Grand Rounds

SMHS Student Affairs & Admissions News

Biochemistry and the medical student

by Val Becker

Advancement of medicine and that of biochemistry are inseparable, and much of modern medicine would not be practiced in the ways they are today without an understanding of how genetic, pathogenic, and environmental factors affect the human body at the biochemical level. Thus, the importance of medical students learning biochemistry is invaluable.

Even so, it seems that some students prefer to selectively learn only subject matters they believe to be relevant to the medical specialties that they wish to acquire and practice.

Some students admitted to medical schools already have an undergraduate biochemistry education. As good as such a course or two may have been, students are advised to incorporate previously learned knowledge with newer medical applications to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. For example, instead of re-learning to compare the structures of DNA and RNA, students should discuss the biochemical basis of the “omics” that are profoundly changing medical research and medicine. Also, instead of re-learning the glycolysis pathway and memorizing minute details of it, one could discuss why the glycolysis pathway serves to produce not only ATP, but, more importantly, molecules that are important for the metabolic requirements of cancer cells. One could even discuss the rationale for selecting certain glycolysis enzymes for the development of anti-cancer drugs. This applied way of learning is very likely to keep a student excited because she or he will relate new knowledge and the applications of biochemistry knowledge to not only today’s medicine, but also future medicine.

Medically relevant biochemistry is a topic that gives students just enough information to be able to understand the basic mechanisms of why a biochemical defect results in a disease, and potential avenues of diagnosis and treatment. Most students can effectively learn and understand medical applications of biochemistry if the applications are reviewed in contextualized ways through medical cases.

Students need first to define core concepts and biochemical principles to review (or relearn) in a short period. Students will engage in new concepts and medical applications of biochemistry, in an in-depth fashion, through PCL modules. The PCL modules aim to (1) stimulate personal cognitive processes to first understand concepts and then connect concepts to construct knowledge structures, and (2) teach students to apply their knowledge to new situations and solve new problems. This way of educating promotes lifelong learning, open inquiry, and critical thinking.