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The Real Core Competencies in Premed Culture

Ahmed, Ahmed M., MSc

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002616
Letters to the Editor

Master of public policy student and Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom;; ORCID:

Disclosures: None reported.

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To the Editor:

Teamwork. Scientific inquiry. Capacity for improvement. Service orientation. These are a few of the core competencies outlined by the Association of American Medical Colleges for premedical students.1 In theory, they represent a noble standard to which all future doctors should hold themselves. But as I reflect on my premed experience, these competencies reveal a dissonance between our ideal and current states of premed preparation.

As premed students, my peers and I understood a different set of “core competencies” required for medical school entry: a high grade point average, a good Medical College Admission Test score, research experience, and abundant extracurricular activities. I noticed that students did not push themselves to learn or become better people; rather, they checked off boxes to appease the gatekeepers of medical education.

Take, for example, a premed course, such as organic chemistry. From the minute I entered our lecture room, the tension in the sea of premeds was palpable. No matter the topic, students’ sole focus was on their grade. “I just need to beat the curve,” I often heard friends say. Why help one’s peers when the goal was to outperform them? In such a high-stakes environment, premed classrooms were not sources of collective thought and inquiry but, instead, battlegrounds where students hoped to avoid being “weeded out.”

The pervasive culture of living for a medical school application did not stop there—it even permeated into students’ extracurricular activities. I met a bevy of students who were disinterested in research yet spent three hours a week in lab. They remained unaware of the greater research question being asked, but hyperaware of the benefits of putting research on a medical school application. Paralleling this uninspired lab work was what I called “service without purpose,” where students engaged in service opportunities that they had no passion for, solely to put community service on their applications.

The perils of our current premed culture are profound. This generation of students has been trained to clear obstacles, but they have not been taught to think, to be skeptics of knowledge, or to learn, not as a means but as an end. Our system has taught premeds to compete and undermine the necessity of teamwork and collaboration. We have created a high-pressure conveyer belt, with well-understood molds, that limits students’ full potential.

Engaging in spirited teamwork, practicing empathy, and pursuing one’s passions should not begin after one’s white coat ceremony. These traits should be encouraged, facilitated, and rewarded years before by a system that values them.

Ahmed M. Ahmed, MSc

Master of public policy student and Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom;; ORCID:

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1. Association of American Medical Colleges. The core competencies for entering medical students. Accessed January 14, 2019.
© 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges