To the Editor:
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has shifted Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) testing dates several times. Of the 30 original MCAT testing dates, 4 have been administered and 8 have been canceled. However, there are still 21 dates through September—three new testing dates have been added, and all dates will have morning, afternoon, and evening sessions.1 No doubt, as the situation with COVID-19 evolves, the AAMC will continue to struggle to reevaluate and reschedule upcoming MCAT testing dates.
With the federal- and state-level stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the fall,2 it would be inconceivable for the AAMC to require students to disregard health guidelines to take a test.
What if the MCAT was unavailable as an evaluative tool during this medical school application cycle? Given the regulations and predictions noted above, many premedical students may not be able to physically sit for the exam. Furthermore, given the severe disruptions to course offerings (including medical school requirements), MCAT study programs, and advising, students cannot even be expected to be prepared.
Clearly, premedical students are managing significant stressful transitions regarding academics, family, and perhaps even new financial struggles. Medical school admissions committees will have to make a number of concessions during this (and perhaps the next) application cycle, including shadowing and volunteering hours, and letters of recommendations. These contingencies add stress to an already stressful preprofessional pathway.3 Without knowing if/when they will be able to take the MCAT, and navigating the probable costs associated with further preparation, rescheduling, and/or retaking the exam, many premedical students are in a free fall of uncertainty and confusion.
The AAMC could offer a parachute by making the MCAT optional or simply removing it for this admission cycle. Doing so could also provide insight into other evaluative mechanisms related to the holistic review process.
With the remaining testing dates in peril, increasing calls for medicine (including medical education) to reduce reliance on external performance metrics,4 and the expanding cloud of anxiety, trauma, and strain associated with the pandemic, it is time for AAMC to reconsider the role of the MCAT for this application cycle.
Barret Michalec, PhD
Associate dean of interprofessional education, College of Health Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Weiner S. Shortened MCAT® exams, extended AMCAS® deadlines: How the pandemic has upended medical school admissions. Association of American Medical Colleges. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/shortened-mcat-exams-extended-amcas-deadlines-how-pandemic-has-upended-medical-school-admissions
. Published April 24,2020. Accessed May 28, 2020.
2. Gander K. CDC director says there may be another coronavirus wave in late fall and a ‘substantial portion of Americans’ will be susceptible. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/cdc-director-coronavirus-wave-late-fall-substantial-portion-americans-will-susceptible-1495401
. Published April 1,2020. Accessed May 28, 2020.
3. Michalec B, Cuddy MM, Hafferty P, et al. It’s happening sooner than you think: spotlighting the pre-medical realm. Med Educ. 2018;52:359–361.
4. Hafferty FW, O’Brien BC, Tilburt JC. Beyond high stakes testing: Learner trust, educational commodification, and the loss of medical school professionalism. Acad Med. 2020;95:833–837.