Breaking the barriers of medical education: a former student finds an alternative to expensive tutoring

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In the United States, Australia, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands, thousands of future physicians must take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, as one of the first steps to becoming a physician. Countless hours of study precede the test, as scores weigh heavily in medical school applications.

The eight-hour standardized exam tests a compilation of knowledge ranging from biology, chemistry and physics to psychology, sociology and English – all of which are courses taken over four years of undergraduate study . This schedule in itself makes it difficult for students to remember each subject completely, while some MCAT applicants may be taken out of this education for years.

The memory required to pass the MCAT requires a steep relearning curve. As a preparation, undergraduates and alumni often invest in MCAT preparation courses, which cost anywhere from $ 1,000 to $ 7,000.

Preparation course costs are just one layer of the much larger financial obligation that comes with becoming a doctor, including attending college, paying MCAT registration fees, application fees. to medical school and travel to interviews, to name a few. According to a Analysis 2020 Conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 38.1% of MCAT applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds took test preparation courses, compared to 50% of applicants from higher income backgrounds.

“I [hoped for a] platform where students could connect with each other throughout this journey… and learn from each other.

This disparity is one aspect of the medical school process that AVU 2021 alumnus Simrat Jassal would like to address, alongside recent graduates Aakash Anandjiwala from the University of Florida and Ashley Urtecho from New York University. .

Educational barriers due to expensive prep courses aren’t the only exam preparation problem Jassal encountered. She also found a lack of personalized tutoring for each individual, minimal app-based learning, and an absence of instructors who had actually taken the exam. Following his own MCAT experience in August 2020, Jassal saw the need for a new way to learn. With the help of Bob Lenahan, a SCORE small business mentor, Jassal and a group of aspiring medical professionals who had already taken the exam – and decided that something was missing from the MCAT experience – have started offering free sessions to teach their study strategies. Along with this, MCAT 101, now known as Premeditated peers, was born.

“I [hoped for a] platform where students could connect with each other throughout this journey… and learn from each other, ”said Jassal, Founder and President of Premed Peers. “It has been very helpful to have students who have taken the MCAT and have excelled at it to really give back to other students and pass on their knowledge.”

Premed Peers is based on individual student feedback, unlike other prep courses. If the majority of students need help with physics, then that is what the next session will be based around. As the program evolved over the months, Jassal and his colleagues implemented various aspects to help students, including one-on-one tutoring that pairs medical students with current MCAT students, workshops for guest speakers for medical school interviews and application support and a Slack group for students to communicate directly with tutors. Premed Peers volunteers even set up tailored daily schedules for students to work effectively on mastering MCAT content, and volunteer blogging and social media positions are also available to help tackle the lack of opportunity. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for their structured curriculum in preparation, Premed Peers offers five to six lessons per week that focus on multiple topics at once. All of this comes at an extremely low cost of $ 15 per month – compared to the thousands of dollars currently spent – where students can ask questions and learn from experienced tutors. The program runs virtually through Zoom and Google Meets, allowing tutors, volunteers and participants to join from all over the world.

Following the design of the program in August 2020, the founders of Premed Peers used Reddit to spread the word, reached out to premed clubs in universities to join their team, and developed Campus Ambassadors – representatives who help their students. Respective student bodies to access the MCAT documents and resources that Premed Peers has to offer. Almost a year later, more than 2,000 students have been affected and more than 200 are currently enrolled in the preparatory course. Students, volunteers and tutors connect from places like University of Texas, University of Houston, McMaster University, New York University, University of Florida and even Universities of Toronto and from Cambridge.

Premed Peers’ outreach efforts have paid off for Cinthya Sanchez, a candidate for a non-traditional medical school – meaning she did not take the MCAT directly after her undergraduate studies – currently pursuing a master’s degree. in Business Administration and Health Care at Florida International University. After starting her MCAT studies in January 2020, mental stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic put her studies on hiatus until August, when she came across a link to Premed Peers in the Zoom chat. a medical eShadowing session.

“I felt very comfortable every time I have a question… because I know they are going to listen to me.”

Years of initially learning the complex MCAT list of topics, Sanchez – who doubled as an MCAT mentee and planning volunteer – said Premed Peers provided her with a hands-on, non-intimidating environment for her to relearn. .

“It doesn’t feel like you’re in a tutoring session,” Sanchez said. “I felt very comfortable every time I have a question… because I know they are going to listen to me.”

For now, Sanchez has focused on her master’s thesis, although she plans to take the Premed Peers prep course in the future, ahead of her scheduled MCAT date of May 2022. Although she has ceased to attend the live sessions, she always enjoys it. of lessons recorded, and as she looks to the next phase of her studies, she has noticed the big difference in price between prep courses… and the educational barriers that can come with more expensive offerings.

“People who enter medical school, they are lucky to have all the resources to enter, but there are also people who unfortunately do not have all the resources,” she said. “It’s one of the things that is holding them back.”

To get the views of current healthcare professionals and educators, Premed Peers brought in a board of directors: Dr. Ceshae Harding, internal medicine resident at Duke University, Dr. Marcel Durieux, primary care physician from the Charlottesville Free Clinic, UVA medical student Carlos Cevallos and Dr. Kathryn Mutter from the AVU Emergency Medical Service.

“Barriers to medical education such as the cost of a prep course or lack of support shouldn’t be the reason you don’t succeed. “

Premed Peers’ mission to expand access to medical education for underserved students has been a great point of attraction for Mutter, who has years of experience in running courses for medical students such as preparation for internship. With her background in medical education, Mutter not only provides a perspective as a physician with direct medical school experience, but also as an educator.

“I can interact with a ton of students… and appreciate the importance of diversity within our classes,” Mutter said. “I recognize that we still have a gap and we still need to do better, so the fact that we are helping students prepare in a really great and affordable way is quite revolutionary for me. “

Going forward, Jassal plans to take the Premed peers as far as possible while keeping it free or at a discount, although she ultimately hopes the prep course will produce enough income to pay volunteers and tutors.

“Through my public health classes at AVU, I learned that there are many barriers to healthcare such as education, location, geography, and insurance,” Jassal said. “The same is true for education. Educational resources, quality of education and level of support differ for each student… However, barriers to medical education such as the cost of a prep course or lack of support should not be the reason. for which we do not succeed.

For those who wish to join Premed Peers as a volunteer or tutor, applications can be found here. For those who wish to join the Premed Peers mailing list to learn more about the prep course and other resources, contact details can be entered. here. Contact [email protected] for more information.


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