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MRIC Global Essay Contest: Is difficult mathematics necessary for the medical school entrance examin

Author:Chie Kizawa

2nd-year student at the Institute of Medical Faculty, Comenius University

Mathematics was the subject I most hated in high school. I suppose the number of students who feel like I did is not low. However, mathematics was undoubtedly the key subject for high school students to make their next step. In fact, at age 18, during the final year of high school, we had to choose our university major and decide what to study in the future. It is very natural for many students at this age to be unable to decide on their future based on their interests. Yet, another factor makes their decision making harder. In Japan, when high school students are choosing their major, they also have to take the required subjects for the entrance examination into consideration. All students who want to major in natural sciences have to pass a mathematics test in their entrance examination. For this reason, many students preferred liberal arts courses, so that they do not have to worry about their mathematics score for the entrance examination.

In this respect, the compulsory subjects on the entrance examination affect undergraduates for the rest of their lives. Whether high school students step forward to science or liberal arts depends on their mathematics score. If students want to continue studying natural science, they have to pass a ridiculously difficult mathematics test that includes algebra. Therefore, only students who liked science from the beginning and have spent several years preparing for the examination can take natural science courses.

Medicine is, without a doubt, one of the most popular natural science courses in Japan. However, many students who wish to study medicine give up on their dreams because of the strict entrance examination. Often, students avoid taking the entrance examination for medical school due to the difficult mathematics questions, including the algebra questions—I was no exception.

In high school, I never thought about going to medical school because mathematics was my worst subject. Even if I genuinely desired wanted to study medicine, I think I would have had no chance of passing the entrance examination.

Strangely enough, I am currently studying medicine at Comenius University, located in Bratislava, Slovakia. One experience made me hope to become a doctor, when I worked as a reporter for the local media in my country after I graduated from a college of politics. Since then, I have discovered the reality of our social problems in medical care. Therefore, I would like to make realistic suggestions to solve the problems directly related to my medical knowledge and clinical experience as a medical professional in the future.

I found my way to medical school while dodging my least favorite subject. So how did I become a medical student while being a member of the dropout group in mathematics? The solution was simple; the entrance exam for Comenius University does not include mathematics; instead, it includes biology and chemistry. This requirement was attractive enough for me to decide to go with this university. I prepared for the examination and concentrated on these two required subjects. Finally, I passed the examination on June 26, 2018.

This experience would have been hard to imagine in Japan. Students who fail the examination must spend many gap years studying—sometimes even more than three years—after graduating high school, which happens often.

After entering medical school, I have often wondered whether extended mathematics is really necessary to comprehend the medical world. Am I managing to study medicine even though I skipped algebra in high school?

In the first year, we had to study biophysics. This subject uses different units and mathematical principles, but I did not need to learn anything new other than simple mathematics taught in secondary school. This was the same in my chemistry class, where we needed to calculate the osmolarities and concentrations of solutions but which never required using complicated algebra.

Certainly, learning mathematics could help in understanding medicine. Moreover, logical thinking and constructing ideas are more or less based on mathematics. However, rather than playing a central role, it seems to be only one of the tools used to understand medicine. It is arguable whether it is appropriate for students to master mathematics before entering medical school.

I would like to emphasize that I am not saying mathematics is not an important subject. It is an essential subject, especially for those who are pursuing success in medical research. However, as a subject in the entrance examination, I doubt the appropriateness of mathematics as an obligatory subject. Biology and chemistry are directly related to the compulsory subjects in medical school, while algebra is not.

In conclusion, the current problem with the entrance exam for a medical student is that only students capable of solving high-level mathematics questions can enter. Yet, the ability to solve algebra problems is not entirely unnecessary in studying medicine. The path to start becoming a doctor is very limited. Soft skills such as empathy, teamwork ability and eagerness to help patients should also be respected as fundamental requirements for all applicants to become doctors.

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