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Why Organic Chemistry Is So Difficult For Pre-Med Students 279

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Science writer and 42-year old pre-med student Barbara Moran writes in the NY Times that organic chemistry has been haunting pre-meds since 1910, when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a landmark report calling for tougher admission standards to medical school and for medical training based on science. "The organic chemistry on the MCAT is chemistry that students need to know to succeed in medical school," says Karen Mitchell, senior director of the MCAT Program. Basically, orgo examines how molecules containing carbon interact, but it doesn't require equations or math, as in physics. Instead, you learn how electrons flow around and between molecules, and you draw little curved arrows showing where they go. This "arrow pushing" is the heart and soul of orgo. "Learning how to interpret the hieroglyphics is pretty easy. The hard part is learning where to draw the little arrows," writes Moran. "After you draw oxygen donating electrons to a positive carbon a zillion times, it becomes second nature." But the rules have many exceptions, which students find maddening. The same molecule will behave differently in acid or base, in dark or sunlight, in heat or cold, or "if you sprinkle magic orgo dust on it and turn around three times." You can't memorize all the possible answers — you have to rely on intuition, generalizing from specific examples. This skill, far more than the details of every reaction, may actually be useful for medicine. "It seems a lot like diagnosis," says Logan McCarty. "That cognitive skill — inductive generalization from specific cases to something you've never seen before — that's something you learn in orgo." This takes a huge amount of time, for me 20 to 30 hours a week writes Moran. This is one thing that orgo is testing: whether you have the time and desire to do the work. "Sometimes, if a student has really good math skills, they can slide through physics, but you can't do that in orgo," says McCarty ."
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Why Organic Chemistry Is So Difficult For Pre-Med Students

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  • I agree... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mjpaci ( 33725 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:43AM (#45317629) Homepage Journal

    I wasn't pre-med, I was a chem major and the hardest class for me was orgo due to the same reasons mentioned above.

    • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Informative)

      by EvilSS ( 557649 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:48AM (#45317661)
      It's funny because organic chemistry was one of the easiest classes for me. Many of my classmates thought I was insane but I enjoyed it. Now P-Chem, that beat me up in left me in an alley for dead.
      • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:11PM (#45319549) Journal
        I agree. I did well in organic chemistry after I decided to stop talking myself out of understanding it.
    • Ever tried physics? It's all about applying rules to situations you have never seen before and it is not just restricted to carbon-based molecules.
      • As I understand it, the physics which are potentially of use to a pre-med don't go much beyond "figure out which equation produces the units you want, and rearrange it until it solves the problem for you." That doesn't involve getting an intuitive sense for quantities and thresholds, whereas these skills are forced on you right from the start of reactions in orgo.
        • by j-beda ( 85386 )

          As I understand it, the physics which are potentially of use to a pre-med don't go much beyond "figure out which equation produces the units you want, and rearrange it until it solves the problem for you." That doesn't involve getting an intuitive sense for quantities and thresholds, whereas these skills are forced on you right from the start of reactions in orgo.

          You're doing it wrong. The stated methodology (guess, plug, chug) is very ineffective and completely counter to the major reason to require physics courses for non-physics majors (and physics majors for that case.) The (often unrealized) hope is that the student in a physics course will learn to analyze a given situation with an understanding based on overall principles (energy flow, momentum, torque, etc.) decide on the items which are important and which are not and then apply math skills to come up with

          • Re:Physics (Score:4, Interesting)

            by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:55PM (#45318653)

            Medical students are great memorizers. All of them. Some of them are also smart.

            Dad is a professor emeritus of chemistry at a University that includes a medical school. He has a lot of stories about med students who NEEDED and A but couldn't reason for shit. They just didn't get that there was nothing they could memorize that would get them As. Some of them couldn't even plug and chug but somehow got into a 6 year medical program, which implies an A in HS chemistry.

          • I agree with you. Unfortunately, both of my physics classes (I'm CS) have had exams too long to do anything but plug and chug. If you try to derive the proper formula using knowledge of the system, you will not be able to finish the exam in the allotted time. Physics is the only class I've had time issues in, and its depressing. To prepare I have to memorize formulas; understanding is not necessary.
      • Re:Physics (Score:4, Informative)

        by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:15PM (#45319935) Homepage Journal

        If it's green and slimey, it's biology.

