We’re worth more than our MCAT scores

By Patrick Burke

At what point, exactly, between the Monica fiasco going down and the Katrina crisis swallowing Bush’s approval ratings did higher education become the New York Stock Exchange? Consensus always had it that the Ivies were trading high, the state schools were drinking well, and the University of Chicago was molding elite young minds—by beating them into submission.

In an insincere spirit of fairness, the contemporary phenomenon of quantifying institutions of higher learning has given lesser-known schools the degree of public attention which they rightfully deserve. Disconcertingly, however, the current infestation of rankings headed up by the spontaneously authoritative U.S. News & World Report has rendered even the most nauseatingly self-assured of universities more

self-conscious than a resident of Hollywood and Vine who doesn’t sleep much anymore.

Mirroring NCAA Division I sports teams, college admissions boards have commenced to recruit the superficially most promising players so as to start the season at the top of the polls. This ridiculous numbers game is most appalling on the graduate level. Seeking to boost their portfolios for future investors, grad programs, like spring-breakers, are only concerned about scoring these days. On the home front, Pritzker Medical School has recently refocused its admissions policy to court MCAT scores in the lofty 39s and 40s range to elevate its stock price.

Pritzker at least claims to be looking for more than the inanimate and ill-bathed, mastered solely in the sullen art of regurgitating vast quantities of information vaguely associated with the biological sciences.

The admissions board elegizes in cadent verse: “The most critical ingredient of our success is the quality of the students themselves. Here at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, you will find a student body whose boundless enthusiasm for learning, service, investigation, and science is matched only by its enthusiasm for teamwork, friendship, and making the most of the great city of Chicago.” Naturally, the sacrosanct recycled paper sheets of the MCAT invariably ensure that only students perfectly satisfying these strict criteria end up wearing Pritzker stethoscopes, writing illegibly on Pritzker documentation, and invoking Pritzker’s namesake in downtown Chicago nightclubs.

Most likely, highly sophisticated studies by Pritzker’s generously compensated PR firm have unequivocally demonstrated that applicants scrounging around the mid- to lower-30s lack any motivation whatsoever for “learning, service, investigation, science, teamwork, friendship” and, needless to say, the mentality necessary to blossom emotionally and professionally in “the great city of Chicago.”

Since choice MCAT scores seemingly indicate such crucial personal and intellectual traits, perhaps the test should be incorporated into other realms of society as well. I uncompromisingly would neither trust nor endorse the employment of an insurance claims adjuster anywhere short of “boundlessly enthusiastic” about “teamwork,” a parking enforcement officer indifferent about “friendship,” or a CTA bus driver apathetic about “making the most of the great city of Chicago.” Through more universal implementation of the MCAT, such hazards could be gracefully and insensitively precluded.

Realistically, recalling the previous list of characteristics Pritzker attributes to its students, not a single one can be even remotely ascertained by a mental gauntlet such as the MCAT. Standardized tests will always verify subjective competence more accurately than they will ever validate objective excellence. Some charismatic, compassionate applicant who also came, saw, and conquered the MCAT surely exists out there.

The champion will proceed to ride around the ivory halls of Johns Hopkins Medical Center someday on a white horse as healer and friend alike, disinterested in the hospital’s bureaucratic upward mobility, discouraging the sponsorship of designer pharmaceuticals. Assuming such an enviable figure to be the glorious exception, more often than not the MCAT upper echelon does not seem to possess the most developed interpersonal or motor skills. Raising the bar to heights as daunting as these, does Pritzker not run the risk of graduating a legion of pathologically meticulous, chronically twitching drones far better suited to haunt the ranks of the IRS?

Perhaps I am missing some intricate connection worthy of an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movie in my logic. Perhaps the acceptance of an applicant with a higher score catalyzes some triumphant chain of events. Possibly, by bolstering the overall ranking of the medical school ,the drones, in turn, attract the powerhouse grants that ultimately lead to the most groundbreaking of medical discoveries. In the absence of such beneficent harmony within the scholastic-commercial complex, is it not the obligation of an internationally recognized school of medicine such as Pritzker to imbue the medical community with young doctors as passionate as they are technically adept?

While no medical school can ignore the exigencies of the capitalistic business model, strategically selling out to the highest bidders seems overly pessimistic. I suppose I should step off my podium now to make room for the auctioneers outside the revolving doors of so-called teaching hospitals across America.