Two things are certain about premedical students: their numbers drive organic chemistry enrollments and their academic needs, as defined by medical schools, are going to change in 2015. As scientists, we know that we ignore data at our own peril. So what is to become of sophomore organic chemistry?
My journey began almost two years ago. As department chair, I responded to an ACS survey about how our curriculum had changed in response to the 2008 Committee on Professional Training revised guidelines for ACS certified programs. Chief among the revisions was a shift to “Foundation” and “In-Depth” courses in each of five key sub-disciplines. My response was “not at all.” Our curriculum was fine—a year of general chemistry, a year of organic chemistry, a year of physical chemistry, and then the rest around that. Who were they to tell us?
A few weeks later I attended a talk about the changing MCAT and medical school entrance requirements.
After a strong bout of denial and some additional hubris thrown in for good measure, it came to me in a flash of clarity. I imagined a new organic chemistry curriculum where the first semester would follow the spirit of an ACS “Foundation” course for everyone but also meet the needs of MCAT2015. It would also prepare students to go directly on to biochemistry, a premed requirement come 2015. The second semester would be the “In-Depth” course for majors, other interested science students, and motivated premeds.
We needed to move most of carbonyl chemistry into the first semester to prepare students for biochemistry. But what to remove? Spectroscopy (Blasphemy!) and alkene additions (Heresy!) had to go. Eventually two new courses emerged titled “Organic Structure and Reactivity” and “Organic Synthesis and Spectroscopy.” Alkene additions fit nicely right before aromatic substitutions in the second term. (Full disclosure: spectroscopy remains part of MCAT2015, though much smaller—we simply could not fit it in.)
Unfortunately, no books are organized like this. For the next year I did my song and dance number for every publisher’s rep who came by. They listened politely, agreed with my logic, and tried to sell me a book that just wasn’t right. Obviously, one CAN hopscotch around any textbook, but that wasn’t the goal. Jumping around a book forces you to write most of your own problems; ones that don’t include the material from the chapters you skipped. This is tedious for the instructor and harder for students to follow.
When I got an email about Joel’s new textbook, I was immediately intrigued. The mechanistic organization truly fits the spirit of a “Foundation” course. Starting out reactions with substitutions and eliminations is right on target for the first semester. By avoiding a functional group organization, it seems effortless to skip ahead to the elusive carbonyl chemistry chapters. The flow is still logical and the problems work to reinforce mechanistic patterns more so than cumulative information content. Furthermore, Joel’s synthesis chapters and sections are mostly isolated and thus easily saved for the second semester. Finally, the biochemical extensions and applications are woven right into the material rather than relegated to special topics chapters at the end.
Ding, ding, ding…we have a winner. You can find my proposed curriculum and outline using Joel’s book here:
Organic Chemistry Curriculum Using Joel Karty’s Book
Our great experiment starts next fall. The premeds are thankful. The staff in our Health Professions Office loves us. Most importantly, I am convinced that this is a better curriculum for all our students—not just the premeds.
-Rick Bunt, Middlebury College