        If it stinks, it's chemistry.

        If it doesn't work, it's physics.

        • Re:Physics (Score:4, Funny)

          by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @08:29PM (#45321105)

          When I was 13, our teacher in woods and metal craft had a sign in the workshop with the text: "Practice is when everything works, and noone knows why. Theory is when nothing works, and everyone knows why. In this room we combine theory and practice, nothing works and noone knows why"

          I once put up a slightly modified version of that sign on the office door of one of my profs, changing room for faculty. He was not amused...

    • Heh, I was a Biology major, and Gen Chem kicked my ass. The whole time the professor kept telling us this is the worst of the chemistry classes, and once we took him for O-Chem things would get better. He kept baiting us by saying he taught O-Chem via synthesis of various drug compounds (LSD, MDMA, etc.). Shoulda stuck with it...

      But it makes sense, then, that as a chem major you found O-Chem the hardest. I found Gen Chem to be no different from a math class (which is my weakest point).

      • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:16PM (#45317859) Homepage Journal
        First-year general chemistry wipes out a lot of students, largely because it's when you discover your high school learning strategies are no longer valid. I squeaked by with a cool C- when I took it, but it was sufficiently scary to make me take all of my other classes seriously after that. Clearly, if the life sciences curriculum has this much synergy in it, it hasn't been molested enough by well-meaning politicos and deluded parents.
      • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:17PM (#45317865) Homepage

        He kept baiting us by saying he taught O-Chem via synthesis of various drug compounds (LSD, MDMA, etc.).

        Heh. I liked that part too. Unfortunately, you start with three tons of acetone and end up with 0.2 grams of cocaine.

        But organic chemistry has been nothing more than the crunch course for pre meds. The way it's taught in most places it is just rote memorization. Lots of rote memorization. And med school is little more than that (other than gross anatomy which is rote memorization in a fog of wintergreen-flavored formaldehyde.)

        Which is a shame because organic chemistry is interesting in it's own way. However, the intro courses are typically not designed to initiate some love of inquiry and reasoning - they're designed to see how much you can stuff in your brain for a couple of weeks. The end result is lots of doctors who remember broad swathes of oft time trivial facts, but can't figure out basic statistics to save somebody's life.

        • can't figure out basic statistics to save somebody's life.

          To be fair, most non-statisticians can't figure out basic statistics to save their life. It's a deceptively hard field.

          I wrote a one-page stats bible for my residency program called "How to Get Every Stats Question Right on the Anesthesiology Boards". Last I heard, they were still making copies of it six years later.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The way it's taught in most places it is just rote memorization. Lots of rote memorization. And med school is little more than that (other than gross anatomy which is rote memorization in a fog of wintergreen-flavored formaldehyde.)

          Organic chemist here (currently working in drug discovery). During my time in grad school I TA'd ochem courses for both majors and non-majors (pre-meds), and the thing that created the most difficulty for the pre-meds was that they tried to learn the material simply through rote memorization. The problem with this is that there's simply too many reactions in organic chemistry to try to memorize each and every one of them with all the details. Because of this, the way most professors (that are any good) teac

      • First year * is the hardest because you have to listen to the bitching of all the future washouts that don't have the maths for real science.

        Seriously, your prof wasn't being completely honest. It only gets easier because you're used to it.

    • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cranky_chemist ( 1592441 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:19PM (#45317879)

      In many respects, its unfortunate that chem majors (I was one, too) take O-chem alongside pre-med students.

      The most useful aspect of O-chem is learning to interpret the various spectroscopic results used to characterize organic compounds (particularly NMR spectra). This information is quite useless, however, to those who are not chem majors. We instead spend an inane amount of time learning hundreds of chemical reactions that neither the pre-meds nor the chem majors really need to know.

      Even then, the course doesn't have to be as difficult as it's made to be, which I finally figured out the first time I taught organic chemistry. We simply make it that difficult to weed students out. Many students who probably would have made fine chemists saw their chemistry careers end in Organic II---all in the name of convincing a lot of pre-meds that they were never going to become doctors.

      • We simply make it that difficult to weed students out.

        I detest that approach, particularly when it involves something as meaningless and pointless as brute force memorization. If you want to weed out students, teach important topics to an advanced degree. Jumping though hoops is for seals. Your criticism has great credibility since you taught the subject.

        • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cranky_chemist ( 1592441 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:42PM (#45318033)

          There's a certain perverse logic in using Organic I and II to weed students out.

          They're sophomore-level courses. They're also the most difficult two-course sequence all pre-med/pre-vet/pre-pharmacy students will collectively take during their first two years. Pre-med students outnumber the openings in medical school by at least 10 to 1. They must be weeded at some point. The sooner you weed them out, the sooner those students can stop wasting their time and tuition money on a course of study they will never complete.

          I'm not sure I agree with it, but that's the logic as it was explained to me.

          • Re:I agree... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:32PM (#45318485) Homepage Journal
            You've got to weed them out at some point, and you're a heartless ass to let them go through an entire program if they really don't have a chance. Weed early and often.

            That said, as a chemistry major who decided to go to med school when I was a senior, I think it would be better still if we went to British-style medical education. The needs of physicians and chemists are different enough that they should be taught in separate classes. As a trivial example, doctors don't need to know that Grignard reagents exist. As others point out, spending that time on a rigorous education in statistics would serve them much better.
          • We'd be doing far better if we just weeded people out just because they can't cut it at the job, rather than because they are not in the top 10% of their class. Just train more people, and have supply and demand do its thing, instead of leaving things to organizations that want the supply of doctors to be low.

            • And what exactly happens to all of those "doctors" with $400,000 student loans who now cannot work as doctors?

              If we used your approach, no doctor would ever be able to secure a student loan again. The risk of default would be astronomically high. The only difference is that now the lenders would be the ones choosing who gets to become a doctor.

              • by khallow ( 566160 )

                And what exactly happens to all of those "doctors" with $400,000 student loans who now cannot work as doctors?

                They default and their lenders take a bath. And yes, I think the exclusion for student loans should be taken out of bankruptcy law.

              • Re:I agree... (Score:4, Insightful)

                by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @05:53PM (#45320167) Homepage Journal

                If more med schools open or expand to train more doctors, prices should fall. That accomplished, more doctors might actually create competition for patients (when is the last time you heard of a doctor not new to the area doing anything to attract new patients). For that matter, when is the last time you went to the doctor, found an empty waiting room and were told to go right back? Or called to set an appointment and were told any day is fine, morning or afternoon.

                This is one (of many) reasons healthcare is unaffordable in the U.S.

    • I absolutely suck at memorization, so what I did was learn the why of the reaction - which generally was just geometry based (which part of the electron cloud was physically easiest to access - ie steric hinderance); charge based (which atom most 'wanted' the electrons') and energy based (which configurations would be energetically stable with minimum strain and best sharing of electrons).

      For my O-chem final - my brain almost completely forgot all of the standard reactions, but I was able to reconstruct rea

  • by edibobb ( 113989 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:46AM (#45317645) Homepage
    Dumb it down, just like everything else.
    • Re:College too hard? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ZeroPly ( 881915 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:11PM (#45317815)
      The question is not whether organic chemistry is too difficult, the question is whether it is even necessary. My brother is a practicing physician, has been out of premed for 20 years, but can still look at a sketch of Ibogaine and understand what he's looking at. Which is completely useless in the context of his job.

      However, he has no clue what Bayes' theorem is, or how it is relevant to his decisions. If I'm seeing a doctor who's evaluating me for an angioplasty vs Lipitor, I damn well want someone who understands Bayes' theorem and has a good intuitive handle on probability, not someone who can sketch complex molecules.
      • Re:College too hard? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:24PM (#45317921) Homepage Journal
        Pre-meds at my alma mater were required to take a second-year stats course, and were also exposed to Bayesian thinking in a special pre-med focused math course (which was mostly calculus but had some extras.) Mind you, this is in Canada.
        • Stats pre-calculus is simply memorize and regurgitate. Med students love that. Without a good understanding of calc you don't have the math to really get statistics.

          Unless they can fit real (not the for business majors variant) calculus into med school we're going to have to live with limited understanding for most doctors.

          Which should be fine. Radiologists and researchers are obviously different.

      • The purpose of O-chem for medical students is to give them a fundamental understanding of bonding behavior of organic compounds so that they can later extrapolate that knowledge to biochemical processes.

