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Apr 09 2007

Keeping the Promise to Dr. Wallace and Dr. Pouissant

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Author: Dr. James L Flowers
Category: My Evolution of MCAT Prep Thoughts

That summer of 1974 I began teaching the pre-medical students in the Harvard Health Careers Summer Program (HCSP) how to think about the MCAT. This was the third version of the MCAT that had begun in 1928 as the Moss Test. It was changed in 1946 and 1962 (I believe). This was the version I had taken. It was graded like the SAT. There were several components including Science, Quantitative (Math), Verbal and General Information. Medical schools, at that time, were primarily concerned with the Science and Math subtests. Since I had scored in the 99th percentiles in Science and Math, these topics were what I was going to focus on in the classes.

Prior to the summer program, I compiled an outline and some basic materials for the students. I really had no clear scheme to follow. There still were very poor commercial materials available. So, I started to create a syllabus which I thought was appropriate. Additionally, we had no actual prior tests to model. All I could do is remember what was on the MCAT I had taken a few years previously. Unlike now, there were no passages in either the Science, Math or Verbal. All questions were stand-alone or non-passage questions. This made the test a little easier.

That first year, we were placed in a basement classroom in one of the older buildings in Harvard Yard…talk about starting from the ground-floor, or below it. Yet, how could I complain? After all, it was Harvard’s basement. There, I had my first group of students to prepare for the MCAT. I would lecture and go over questions for them. I really cannot remember all of the details. But, I remember the students were very appreciative and must have been satisfied with the course. This had to be the case. I was asked back each year as students had reported back to Dr. Wallace regarding my performance. And even Dr. Wallace started to like me after a couple of years.

Over the years, for whatever reason, my reputation grew as a good or even great preparer of students for the MCAT…I always figured this was because no-one else had wanted to take on the task…no competition. I then taught the summer MCAT prep every summer during my medical school career. By my third year in medical school, I had accumulated a great deal of material and had impressed Dr. Wallace that my promises of teaching the course were not just a desperate mischaracterization, also known as a “lie”, to get a job.

Dr. James L Flowers Photo

The Harvard Years

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Author: Dr. James L Flowers
Category: My Evolution of MCAT Prep Thoughts

I had finally made my way to Harvard Medical School (HMS) despite my misgivings of leaving my wife, 2 year old son and the baby on the way back in Milwaukee. It couldn’t get any more difficult, right? On September 26, about 2 weeks into my medical school education, my wife delivered the baby…and a baby. She had twins and the doctor did not even know. Now I had a family of four and was two weeks into being educated at the top medical school in the country and maybe the world. And, my family was not well off financially. It had been difficult enough to just get the money to get to Boston, and now…?

I was supposed to have attended a summer pre-entry program that summer, but my wife’s pregnancy and my need to work had precluded that. One thing I did was to buy and read the Lehninger book on biochemistry. I never had a true biochem course and had been told how difficult this was. So, during my first week I decided to take the exam to place out of biochemistry, it would give me time to work. The other students taking the placement test had had biochemistry at some of the best schools in the country…the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT and others. I had come from a small midwest liberal arts college that had no formal biochemistry course.  Out of the 160 entrants, not all took the exam, I was one of eight to place out of biochemistry. So, those hours other first year students were spending in biochemistry, I spent working as an instructor for the Greater Boston Collaborative, an alternative high school. That was during the year. I had the summer off that first year, and I had to work.

I contacted Dr. William Wallace who was the director of the Harvard Health Careers Summer Program (HCSP). He initially stated there were no jobs left for students during the summer. But, he needed someone to teach a MCAT prep, and with the help of Dr. Alvin Pouissant’s intervention, I was able to get the job teaching the MCAT prep. I had told both that I could do it even though I had not one bit of material to teach it. I used the fact that I had scored in the 99th plus percentile on the science and math portions to push the issue. I needed a job. They agreed to give me the chance. Now I would have to deliver.