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MCAT being changed to encourage nicer people to apply to medical school

April 16, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
The Medical College Admissions Test is being changed to include more questions about social and behavioral sciences and ethics, according to the New York Times. Experts are apparently concerned about doctors who have a poor bedside manner and want nicer people to apply for medical school.

It sounds like a nice idea, in theory, though I would rather have a doctor who actually knows what's wrong with me and can treat my ailments instead of a really nice doctor who is incompetent. If I'm dying, I'd prefer that someone like Dr. House of FOX's TV show "House, M.D." were my doctor, even if Dr. House is a real SOB with a criminal record. Some real life doctors rival House in that department, actually, at least judging by the files I saw when I was covering hospitals years ago, but some of the doctors with dicier records were also excellent physicians.

Like most people, I've seen my share of doctors over the years. Some I liked, some I didn't; one rivaled Dr. House for tactlessness and a brusque manner, though he was also smart as a whip and the guy you asked for if what you had was really serious. He told you flat out "You're fat and you're going to die if you don't lose weight." His partner in the practice, a kindly family doctor type, said mildly, "You might want to consider losing a few pounds." I wonder how many people lost the weight to avoid getting skewered by the first doc's sharp tongue.

On the other hand, years ago I saw another doctor I considered so rude that I told the clinic I wanted to schedule my next appointment with any doctor except that one. Other people apparently made the same choice since he seemed to be the only doctor on staff, other than the new ones just starting out, who had slots open. I decided to take my chances with one of the new doctors and was happier with the choice, both in terms of the level of care he provided and in his bedside manner.

I think the greater problem with doctors and bedside manner is that they simply don't have much time to talk with patients. Go to the doctor and you get to sit in a waiting room for 15 minutes to half an hour, then spend 5 minutes, at most, being examined and questioned by the doctor about your ailment. Time is money and the general practitioner has to see as many patients as possible in a day. When they're that rushed, it's probably hard to care about bedside manner. That's a problem that may well become worse when health care reform is fully implemented.

If it's a routine checkup, I'll pass on seeing Dr. Jerk and go for Dr. Nice Guy. The problem is that you don't always know when something is serious. It would be ideal if doctors could be both good at what they do and nice in the bargain and if they had more time to spend with patients.

Changing the MCAT to include more touchy-feely questions may mean nicer people get into medical school, but I'm not sure if they'll be better at treating ailments or if it will solve the other problems with the health care system.


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