        The lack of proper training in statistics for the vast majority of physicians is a completely separate problem.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Until last year I was a member of a medical school admissions committee (I have since changed institutions). The point you raise about med students not understanding statistics is true and is being addressed on a nationwide scale. Statistics are being further integrated into the MCATs and many medical schools are requiring it as a pre-requisite for admission. Furthermore, curriculum are changing at the medical school level to ingrain statistics into coursework. That said, the level of statistics that a phys

    • The problem isn't that you need to dumb it down. It's that, as the op says, you need to memorize a fuckload of chemicals, equations, and the particular circumstances under which they occur. The memorization task is made particularly difficult when you're dealing with concepts that you don't consciously interact with on a day to day basis. I think the process of teaching ochem could be improved if we take into account the limitations of the human brain. The brain tends to have a capacity of remembering 2-5
    • Well, where does it end? University? Dumb it down...

      Problem is, sooner or later you get confronted by reality and it refuses to bend over and get easier just 'cause people are too stupid to comprehend it. And this is generally where the system breaks down because at one point in life people should stop being on the receiving end of information and start producing some themselves (whatever that "information", i.e. creation of order, may be now, be it research or production). If education fails to produce tha

  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:47AM (#45317653)

    Or maybe it's just me. I found physical chemistry more challenging.

    • by gatkinso ( 15975 )

      Indeed. So much so that I switched to mathematics in my senior year (well, that plus I had basically already completed the math requirements and I had terminal Senioritis).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:05PM (#45317771)

      Problem is the AMA and the government control the number of residency spots. So if you get more applicants you don't get more doctors, they just make the testing harder. Doctors like this because it creates an artificial "doctor shortage" and keeps their wages up.

    • Interesting - you're not the first chem major to say that here. I wasn't a chem major, and never took orgo, but in my basic chem I always found P-Chem both the easiest and most interesting. Probably belies my physics orientation. Everything else in chem, even short of orgo, always seemed like too much memorization, which I always sucked at. Probably why I liked physics, math, and engineering classes - nothing to memorize. Oddly though, I also like history, but the stuff you have to remember is easier for me

    • by cranky_chemist ( 1592441 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:10PM (#45318297)

      P-chem is difficult because it's students' first immersion into quantum mechanics.

      You learned the sanitized version of quantum in gen chem---all those rules about electron configurations and the funky shapes of atomic orbitals. But you simply memorized it. In P-chem, you were confronted with the actual wavefunctions from which all of that stuff is derived. If you've never seen a wavefunction or eigenvalue before, it's a total mind trip. And virtually nobody has encountered such things prior to P-chem.

      And then you learn that, once you move beyond a one-electron atom, must of the equations become impossible to solve. And now you must introduce a series of assumptions and limitations to arrive at any solution whatsoever. And that's when the goo starts oozing out of your ears.

      Somewhere at the end of it all, you realize that chemistry and theoretical physics are not distinctly different subjects.

      • I met up with my lab partners for drinks before our last P chem class, the one where the professor summarized an entire semester of quantum in one lecture. It actually made more sense when I was slightly buzzed.
        • My 'Intermediate Modern Physics' (not all that different from P-Chem) prof held class once a week at a campus bar.

          Tensor notation still makes me thirsty.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Physical chemistry was hard for me. Did not take organic until later, at it was not easy either. What scares me is that doctors, who are supposed to be the smartest people on the planet, and therefore usually very well paid, seem to have problem with science. Here another thing that scares. Premed majors on average get the lowest score on the MCAT, yet we still have students going into premed to become a doctor. From the numbers I have seen, Physics results in the highest scores. Either the MCAT is no
      • You have been misinformed. Doctors are *not* "supposed to be the smartest people on the planet", not even close.

        The average citizen in the street may think so, but that's not saying anything.

        As for physics, it doesn't make people smart to study physics, it just tends to attract some of the smartest students. Having pre-meds major in physics wouldn't make them any smarter.

  • Students learn organic by memorization. It is unfortunate but it's the truth. That said, we expect med students to excel at memorization and regurgitation so OChem is a good tool for learning that. The problem though is that we de-incentivize actual comprehension as the students learn that they won't need >90% of what they memorized in OChem later on (if we exclude that which is acceptable to look up in a reference later).
    • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:55AM (#45317703)

      Students learn organic by memorization. It is unfortunate but it's the truth. That said, we expect med students to excel at memorization and regurgitation so OChem is a good tool for learning that. The problem though is that we de-incentivize actual comprehension as the students learn that they won't need >90% of what they memorized in OChem later on (if we exclude that which is acceptable to look up in a reference later).

