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Unique psychology course offers advantage to students pursuing medical school

January 14, 2016

A unique course is giving Earlham College students an advantage in preparing for a career in health care professions and graduate school.

Behavior, Health Care and Society discusses psychological and social foundations of behavior, and how they influence physical and mental health. Students learn to better appreciate how individuals interact with health care professionals, understand their own health and illness, and make decisions about their care. Also, the course aims to help students understand how psychological and social factors may influence the type of care they provide.

“The importance of the behavioral and social sciences has been recognized by health professions schools as part of the holistic preparation for a career in health,” says Mike Deibel, professor of chemistry and director of the Integrated Program in Health Sciences. “For medical school specifically, this has manifested itself both in the addition of a psychology course as a pre-requisite admissions requirement and in the new Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior section of the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT.”

Deibel says Earlham’s course is unlike courses offered at other liberal arts colleges and gives pre-health students an advantage.

“In addition to learning about the foundational psychology principles that are critical to their broad education, the students taking this course will be well prepared to excel on the MCAT, which is critical for medical school admissions,” Deibel says.

Beginning in 2015, the MCAT added a section covering introductory psychology, sociology and neuroscience. It eliminated the essay, and it replaced the verbal reasoning section with a broader test of comprehension in the humanities and social sciences.

“We knew the changes were coming, and we discussed what we were going to do about it,” says Rachael Reavis, visiting assistant professor of psychology, who started teaching the course in fall 2014.

“This course raises a lot of questions,” she says. “I hope students are able to retain the information and use it for MCATs, throughout their medical training and carry it on into their professions.”

Reavis says she designed the course so that all of the MCAT changes could be addressed in a single course and all of the examples and materials would be relevant to pre-health. She also wanted to expand students’ ideas about careers in the health field.

“I bring in health care professionals to expose students to different careers,” Reavis explains. “Students come here thinking they want to be a doctor, but many don’t know that there are other options.”

In addition to physicians, an oncologist, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant, a dietician, an occupational therapist and the director of the local hospital’s telehealth program visited the class to discuss their jobs and educational paths.

“Rachael has done a wonderful job of engaging a wide variety of local health care professionals to help expose the class to the variety of career possibilities in health,” Deibel says.

All of the class readings are health-related, and the final exam is in the format of the MCAT.

“The final uses questions modeled on MCAT questions,” Reavis explains.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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Richmond, Indiana
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