I have problems with this study, methodologically and philosophically. It was anything but a controlled study. The non-traditional students received a summer “boot camp” in basic sciences to meet state requirements. Baseline characteristics between the two groups were not compared, but it appears that the non-traditional students may have been a very select group on some measures. According to a New York Times report on the project the mean SAT score for the non-traditional students was 1444 (wow!) and “elite” undergraduate schools were heavily represented.
I have questions at a more basic level. I don't think anyone knows how much basic science preparation is optimal in either medical school or undergrad. Maybe we could do with a little less. Moreover, a better background in the humanities can only be a good thing. (You can still major in the humanities and meet traditional med school basic science requirements, by the way. Generations of med students have done it under the “old” pathway). On the other hand, and this is a purely subjective observation, I wonder whether we are seeing a dumbing down of medical education attributable to a gradual de-emphasis on basic science over the past two decades.
Organic chemistry was a pivotal course for premeds at my undergraduate school. It's one of those courses, at least when taught properly, where you can't get by with rote memorization. Basic concepts and patterns had to be understood and built upon. My professor was passionate in his belief that a fundamental understanding of the human body and the natural world was important for success as a physician.
When I see the pervasive move toward promotion and teaching of quackery in academic medicine these days I can't help but think we need more, not less, basic science.
More from DB.