      Quite true. My father is a clinical chemist, having a Ph.D. on the topic and even having taught at an Ivy League university. As a child, I read some of his tomes on things like toxicology and diabetes, just out of boredom. (I read a lot as a kid.) His advice to me when I was going to college? "Don't take organic chem if you don't need it." I've always been good at science, but the gist of it is that orgo is just a long litany of exceptions, like a nightmarishly inconsistent language. Hence the memorization...and the difficulty. Yes, mapping out the electrons helps a bit, but in truth that's more used like a requirement than an aid in keeping straight what is really going on at the molecular level. At one point I took a peek into orgo, and entirely understood the advice I'd been given all those years before. Holy crap...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        PhD chemist here. Organic chemistry is perfect to weed out people who will not make it as doctors. In truth, organic chemistry is not a "hard" science: it does not come from basic principles, like say phys. chem. The only way to succeed at organic chemistry is to memorize, memorize, memorize. The more you memorize, the easier it is to see similarities between the cases, which are just like law cases or medicine cases. Hence, I would support mandatory organic chemistry for pre-med students. For chemistry maj

    • by Lanboy ( 261506 )

      As my two brothers whom are doctors say, If you want to learn to think, go to law school, medicine is memorizing. It is a generalization, but a fairly accurate one. This isn't what separates good doctors from bad doctors, it is what separates doctors from non-doctors.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @11:55AM (#45317699)

    You can't memorize all the possible answers

    Horrors ! What's a premed to do? Surely they don't expect them to actually understand something?!?

    • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @01:07PM (#45318243)

      I have a PhD in chemistry, so I've been through all the classes mentioned.

      Organic is, in fact, the only one you absolutely CAN memorize. Unlike the math-based chemistry classes where you have to learn principles, which the pre-meds struggle mightily with, the memorization-heavy organic chemistry is the one that is considered to be similar enough to medical school that it is used as a weed-out.

      This is particularly true of organic *synthesis*, vs. organic *mechanisms*. Mechanistic organic is often presented as a first semester organic class, and that does actually require knowledge and understanding. Synthesis, however, is nearly straight memorization, even if you don't want to.

      I was happy when the pre-meds stopped taking the major-level chemistry classes (mostly after organic). It made my physical chemistry classes much more interesting. It didn't keep the one pre-med in the class from whining the entire time that he wasn't getting the answers spoon-fed to him from the book, though.

      So I don't know where the author is coming from, because they completely got it wrong.

      • Organic is, in fact, the only one you absolutely CAN memorize. Unlike the math-based chemistry classes where you have to learn principles, which the pre-meds struggle mightily with, the memorization-heavy organic chemistry is the one that is considered to be similar enough to medical school that it is used as a weed-out.

        As a fellow chemist -- one that has done research and teaching in physical and organic realms -- I assure you this is not necessarily true. A good organic course will yield a maximum grade of maybe 70% for students who are impeccable memorizers but not problem solvers. (I'd say it'd be about 50% for a good phys chem course, because plug-and-chug formulas can certainly be crammed.)

        For example, syntheses are a lot like chess. They require memorizing a variety of transformations, but the potential applicat

  • (Actually I switched to Math in my senior year).

    Organic Chemistry was a breeze compared to Physical Chemistry. Just my opinion.

  • ... I can attest that anything that keeps them humble is not a bad thing. Yes, my dear MD, you are human, too.
    • by Lanboy ( 261506 )

      Unfortunately, confidence is a requirement for the job. An indecisive doctor is a shitty doctor.

      • True, it is a delicate balance that is required. Nonetheless, I don't think it hurts to remind practitioners and prospective practitioners that there is more in Heaven and Earth than they can wrap their heads around.
      • An indecisive doctor is a shitty doctor.

        But one who thinks they know everything and always make the right decisions is even worse. Confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive.

      • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:43PM (#45319735) Journal

        Sure, confidence about their profession and the subject matter that entails.

        Confidence that because they're MDs and therefore every other subject matter must be trivial compared to their social status... that's just disgusting when up against it.

        I had a conversation with an MD once when I used to work taking calls at a call center that went something like this. Now, this was at a separate company from the hospital and the MD's practice that had no access to the hospital or doctor's schedule.

