The debate over whether organic chemistry is a necessary evil for med students is heating up, with a story today’s Wall Street Journal that some chemists might find, well, controversial. Seems the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is reviewing what science courses premed students need to take, and organic might not make the cut.
The logic? According to an excerpt from WSJ: “The Diels-Alder reaction, an organic-chemistry classic, helps explain the impetus for change. The reaction comes in handy if you are into chemical manufacturing. But, do doctors really need to know a bunch of different ways to combine two molecules to form a ring of six carbon atoms? ‘In my many years of medicine, I have never heard the Diels-Alder reaction mentioned once,’ says Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine.”
I don’t think Alpern is exaggerating, but I do recall that the mechanistic knowledge I learned in organic came in handy when I took biochemistry—a class AAMC says is likely to be added to the list of recommended coursework. After all, wouldn’t it be useful to be able to understand how a drug works in the body? And don’t most med students do a research rotation where experience in the lab—both a biology lab and a chemistry lab—would be useful?
Organic chemistry is certainly challenging for a lot of biology majors, and AAMC argues it may deter students from continuing on to med school. But maybe the problem is with how organic chemistry is being taught to premed students rather than the difficulty of the class. I open the floor to the "C&ENtral Science" readers: Is orgo worthwhile for everyone? Maybe you’d even get more out of it if those pesky premeds were weeded out?
It doesn’t help that the article is illustrated with a photo of a guy holding a model of a benzene ring with the caption, “A model of benzene, more useful to industry than in the practice of medicine.” Hmm…