Scientific Foundation for Future Physicians

Responses to the “Scientific Foundations
of Future Physicians” report: the effect on
Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences
Temple University, October 2012
Suzanne Amador Kane
Physics Department
Haverford College
Catherine Crouch
Robert Hilborn
Tim McKay
University of Texas, University of
Mark Reeves
What is the Association of American Medical
Colleges-Howard Hughes Medical Institute
(AAMC-HHMI): Scientific Foundations for
Future Physicians report?
AAMC MR5 – review and redesign of the
Medical College Admissions Test
How Introductory Physics might change in
Need for Change
• The approach to science education in the premedical
and medical curriculum is largely unchanged for
decades ….
…. while biomedical sciences have changed
• Readiness for medical school admission is defined by:
– lists of required courses
– content of the MCAT examination
• Both are rather static criteria, not very explicit about
what students should be able to do
Need for Change
• The Bio2010 report (NAS, published 2002) concluded:
– Fixed premedical science course requirements and
MCAT content constrain the undergraduate science
– This applies not just in biology but across the sciences
An example:
• Many students who would make excellent physicians
identify premedical science course requirements such as
Organic Chemistry as the reason they chose another
• Institutions wishing to innovate their chemistry curricula
find it difficult to do so, given the externally imposed premed requirements
The Scientific Foundations For Future
Physicians Project
• Initiated and organized by
– Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)
– Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)
• Committee:
– medical school faculty
– undergraduate science and math educators.
• Diverse institutions
• MCAT leadership (a division of AAMC) closely involved
Committee members are drawn from both medical school and undergraduate institutions
Robert Alpern, Co-chair
Yale School of Medicine
Sharon Long, Co-chair
Stanford University
Science faculty [grad/undergrad]
Manuel Ares
Cell biology
U.C. Santa Cruz
Karin Akerfeldt
Haverford College
Julio de Paula
Lewis and Clark College
Robert Hilborn
University of Texas at Dallas
Dierdre Labat
Xavier University
Claudia Neuhauser
University of Minnesota
Gregory Petsko
Brandeis University
Dee Silverthorne
University of Texas at Austin
Committee members are drawn from both medical school and undergraduate institutions
Medical School faculty
Judith Bond
Penn State University Medical School
Jules Dienstag
Harvard Medical School
Andrew Fishleder
Cleveland Clinic
Michael Friedlander
Baylor College of Medicine
Gary Gibbons
Morehouse School of Medicine
Paul Insel
U.C. San Diego Medical School
Lynne Kirk
U.T. Southwestern Medical Center
Bruce Korf
University of Alabama Medical School
Vinay Kumar
University of Chicago Medical School
Paul Marantz
Albert Einstein School of Medicine
Charge to the Committee
• What science competencies should medical
students demonstrate, before receiving the
M.D. degree?
• What science and mathematics competencies
should premedical students demonstrate before
entry into medical school.
• Emphasis should be on defined areas of
knowledge, scientific concepts, and skills
rather than on specific courses.
Strategy - 1
Undergraduate course requirements should be
eliminated and replaced with a list of required
– undergraduate schools will have flexibility to
design new curricula
– interdisciplinary classes may be offered
– innovative educational programs may encourage
students to enter medicine and the related
biomedical sciences.
Strategy - 2
No net increase in premed science requirements
– Liberal arts are important for education of physicians
– Presently, 1 year each of: physics, biology, general
chemistry, organic chemistry and calculus
– If we recommend new competencies, then un-needed
material should be removed from overall curriculum
Strategy - 3
• Scientific competencies should be those
required to practice medicine
– includes interpretation of the scientific literature
– critical and skeptical thinking, analysis
• These competencies are not designed to
prepare for a career in biomedical research.
– Some schools may design curricula to prepare
students for careers in research
– Choice is up to each individual institution
Strategy - 4
• Scientific competencies:
– Reflect recent advances in the biomedical sciences
– emphasize the increasingly close relationship with
the physical and mathematical sciences.
• Examples:
– Statistics is important to allow physicians to be a
critical consumer of data from new clinical trials,
research on genomic associations, etc.
– Biochemistry is more relevant than some aspects
of organic chemistry presently emphasized
Structure of Recommendations
Overarching Principles
Competency (Medical or Entering) E1, E2, ….8
= broad statement of goal for understanding
Learning Objective 1, 2, etc
competencies in various areas
Examples 1, 2, etc.
