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THE COLLECTOR'S MIND JAMES M. REHMUS* Great fuss is made over the chosen individuals who matriculate at medical schools in the United States. Disregarding the vagaries of professional fashion—those whisperings that lead students to stray into law or business—the medical student remains a select member of a special society. The gauntlet each student runs to attain that society is formidable . Few men and women are so tested and measured. Grade point averages and test scores seem to dictate the future, the essential steps on which each student may rise. PSAT, SAT, MCAT, GPA, and even IQ percentiles and raw scores compute fate. Does one wonder that notarized copies of infant APGAR scores will soon be required on medical school applications? As a consequence, the student begins preparation early. Each test requires a study course, each course requires a new venue, each educational experience from day care to freshman biology is carefully designed . Pressures and costs mount as students, nurtured like hothouse orchids, are driven to flower. Medical schools, in sympathy, have grown increasingly reliant on grade and test criteria for screening applicants and for making final decisions. Admission committees excuse this practice. They inculpate the large pool of applicants, the impossibility of in-depth interviews, the requirements of government agencies, and the need for quantifiable, objective criteria forjudging undergraduates. Subjective opinion is suspect , even cause for legal retaliation. In contrast to current admission practice, two generations of social research have documented the unreliability of objective data. Neither all A's nor high percentiles on the Medical College Admission Test (nor a host ofother academic and quasi-academic attainments) are sufficient to distinguish the medical candidate who will succeed from the one who This essay received honorable mention in the 1986 Dwight J. Ingle Memorial Writing Award for authors under 36. ?Address: 13211 Larchmere, Shaker Heights, Ohio 44120.© 1988 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3102-0579$01.00 260 I James M. Rehmus ¦ The Collector's Mind will fail. The authors of this research cite other predictors of medical school success: maturity, motivation, "enhancing" qualities. And they have been ignored, as befits the producers ofsuch delightfully nebulous, sensible, and unmeasurable results. It is some comfort to know that success cannot be predicted by one's grade in undergraduate chemistry. (Determinism is abhorrent to those who made B's in the class.) But what comfort is there in the knowledge that each medical aspirant is judged by a standard that is equally simplistic ? Admissions committees stumble along, hobbled by the discrepancy between practical constraint and modern, social scientific fact. This author, for one, is sympathetic to the plight of premedicai students and their judges. It is striking that neither group has made a vigorous complaint—Bakke and a few other malcontents stirred the waters but missed the point. All have been trying to simplify a complex problem: defining present qualities that signal and engender good physicians . A minimum standard has been set by force of habit. What else is the MCAT than a Recommended Doctor's Allowance of intellect and initiative? If the concerned researchers and educators want students with more than this RDA they must begin to search systematically for other indicators of character, temperament, intelligence, and sensitivity. They might begin to seek the collector's mind. The collector—and what is a collector? His type has almost disappeared in a moneyed, hurried era. He flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when acquisition was respected and a hallmark of the colonial era. That was also a time of education; the art of learning was exclusive but admired as an end in itself, not just as the means to some other goal. Darwin, Michaux, and Jefferson are good examples of men admired today and in their own time for their energetic knowledge, in large part because of their innate collecting minds. Acquisition is the collector's obvious folly but also his veil. His character is most clear in his enthusiastic, passionate search for special knowledge . A collector's passion is unlike other, common passions. It is deep and strong, unswayed by time or fleeting emotion. The stirring that drives a...


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pp. 260-264
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