention meaningless and will result in large aggregations of students on the few test dates. It is a well-known fact that, statistically speaking, the vast majority of medical school applicants have four to five years of background in sciences, and schools such as McGill do not require the MCAT for admission [2]. Therefore, surely there are alternative performance indicators that better demonstrate the applicants’ abilities. Clearly, the question remains about justice for those whose have already written their exam. All students, and people for that matter, should acknowledge that the problem exists, and that fellow students and colleagues are at risk especially now that the infection cases are rising [3]. A fitting medical analogy would be if a doctor were to give a patient worse treatment simply on the basis of precedence set by previous treatments.

On a related note, the second semester of this past study year is to be disregarded in GPA calculations by many Canadian medical schools such as UBC due to the virus; this seems more unjust in comparison. Many students worked extremely hard through a challenging time at the beginning of the pandemic to maintain high grades during the winter 2020 (January-April) semester which they hoped to use for their medical school application. Some students, however, faced difficulty trying to maintain good grades in this semester and once they expressed this concern to medical schools, the schools decided to make accommodations for them and remove the grades from the final semester from the GPA calculations. This puts the first-mentioned group of students at a disadvantage especially if their first semester grades were not as high as their second. This creates an unfair evaluation system, yet medical schools claim this is fair. Therefore, now that many students are having concerns with the MCAT, Canadian medical schools should not simply extend the MCAT score reporting deadline but must consider removing the MCAT from this year’s application requirement due to concerns around students’ health and safety and the overall unfairness of the situation. A very important difference to note is that online schooling ensured everyone equal opportunity to stay home and study whereas now some are being forced to make decisions with possible health consequences for themselves and loved ones.

The AAMC has numerous petitions and complaints surrounding it with regards to their operation and administration and mere public statements do not remove students’ fear nor does it change the unfortunate reality that participants haven spoken up about. Quite frankly, the American company is limiting the Canadian students and we should therefore look to Canadian universities to solve the problem. As Canadians, we applaud ourselves for our combined efforts in dealing with COVID-19 more effectively than many countries, and once again we have an opportunity to set an example for our neighbours to follow.

Ultimately, I therefore cannot see a more fitting scenario than to withdraw the MCAT requirement for the 2022 admissions.

 

Citation:

[1] Global, regional, and national estimates of the population at increased risk of severe COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions in 2020: a modelling study Clark, Andrew Nightingale, Emily S et al. The Lancet Global Health, Volume 8, Issue 8, e1003 - e1017

[2] https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/students-residents/interactive-data/2019-facts-applicants-and-matriculants-data

[3] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html