The pre-health collection within MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative: Helping faculty prepare students for the competencies in the new MCAT2015 exam


Address for correspondence to: Henry V. Jakubowski, Department of Chemistry, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, Saint Joseph, Minnesota 56374. E-mail:


To help faculty prepare and revise courses in all the disciplines represented in the MCAT2015, the American Association of Medical Colleges, through its MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative, has established the Pre-health Collection, a repository of reviewed web resources that are openly and freely available to faculty, and indirectly through them to students. The Pre-health Collection initiative makes use of the Internet to centralize teaching resources and to help faculty at institutions with fewer available resources to incorporate high quality teaching material specifically reviewed to assist students in obtaining the required pre-health competencies. As biochemistry competencies are increasingly represented in the new exam, it is important to grow the number of quality teaching resources for biochemistry within the portal and to develop a community of users and contributors. A description of the Pre-Health Collection and mechanisms for contributions are presented. © 2013 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 41(2):76-78, 2013

Anyone teaching biochemistry to undergraduate students is well aware of the concomitant need to develop course content, pedagogy, goals, and student outcomes for their courses and to prepare students for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Even for those not interested in a medical education, the biochemistry content found in the MCAT covers the fundamental concepts of biochemistry essential for those majoring in biological sciences, biochemistry, and related fields. Likewise, it is hard to imagine any instructor, department, or institution not examining the impact of the new MCAT2015 exam, developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), on their curricula [1]. In response to changes in the MCAT exam, medical schools may move from a list of required and recommended courses for pre-medical students to a required and recommended list of competencies that would map onto students' undergraduate courses. Competency-based education requires, in addition to knowledge, the ability to apply knowledge to problems and requires a combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes to meet a particular competency.

This trend toward required student competencies and skills as replacements for specified courses is a tacit acknowledgment of the need to focus on accessible student outcomes in an era when specific content is distributed widely across courses and disciplines which are becoming more integrated. Recommendations from both the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) are moving toward competencies and away from specific courses. The ASBMB recognizes the need for curricular flexibility in their latest recommendations which list a set of suggested courses but which also detail specific skills [2]. The ASBMB has gone even further and made specific suggestions as to how the traditional curriculum need to be drastically changed to expand the focus on biochemistry in the first two years of the chemistry curriculum [[3, 4]]. They suggest a single year of chemistry for life science students which focuses on structure and reactivity relevant to biochemical processes, followed by one or two semesters of biochemistry. For smaller schools, they suggest a semester of general chemistry and two semesters of organic chemistry, followed by biochemistry for life science. Likewise, the Committee of Professional Training of the ACS developed new guidelines for approved chemistry curriculum which encourages integrated foundation courses organized around themes such as reactivity, rather than traditional courses based on single sub-disciplines [5].

As a way to offer continuing guidelines on course selection for pre-medical students, the AAMC indicates that the new natural science competencies can be typically achieved after one year of introductory biology, two years of chemistry (general and organic), and one semester of introductory biochemistry as they are “taught at many colleges and universities.” In addition, they indicate that competencies in cell and molecular biology are covered in one year of introductory biology (as typically taught).

The MCAT undergoes periodic revisions as medical school faculty reassess what is important to student success, the health needs of a rapidly changing society, and the recent scientific advances that are altering the teaching and practice of medicine. Given the changes in our understanding of the biochemical basis of health and disease, it is no wonder that biochemistry is taking a more predominant role in the new MCAT2015exam. The AAMC estimates that in the new MCAT2015, 25% of the questions in the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems section and 25% of the questions in the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section will center on the discipline of biochemistry [6]. Likewise, as it has become increasingly evident that disease and its prevention in individuals, communities, and whole societies are dramatically influenced by psycho-social variables, the AAMC has added psychological and sociological-based competencies to the new MCAT exam.

To help faculty adapt to the changes in the new competencies, the AAMC is providing multiple resources to them. These include outreach materials to help faculty learn more about the MCAT2015 exam [1] and course mapping tools, which allows all constituencies to see which courses at a given institution are available to students as they work to meet the MCAT2015 competencies [7]. This latter addition is a tacit recognition of the fact that courses vary widely by institutions.