Structure of Recommendations
Two of the Overarching Principles:
1. Demonstrate knowledge of, and ability to use basic
principles of:
– Mathematics and Statistics
– Physics
– Chemistry
– Biochemistry
– Biology
needed for the application of the sciences to human health
and disease
2. Demonstrate observational and analytical skills and the
ability to apply those skills and principles to biological
Apply quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe
or explain phenomena in the natural world
Demonstrate understanding of the process of scientific inquiry, and
explain how scientific information is discovered and validated.
Demonstrate knowledge of basic physical principles and their
applications to the understanding of living systems.
Demonstrate knowledge of basic principles of chemistry and some of
their applications to the understanding of living systems.
Demonstrate knowledge of how bio-molecules contribute to the structure
and function of cells.
Apply understanding of principles of how molecular and cell assemblies,
organs, and organisms develop structure and carry out function.
Explain how organisms sense and control their internal environment and
how they respond to external change.
Demonstrate an understanding of how the organizing principle of
evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on earth.
• Competency E1. Apply quantitative reasoning and appropriate
mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural
• Learning Objectives:
5. Make inferences about natural phenomena using mathematical
– Examples
• Describe the basic characteristics of models (e.g., multiplicative
vs. additive).
• Predict short- and long-term growth of populations (e.g., bacteria
in culture).
• Distinguish the role of indeterminacy in natural phenomena and
the impact of stochastic factors (e.g., radioactive decay) from the
role of deterministic processes.
• Competency E3. Demonstrate knowledge of basic physical
principles and their applications to the understanding of living
Learning Objectives:
1. Demonstrate understanding of mechanics as applied to human and
diagnostic systems.
2. Demonstrate knowledge of the principles of electricity and magnetism
(e.g., charge, current flow, resistance, capacitance, potential, and magnetic
3. Demonstrate knowledge of wave generation and propagation to the
production and transmission of light and sound.
4. Demonstrate knowledge of the principles of thermodynamics and fluid
5. Demonstrate knowledge of principles of quantum physics such as atomic
and molecular energy levels, spin, and ionizing radiation
6. Demonstrate knowledge of principles of systems behavior, including input–
output relationships and positive and negative feedback.
• Competency E3. Demonstrate knowledge of basic physical
principles and their applications to the understanding of living
• Learning Objectives:
3. Demonstrate knowledge of wave generation & propagation to
the production and transmission of light, sound.
- Examples
• Apply geometric optics to understand image formation in the eye.
• Apply wave optics to understand the limits of image resolution in
the eye.
• Apply knowledge of sound waves to describe the use and
limitations of ultrasound imaging.
• Report released in June, 2009
• Accompanying editorial in Science
• Now: coordinate work with undergraduate
institutions, scientific disciplines, medical
school and MCAT organizations
• MCAT revision MR5 approved -- preview
booklet released 2011—rollout in Jan. 2015
• Medical schools’ response now in progress
Challenges for Physics
• Devise courses that helps students meet the
report’s competencies
• Sharpen the focus of intro physics for life
sciences: not everything in the standard
introductory physics course is relevant to life
science students
• Work with other STEM colleagues to
streamline and focus the pre-health curriculum
Report on 2009 Workshop on Intro
Physics for Life Sciences
• 40+ physicists, life scientists, AAMC, APS,
AAPT reps
• AAMC message: SFFP offers a way to innovate
without previous MCAT/premed requirements
as constraints
• Do the right thing—teach what physicians/life
science students need to know—don’t just teach
to MCAT (old or new)
Life science perspectives
• Bio/Med more quantitative – students need to
use (more) physics now
• Skill/knowledge transfer physics  biology,
isn’t working
• Make life science connections with physics in
class (not later)
• New content: fluids, basic stat. physics
(diffusion, random walks, distributions),
electrostatics in media, physical techniques,
quantitative methods (data analysis, etc.)
2010 American Association of
Medical Physicists meeting
• Residents: Med students tend to regard physics
as something they take to pass their boards
• Physicists tend to teach physics in the abstract
without telling them how it connects
• Only later do they realize how important it is
• Medical physicists: emphasized need for more
medical physicists for retirement replacements
and how much physics MD’s need to understand
Audience Challenges
IPLS students don’t understand course goals
Many feel they “can’t do physics”
Fixed ideas about “plug-and-chug”
Learning other approaches in other courses
“I went into the life sciences to avoid math
and physics”
• Diverse student preparation, background
• Diverse student majors, careers
Physics content in SFFP Report
Most topics sound familiar
New bio/med emphases
What physics to omit/de-emphasize?
