MCAT2015 and the Future of Organic Chemistry

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:

Curriculum Outline
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

Click here to learn more about Prof. Bunt.

4 comments on “MCAT2015 and the Future of Organic Chemistry

  1. Gitendra Paul
    April 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Hi Professor Bunt,

    I am planning to present a paper at BCCE conference (Aug, 2014) advocating the mechanistic approach style written by Joel. I taught a semester from this book, and teaching the second semester org from the same book. Will you mind if I use some of your logic/usefulness argument regarding this book? You may wonder why me, I am neither the author nor the publisher. All I will be trying to persuade others to find the greater benefit using this approach.

    Thanks,

    Gitendra Paul

    Malcolm X College

    Chicago, IL

    • Rick Bunt
      May 22, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

      Certainly Gitendra. Please use whatever you like.
      Best, Rick

  2. Glen Hinckley
    June 24, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    Dr. Bunt,

    I am very interested in seeing the results of this strategy. We too are considering the foundations strategy by ACS, but for a small local college without a major, we are hesitant to be trailblazers on this. I am curious as to how many other schools have decided to change and how many have responded to ACS with respectful “No”.

    • Rick Bunt
      June 27, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      Glen,

      I have less data about the ACS certification changes (CPT 2008,etc.) than the organic chemistry / MCAT issue. Most of the schools that I know of that are changing around organic chemistry (about 1/2 to 2/3 of the PUI’s in a poll of about 15 liberal arts colleges similar to Middlebury) are doing so for the changing MCAT and admissions requirements in 2015.

      For the ACS guidelines, the bigger issue is usually General Chemistry (I and II), which they will not count as a foundation course for either physical or inorganic. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that quite a few small college departments, who are much less able to offer additional inorganic courses, are ready to respond, as you say, with a respectful “no”. If our current 5-year review does not go well, I think that we will be in that category.

      Best,
      Rick

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