Pre-Health Collection Within MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative

A significant new addition to available resources is the Pre-health Collection within MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative. The Pre-health Collection is a repository of reviewed web resources that are openly and freely available to faculty, and indirectly through them to students [8]. The resources are designed to help faculty prepare and revise courses in all the disciplines and test sections represented in the MCAT2015. These include Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems and the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. The Pre-health Collection is part of the AAMC's very successful MedEdPORTAL, a repository of peer-reviewed materials for teaching, assessment and faculty development available for medical school faculty [9]. The Pre-health Collection initiative of the AAMC makes use of the Internet to centralize teaching resources and to help faculty at institutions with fewer available resources to incorporate high quality teaching material specifically reviewed to assist students in obtaining the required pre-health competencies.

The AAMC has recognized five scientific foundational concepts for the new MCAT2015 that are also integral to the teaching of biochemistry [6]:

  1. Biomolecules have unique properties that determine how they contribute to the structure and function of cells, and how they participate in the processes necessary to maintain life;
  2. highly-organized assemblies of molecules, cells, and organs interact to carry out the functions of living organisms;
  3. complex systems of tissues and organs sense the internal and external environments of multicellular organisms, and through integrated functioning, maintain a stable internal environment within an ever-changing external environment;
  4. complex living organisms transport materials, sense their environment, process signals, and respond to changes using processes understood in terms of physical principles; and
  5. the principles that govern chemical interactions and reactions form the basis for a broader understanding of the molecular dynamics of living system.

Within each foundational concept are specific content areas. The new MCAT exam, as should any high quality undergraduate course, asks student not only to know the prescribed content within each foundational concept, but also to use scientific reasoning and inquiry skills as they apply their knowledge and skills to analyze and evaluate data, hypotheses, and multidimensional problems.

The resources within the Pre-health Collection within MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative portal are selected to help faculty as they design and teach material relevant to the competencies. The portal is searchable by pre-health competency, discipline, or keyword. Resources are also cataloged based on instructional methodology (assessment, independent study, lecture, and simulation) as well as format (animation, lab guide, multimedia, reference, tutorial, and video). These descriptors can help users differentiate resources that just provide content from those that provide opportunities for application, analysis, and evaluation of learned content. Users can also rate the resources, a process which provides a mechanism of natural selection to increase the quality and usefulness of the collection. Faculty can use the resources to introduce new materials or supplement existing activities. The ultimate goal is to develop a community of users and submitters, not unlike a wiki, when the development of a project becomes a community effort.

As the number of available web sites tends toward infinity, it becomes increasingly important to develop organized and intentional collections of refereed contributions and make them available through topical web portals. The chaotic alternative has been presaged in a short story, The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges in which the universe consists of an infinite library with books containing all possible combination of letters and other characters. Knowledge in this universe is obtained by truth seekers who would comb the books for knowledge. One conundrum not fully explored in the story is that such truth seekers would randomly confront incompatible “truths” randomly distributed throughout the library. Fortunately for us, scientific portals like Chemical Education Digital Library—ChEd DL [10], Multimedia Digital Resource for Learning and Online Teaching—Merlot [11], BioSciEdNet—BEN [12], the National Science Digital Library—NSDL [13], and for medicine MedEdPORTAL, which contain high quality and vetted resources, are available. The Pre-Health Collection within the iCollaborative branch of MedEdPORTAL is designed to become such a resource.

The site is available now. We, as coeditors charged with the development of the biochemistry collection, are seeking your help in growing the number of quality resources in the portal. Please consider submitting your own contributions or referencing other sites that you have found particularly useful and relevant to the new pre-health competencies. We need your contributions as we grow the community of users and developers that will be necessary for the Pre-Health Collection of MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative to reach its potential. The main web page contains links for both referral and for online contribution of your resources [8]. For more information, please email the iCollaborative staff at


Laura Zapanta and Henry Jakubowski were appointed by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) as co-editors of the biochemistry section of the Pre-Health Collection of MedEdPORTAL's iCollaborative.