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VMI Prepares Cadets for Medical School


LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 19, 2012 – When biology professor Col. Wade Bell talks about medical school admissions these days, one of the first things he’ll mention is a new curricular emphasis driven by the Medical College Admission Test, the MCAT.
The course requirements for medical school are, he said, “very simple”: two years of chemistry, one year of biology, and one year of physics. “Anybody who can meet those requirements is eligible to apply.”

But the MCAT is moving toward a new emphasis on cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, psychology, and statistics.
For biology majors at VMI, all is still well.

“The best thing about our degree is that it’s very flexible,” said Bell, who serves as VMI’s health professions adviser. “We won’t have to alter our curriculum to satisfy these new areas of emphasis. “It is the only department that has an equal number of hours distributed between the humanities and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics].”

“This is a liberal arts college,” said Col. Dick Rowe, another professor in the biology department, “and if you’re a liberal artist, you need to be broad and you need to think broadly.”

Because of that flexibility, Bell and Rowe note, biology majors who want to go to medical school have no trouble getting coursework in the new areas of emphasis.

“They can get two or three psych courses,” said Rowe. “Really, we feel very strongly we want our majors taking courses outside of the sciences.”

Bell and other members of the biology department teach courses in the cell and molecular biology emphasized in the new MCAT, while Rowe teaches three classes not required for high MCAT scores and therefore not always offered in undergraduate biology departments: anatomy courses in morphology, embryology, and histology.

Rowe said they often hear from alumni who’ve gone on to medical school that the morphology class was especially valuable because students who hadn’t had an undergraduate anatomy class did not know how to do a dissection – a lab practical – and they struggled to get through.

“A lot of times what I hear from our medical students … is ‘You taught me how to learn in lab.’ Other students are lost at first because they haven’t learned how to do this. It’s a skill,” said Rowe.

“I can point to the ulna and say that’s the ulna, but until you work with an ulna, you won’t know what it is. It’s one of those courses where the more time they put in the better they’ll do, and it’s all about time.”

Often taken by 1st Class cadets who’ve already taken the MCATs, Rowe’s comparative morphology class offers lectures on morphology – the evolution of major systems, circulatory, for instance, in the change from aquatic to terrestrial – but when the cadets hit the lab, it’s all anatomy.

“This course is about volume,” said Rowe. “I throw a large volume of material at them, and I say, ‘Master it.’”

Bell noted that VMI’s biology major is good preparation for medical school, but so are majors in chemistry, physics, and even English. In short, “VMI is a great place to prepare for medical school,” he said.

“Success in medical school is dependent on well-prepared students who are able to manage their time and handle stressful learning environments. It is arguable that no other college in the United States creates a learning environment that emphasizes time management and stress management better than the Institute.”

– Sherri Tombarge