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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Changes in health care go deeper than Affordable Care Act

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Whether we call it the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, health care is changing. The impact of this change is tremendous, with effects ranging from extended coverage to young adults, coverage of preexisting conditions, elimination of annual limits and a new emphasis on preventive medicine.

Insurance coverage and eligibility are not the only things changing. The criterion by which medical hopefuls are examined has changed as well.

Beginning in 2015, the fifth edition of the Medical College Admission Test will be unleashed onto pre-med hopefuls across the country.

As would be expected of a standardized test designed for a science profession, the focus is on students’ knowledge of life and physical sciences along with verbal reasoning. One of the ways in which the MCAT2015 will be fundamentally different from its predecessors is the extent to which student will be assessed of their knowledge of the required materials.

Medicine and Society co-director and professor Helen Valier said the MCAT2015 is “moving towards a more competency-based testing … meaning that rather than memorization and regurgitation, it’s going to be based on your ability to create laboratory experiments and things like that.”

While it might seem like a game of semantics as one old term, knowledge, is replaced by a shiny new term, competencies, this change serves a higher purpose than a simple change in terminology. Drawing the distinction between the two, competency implies a level of understanding that goes beyond the simple knowledge of arbitrary facts and instead implies the ability to utilize them in real time situations where the consequence literally means life or death.

Changes in the content tested will also make the MCAT2015 unique. The American Association of Medical Colleges, the organization responsible for the content of the MCAT, has designed the new MCAT to test “social and behavioral science components equal in scope to the biological and physical science portions of the exam” with the belief that physicians should understand the relationship between “environmental (and) physiological variables and issues related to health.”

This is the first time the MCAT will have an entire comprehensive portion devoted solely to social and behavioral topics ranging from the biological basis for behavior to social inequality.

The application of this newly expected competency could be witnessed here in Houston. The Harris Healthy System’s Ben-Taub General Hospital has 1.2 million uninsured or underinsured residents living in its community. When physicians prescribe treatment, they must be aware of whether the treatment they are prescribing their patients is financially accessible.

The MCAT’s inclusion of the social and behavioral science section aims to spread this heightened awareness of factors affecting the patients’ recovery that go beyond the biology of the disease.

Collectively, these changes to the MCAT reflect a new model of doctor — one who is not only competent in the science of medicine, but also the society in which the patient exists and is treated.

While the Affordable Care Act focuses most of our attention toward issues of coverage and insurance eligibility, more attention needs to be paid to the doctors who provide the health care that has become accessible to more people. These changes suggest there is a need for more competent doctors who are able to approach medicine in both a scientific way and a humanistic way.

Brian-Tyler St. Hilaire is a biochemistry sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]


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