Swap engineering  Life science examples
• New curricular materials needed: textbooks,
good problems (relevant life science content)
The rub…
Bottom-down approach: teach physics  later
see an application ?
“These students see biology in other courses;
this is their only chance to learn physics.
Teach foundations, the rest will follow.”
Top-down approach: Bio problem  motivates
physics tools ?
“We know transfer isn’t happening with this
approach; teach them what they need to
know/use. The extra motivation results in
their learning more physics.”
The No-Pain, No Physics-Loss IPLS Solution!
Less time on…
Kinematics & friction-free trajectories
Constant force, acceleration
Hookean mass-spring systems
Kepler’s Laws
More time on…
Actual trajectories
Acceleration from rest to a constant velocity
Dissipative systems (drag, etc.)
Thermodynamics at constant T, Pressure
Elasticity (simple continuum mechanics,
fracture, non-Hookean systems)
• Fluids
About the same on…
• Waves & oscillations
• Electricity & magnetism (most)
• Modern / quantum physics
But with attention to applications in life sciences
Physics “process skills”
• Keep physics approach to math modeling
• Simplifying problems, finding essential
• Quantitative model-building
• Empirical testing, limitations
• Experimental design, critiquing, refinement
How to (better) teach “Process Skills”
• How to harness student’s motivation to
succeed in our courses?
• Learn about their other courses – connect
explicitly to their chosen fields.
• Tell students these skills are a course goal
• Relate to their future career goals
• Test & grade based on these skills
How to (better) teach “Process Skills”
• Know students’ “initial knowledge state”
• Scientific skills develop over the long-term—
coordinate with other departments?
• Reference their other science course content?
Integrated courses? (integrated sciences @
Princeton? Harvard’s chem/physics intro
• Improve lab & integrate into lecture
• What do we want to assess? (what mix of
content, skills, and attitudes)
• What existing assessment tools are useful?
• What new tools are needed and how can they
be developed?
• Can we test retention and/or transfer of skills
into later (non-physics) courses?
• Many existing tools, but not aimed at this task
Education Research Challenges
• How do IPLS students differ from other physic s populations?
• How to use lessons from Physics Education Research ?
• What new work can be done / needs to be done?
Existing resources include:
• HHMI-funded NEXUS group (U. Md., others)
• Teaching problem-solving skills, U.Minnesota cooperative group
problem-solving (CGPS)
• Hypothesis generation and testing: Rutgers group’s Investigative
Science Learning Environment (ISLE)
• Explicit focus on reading and interpreting graphs (such as with
Real-Time Physics)
• SCALE-UP and Arizona State -- modeling
Institutional support
• Blue ribbon panel—identify & publicize best
• Funding initiatives to support curricular
development and institutional changes
• AAMC: Clarity on timing, logistics of
implementation & assessment
• AAMC: More specifics on the new MCAT
• How do we meet the goals of competencies E1 &
E2, while including more life science content into
the physics laboratory curriculum?
• Many institutions have such labs
• New emphases: imaging, diffusion, random walks,
medical applications of circuits, optics.
• How to incorporate lessons from physics education
research (SCALE UP) to make students learn
desired competencies from these experiences?
Our Lab Examples
• Bone scaling & rubber elasticity
• Geometrical optics & the human eye
• Electrocardiography lab
Our Lab Examples
• DNA crystallography with visible light
(Institute for Chemical Education)
• Fluids mechanics
• Ultrasound Imaging
• Animal trajectories
• Spectroscopy & Quantum Dots
Ultrasound Imaging
• Students use pulse-echo imaging to
detect the presence of objects within
medical “phantoms” (test samples)
• Both M-mode and B-mode imaging is
• The labs explore attenuation, spatial
resolution and Time-GainCompensation.
• Final project involves imaging a medical
model of breast tumors and a kidney
“phantom” using an actual scanner
• Doppler and therapeutic units are also
available for inexpensive purchase and
lab use now
• Images: 3B Scientific & GE
Lab Examples from elsewhere
• Imaging & bacterial motility (George Washington
• Brownian Motion (Centre College, U. Md., Johns
• Fluids & microfluidics (Johns Hopkins)
Process skills in the lab
• Enhance transfer—show how physics leads
into applications (Waves & Sound 
ultrasound imaging)
• Hypothesis testing: Bone Scaling  simple
Galilean theory does not work!
• Interpretation skills & data analysis
• Teamwork
• Reading (simple, basic) in the scientific
Google: “intro physics life sciences”
“AAMC-HHMI physics”
• AAMC-HHMI report:
• New MCAT MR5:

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