In today’s issue of C&EN, I have a story about a report called “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians” from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Association of American Medical Colleges. The report lays out the basic science that premed students should learn at the undergraduate level. Rather than mandating that aspiring physicians take specific college courses, the report proposes that premeds learn a specific set of competencies, opening the door to more flexibility in the undergraduate curriculum.
Last year, Jules Dienstag, a member of the HHMI/AAMC committee and the dean for medical education at Harvard Medical School, wrote a perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine in which which he asked whether students really need a full year of organic chemistry. That question sparked responses at such outlets as the Wall Street Journal’s health blog, Wired, The Chem Blog, Chemiotics II, and here at C&ENtral Science.
Although this summer’s report doesn’t say that students should take a class specifically called organic chemistry, it does require them to learn organic chemistry. The report gives educators the freedom to be more innovative in their approach to undergraduate science education.
For the story, I talked to Gregory Petsko, a member of the committee that wrote the report and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Brandeis University. He had a radical suggestion for teaching the introductory-level chemistry classes (including organic):
“I’d divide the students into groups of 50 and assign each group to a single chemistry faculty member for two years. For two years, that faculty member would teach those 50 students general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry,” he says. The faculty member would have free rein to organize the course any way he or she saw fit, as long as the necessary information was included at some point. At the end of the two-year cycle, the professor would have a year off.
Petsko acknowledges, however, that such an approach would require too many faculty resources to be affordable.
Here’s my question to you, taking a page from Petsko: If resources (financial, people, etc.) were not an issue, how would you teach general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry in a way that was appropriate for all students–premeds and future lab rats alike?