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Columbia Spectator Staff

To be a premedical student is to become part of a certain type of academic culture. This culture can most easily be characterized by its stereotypes, chief among which, especially in the eyes of outsiders, is individual competitiveness. The stereotype is that premedical students are all driven by a singular desire to matriculate at a good medical school and willingly sacrifice genuine academic curiosity for the sake of achieving that end. As with most stereotypes, there is only a shred of factual basis for this. The reality is that premedical students are victims of a flawed system. It is an ideal of higher education that students be free to pursue their academic interests and to explore their innate curiosity in whichever discipline they choose. By and large, this is true at Columbia: of the approximately 120 credits required for graduation from Columbia College, about a third are filled by the Core Curriculum, leaving students free to choose at least two-thirds of the classes they take. For premedical students, however, that freedom is reduced, as the set of required premedical courses is an additional forty credits. In the U.S., the mandated norm is to take a host of introductory-level classes in each of the major pure sciences, without actually learning anything about medicine or particularly much about any one of the sciences. Instead of having a sequence of classes that prepare students specifically for medicine, we call on our physics department, which is designed to train physicists, to teach future doctors things that they will likely never use—assuming they never encounter a runaway gurney rolling down an inclined plane, in which case freshman year kinematics might come in handy. Nonetheless, it is a waste of time to call on a body as large and established as the Association of American Medical Colleges to completely overhaul the medical school admissions process by revising the content of the MCAT and the coursework expected of undergraduates. Dear Alma Mater, however, can take a stand on this issue. In order to improve the premedical system, we must first understand the intent of the mandatory premedical courses. In recognizing that the actual content of premedical courses is of little value in producing a knowledgeable physician, one realizes that there must be some other unifying theme in the courses other than that they force students to learn "more" science. While a physician's knowledge of Grignard reagents and coefficients of friction does not matter, the path to understanding these subjects is of incalculable value. The lesson premedical students are being taught is that to learn something as multi-faceted as medicine requires complete immersion in the material as well as a degree of focus and intellectual tenacity beyond the level of dedication demanded by subjects of lesser gravity. The premedical system can provide this analytical boot camp without sacrificing the opportunity to teach future doctors material that will benefit them for years to come. We now call on Columbia to become the first school in the United States to offer a highly interdisciplinary Bachelor of Medicine program. The major would supplement core scientific knowledge with advanced courses pertinent to future physicians. The foundation of the major would instruct in the same standardized material at an accelerated pace and with a specific focus on biomedical relevance. An additional distribution requirement would include courses in areas like statistics, genetics, and immunology, as well as classes targeted at cultural understanding—for instance, those discussing topics like bioethics, race, and gender. Students would take advantage of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health through mandatory courses in epidemiology and health policy. The critical thinking and problem solving skills required by all physicians would be developed in a team setting through the inclusion of extensive final course projects. As with many other majors, the Bachelor of Medicine program would include an honors program that entails a full one—year biomedical research project with an accompanying thesis. The Bachelor of Medicine course of study would necessarily be extremely difficult, but worth the effort. Who, then, would join the cadre of the Bachelor of Medicine? The answer is that the major is not for everyone, and that is the point. Those who would major in medicine would do so because they know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they want to spend their lives balancing patient care with the constant learning demanded by modern medicine. There is no formula to being a great physician, but a love for people and passion for the profession are necessities. Creating a Bachelor of Medicine program requires extraordinary effort — the design of new courses, the reassignment of faculty, and a restructuring of the pre—professional system. The price would be great, but the benefit greater. At the end of the day, the difficulty is justified by the realization that medicine is fundamentally different from most other professions. Physicians dedicate their lives to the care of people, a quest we must all support in the fullest. Medicine is about human lives, and whatever can be done to prepare students for the greatest of responsibilities must be done. Adrian Haimovich is a School of Engineering and Applied Science junior majoring in applied mathematics. Vedant Misra is a Columbia College senior majoring in physics and mathematics. Nova runs alternate Wednesdays.

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