• Sociology professor Ed Kain meets with students who are conducting research on how the upcoming changes in the MCAT® will...
    Sociology professor Ed Kain meets with students who are conducting research on how the upcoming changes in the MCAT® will affect sociology and psychology departments across the country.

Beginning in the spring of 2015, the test that all prospective medical school applicants are required to take is going to be a lot different. In addition to the usual sections devoted to biological sciences, physical sciences and critical reasoning, about 25 percent of the test will be devoted to material from two new subjects – sociology and psychology.

This is the first major change that has been made to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT®) since 1991. Kerry Bruns, a chemistry professor who serves as the pre-med advisor at Southwestern, said the change is being made to ensure that aspiring doctors have an understanding of the social and behavioral sciences.

“Physicians need to be more than just biological or physical scientists,” Bruns said. “They need to understand how the socioeconomic conditions in which a person lives may affect their health.” 

Bruns said that at Southwestern, he has always advised pre-med students to take courses such as psychology and sociology. But that hasn’t necessarily been the case at other schools. For this reason, the forthcoming change in the MCAT® could have a significant impact on sociology departments across the country.

“While many pre-med students already take a psychology course to meet their general education requirements, a much smaller number typically take a sociology course,” said Ed Kain, professor of sociology and University Scholar. “Sociology departments need to proactively plan for this change.”

Kain has been at the forefront of helping sociology departments across the country prepare for this change. In December 2012, he wrote an article for the American Sociological Association’s newsletter, Footnotes, aboutwhat sociology departments can do to prepare for the expected influx of students. He also led a workshop for sociology department chairs at the ASA annual meetings in New York City last summer. At that workshop, Kain said he discovered that well over half of the department chairs had not heard about the change, despite the fact that it could have a significant impact upon the undergraduate sociology curriculum.

Kain said this discovery gave him an idea for a national research project that some of his sociology students could do. Last fall, he started working with eight sociology majors to develop a national study that is designed to find out what faculty know about the upcoming changes in the MCAT®, what they have done to prepare for the new MCAT®, and if they have any “best practices” that they could share with other colleges and universities.

Students working with Kain on the project are Victoria Flores, Lucas Grisham, Kelsey Kisor, Mitch Petersen, Marta Selby, John Semlitsch, Tara Smith and Forrest Stanley-Stevens. In January, the students sent surveys to three different groups − sociology department chairs, psychology department chairs and the heads of pre-medical advising. The students have divided themselves into teams to analyze the responses from each group.

The students will present their research at the annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Society in Portland, Ore., March 27-30. The students will also present their research at Southwestern’s annual Research and Creative Works Symposium, which will be held April 8.

Kain said he hopes the research will lead to three articles co-authored with students that can be submitted for publication in different professional journals.