Diverse talents are neededSeoul National University has postponed its plan to admit social science and humanities students into its undergraduate medical schools - traditionally reserved for high school students with science- and math-intensive backgrounds - after facing opposition from many sides.
Proponents of the breakdown of the disciplinary barrier for admission to medical schools applauded the idea of cross-application because the practice of medicine ultimately aims to care for and heal people in the most effective ways.
Of course, rigorous science and math knowledge is essential for premed training. But practitioners of medicine should be concerned with the human condition, not just the human body. Choosing aspiring doctors from diverse backgrounds could add a much desired and ideal dimension to the medical field - a broad humanistic vision and greater interpersonal skills - to offer the best possible care for the sick.
However, opponents of cross-application to medical schools cite more practical concerns. Currently, only science and math students can apply for medical schools, which are in the science category. If humanities and social science students are allowed to apply from 2015, high school students in the science divisions who aspire to become physicians would be put at a disadvantage. Such a perspective is mostly concerned with a certain amount of chaos expected from the cross-applications.
The debate underscores the importance of building a social consensus to any major changes in systems, especially in education. People outside the medical field think practicing medicine is all about science and lab work.
But if I can speak for myself - as a neurosurgeon - and other doctors who work day-to-day with patients in life-and-death situations, I see the practice in an entirely different light. Because it is up to physicians to make the right decisions for patients, a human touch and psychological understanding often play a more vital role than mere scientific or technological knowledge and skills.
Medical practice requires social decision-making by professionals to apply science and technology to the situation of each patient. It is a social problem that society must deal with efficiently with limited and affordable resources. What is demanded of physicians in today’s world - rapidly changing as it is with various scientific and technological breakthroughs - are good and fast judgment within a given time and with the given information. As information and time are limited, doctors must be able to know how to choose the next-best possible option if the best isn’t feasible.
Practicing medicine is a realm that requires a humanistic mind-set to make a choice among various scientific skills. It is a field that requires interactive, convertible and convergent talents and minds, which are increasingly called for in today’s complex, modern society.
The medical school of the future should not just incubate scientists and technicians; it should foster doctors with multiple capabilities, social discipline, a sense of balance and decision-making abilities. Our medical school programs must change to train the mind as well as instill skills.
In the long run, the rigid segregation of humanity and natural science divisions in high schools must be eliminated. The cross-application idea pursued by SNU could have been the tipping point in extending the scope of recruiting potential doctors.
If such an idea cannot be backed by a social consensus, no progress can be made. The practice of medicine and everything about it requires a social consensus. The future direction is set. If medical schools accept and train people from various academic backgrounds, the medical field will be able to offer more satisfying services to society.
Translation by the Korea JoonAng Daily staff.
*The author is the head of neurosurgery department at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
By Chung Chun-kee