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Re: [Phys-l] Premed Requirements Commentary

I appreciated John Denker's response in which he discussed the need for us to be able to say why our courses are relevant. John raised some important points. I especially liked this portion...

My point remains: No matter who asks, no matter whether the question is
well-asked or not, the teacher should have a good answer to the question
of why the course is relevant.
-- There should be a one-sentence "elevator" summary.
-- There should be a one-paragraph "executive summary".
-- There should be a one-or-two-page systematic analysis.

Even though I agree with what John said, I also have concerns about it. I think the whole idea of trying to justify education because of its content relevance is tricky. You often don't know in advance what is going to be relevant. It took quite a few years for NMR to migrate from a physics experiment to a chemistry experiment to a chemistry tool to a diagnostic medical tool. Did any of the early NMR physicists think they were doing anything relevant to medicine?

If you take specific narrow physics examples you think MDs ought to know, those opposed to physics for MDs will shoot them down by simply saying "that's not that important" or they can say "yes, but perhaps only 3% of doctors will ever encounter that." If you take broader examples (like John did when he discussed conservation of energy and scaling laws) then the detractors will view these as too general and therefore not a strong case. I wholeheartedly agree with John that we can claim these are important things that everyone ought to know, but those who question physics for MDs are looking for specific examples in which a doctor would be at a disadvantage because she didn't know that particular fact, law, or concept.

I am more inclined to think doctors need the math and physics foundation, with chemistry next, and biology on top, because I think doctors, in general, should act like and be viewed as scientists. That's surely what I hope my doctor is like.

Do doctors need ethics courses? Perhaps, but when she is treating me, I don't want my doctor wearing her ethicist hat. Do doctors need business and economics courses? Perhaps, but when he is treating me, I don't want my doctor to be wearing his business hat. I want my doctor to be wearing his scientist hat.

Having said that, I can go back to the statements about "weeding out" and about "general thinking skills." Actually, I don't want to say "general thinking skills." I specifically want "scientific thinking skills." I want my doctor to think like a scientist. Let's assume the math, physics, and chemistry courses are taught well, and in addition to some content knowledge and broad science perspective, these courses also instill the philosophy and methods of science. That's what I want my doctor to have. I suspect this is also what the AMA and medical schools want.

If these courses are taught well, this also justifies the weeding-out idea. Premed hopefuls who did not do well in science courses presumably did not do well because they were unable to perform as scientists. Therefore they are not likely to perform as scientists when they are working with patients, and that means they will not be good doctors.

Michael D. Edmiston, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics and Chemistry
Bluffton University
Bluffton, OH 45817