In Medical School's New Admissions Program, Mandarin Counts More Than MCAT Score

February 28, 2013

A sophomore English major who plans to study Mandarin but skip organic chemistry might seem an unlikely medical-school candidate, but next year, she could have a good shot at getting into the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The New York school is introducing a flexible admissions program for half its incoming students, who will be able to skip the Medical College Admission Test, forgo traditional premed requirements, and be accepted in their sophomore year in college, as long as they maintain a 3.5 grade-point average through their senior year.

Proficiency in Mandarin or Spanish will be big pluses as the school seeks well-rounded students who can communicate with an ethnically diverse mix of patients. Traditional prerequisites like organic chemistry and physics will be replaced with courses like health-care policy and ethics, as well as clinical experience. Admitted students will also be encouraged to wait a year or two after college before enrolling at Mount Sinai, to work or pursue their academic interests.

Mount Sinai's is one of more than 100 proposals the American Medical Association has received as part of an effort to overhaul medical education. The association will award a total of $10-million to 10 winning, replicable proposals in June.

"The traditional premedical experience is a regimented, aggressive culling process that breeds unhealthy competition and encourages students to check off the boxes and focus too much on grades," said David Muller, dean of medical education at Mount Sinai. "We want to encourage people to think creatively and not feel so constrained."

Mount Sinai's program is an expansion of its Humanities and Medicine Program, which grants entrance to students majoring in nonscience courses.

A growing number of medical schools are opening admissions to students with backgrounds in the humanities, and some grant provisional acceptance early on in college, but Mount Sinai's program is believed to be one of the most significant overhauls of the admissions process.

Students won't be able to skip out entirely on traditional requirements, though. Students will still be required to take basic biology and chemistry, as well as a semester of statistics. And if they haven't taken biochemistry, cellular biology, and genetics in college, they'll have to show up to Mount Sinai six weeks early for a course covering those topics.

Geoffrey H. Young, senior director of student affairs and student programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, called Mount Sinai's "an innovative approach that will give students more flexibility to pursue other interests and produce a more diverse work force."