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Chemistry For Premeds

April 26, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 17

I wish to second I. David Reingold's opinion on premed chemistry education (C&EN, Feb. 22, page 5). After 35 years of teaching the usual yearlong organic chemistry course to thousands of premed students in a class combining premeds and chemistry majors, I have come to the conclusion that a revised sequence of one semester of general chemistry followed by one semester of organic followed by a biochemistry course is appropriate for premeds.

It is crucial that the organic chemistry for premeds be different from the traditional two-semester course (which usually is organized mainly to serve chem majors despite the fact that they usually are a distinct minority in the class). Premeds should be taught organic chemistry by using life sciences examples throughout, and they shouldn't have to wait until the "last four chapters" to find examples relevant to their future careers. In an effort to promote this approach, I wrote a textbook, "Invitation to Organic Chemistry," which I designed to support the one-semester life sciences approach to organic chemistry. It was published in 1999 and is still available from Jones & Bartlett publishers.

Organic chemistry is essential for premed students, certainly as a precursor to biochemistry, but I also have found that it can be one of the most effective vehicles for teaching students how to think logically through a problem rather than just regurgitate spoon-fed information. Many premed students reported to me that after such a course they had no difficulty handling the MCAT!

For those students who wish to major in chemistry (and some of them are converts from premed intentions), following up with a second semester of a more detailed look at organic chemistry, and using a different textbook, will cover the necessary content to the necessary level and to the satisfaction of ACS Committee on Professional Training requirements.

A. William (Bill) Johnson
Bella Vista, Ark.

I agree with I. David Reingold's letter on premed chemistry curricula. I also agree that the chemistry most relevant to life sciences is organic chemistry. Nevertheless, I believe many students still need a good, first-year background in general chemistry. It is my experience that many students who have had problems in organic do not have a good grasp of the fundamentals. Students who mastered the fundamentals in high school should be able to test out of general chemistry. Also, the general-chemistry course content and pedagogy should be routinely reviewed for their ability to engage students.

Theodore F. Biermann
Northville, Mich.



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