        MD: "Are you illiterate? Why are you paging me when I'm in surgery? Are you too stupid to read what's in front of your face?"

        Me: "There's no information like that here. How can we find out when you're in surgery?"

        MD: "I don't need to tell you that because the problem is your lack of reading comprehension, Velex."

        Me: "Can somebody call us before you go into surgery so we can put a note here that says to hold your..."

        MD: "I don't need to put up with your attitude. Don't worry about coming into work tomorrow, Velex, because you don't have a job anymore."

        Somehow, that doctor was unable to fire me, and I came in the next day just fine.

        An MD who can't even figure out that he needs to get the practice manager to fax over his schedule or have an RN call in when he's going into surgery if he doesn't want to be paged while in surgery is a shitty problem-solver. That's not somebody I'd want giving me advice about something as important as my health. I'd sure as hell never want to be under that guy's knife.

        Of course, as others have pointed out, it all boils down to how the AMA keeps MDs artificially scarce so that their wages are inflated way beyond what they need to be. Org chem is that difficult because it's a weed-out course. We need to drop our collective attitude that MDs are something special. Open up more residency positions, let MD wages plummet from $400k down to around $100k where they ought to be, end hazing practices in residency programs, regulate their hours worked just the same as we regulate truck drivers' hours and for the same reasons too, and a lot of these problems will solve themselves.

  • Half true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:09PM (#45317805) Journal
    First, a disclaimer to prove I don't mean this as bragging - I sucked at gen chem. I found it painfully tedious - Basically 100% having humans do things that computers do much, much better.

    But I aced Orgo with fairly little effort. It just makes sense, once you master those basic rules - You have your carbon skeletons, your functional groups, your resonances, then mix in chirality, spice it up with a few inorganic substitutions, and bam!, the rest becomes like a good, satisfying puzzle - Spin the structures around in your head, and see where the electrons "want" to go.

    If Orgo has a reputation for being hard, it has that only by virtue of having boring ol' gen chem teachers trying to explain something outside their comfort zone. I consider myself lucky to have had something of a "reformed hippie" for a prof, with a godlike skill for getting us to see not what happens, but why.

    Put another way - If you can't solve the problems without consulting lookup tables and using a calculator, you have no shot whatsoever at understanding something at an intuitive level. When you can memorize all the rules in your first month or two, the rest becomes just fun.

    Then again, a "friend" of mine did a lot of psychotropics back then. That might have helped. ;)
  • The problem is that there is no inherent logic, like math or physics.
    It's a (big) bunch of rules and exceptions on how to mix 'ingredients' together.
    So if you can let lose of all the 'but why?' questions and just follow the recipe, you'll do great.
    That wasn't me, though. I've never really got the hang of it, although I love science, so I was happy to leave all those carbon rings behind after high school.
  • by windwalker13th ( 954412 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:30PM (#45317965)
    After having talked to numerous doctors on whom have been part of admission selection committees for different medical schools this is the consensus I have reached as to why Orgo is required for medschool. Orgoanic chemistry is looked at as a weed out class. In particular, they believe that good grades from second semester (quarter 2,3) in Orgo prove the ability of the student to be able to solve complex problems because the later part of most organic chemistry courses focus on synthesis. They believe that good grades in second semester orgo will translate into a doctors ability to see the long term solution and that good grades are indicative of an ability to plan a multistep process for patient recovery.
    • by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:44PM (#45318059)

      Orgoanic chemistry is looked at as a weed out class.

      Yup. As someone who both attended classes with and later taught pre-meds, I had an immediate gut reaction to the article title: "maybe because so many pre-med students are retards?" Seriously, after seeing some of the people who wanted to be doctors, I've never been able to fully trust the medical profession. Like some of the other posters, I thought orgo was relatively easy, and I've always felt that anyone who found it an impossible obstacle had no business making decisions about other people's health.

  • by Gocho ( 16619 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:38PM (#45318003)

    Have Walter White teach it.... where do I sign up?

  • Doctor's perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cosmin_c ( 3381765 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @12:57PM (#45318155)
    I've graduated from med school about 9 years ago and I still remember organic chemistry just as if I've closed the book yesterday. I had to learn it in high-school, I had to learn it in medical school. It is hard to learn, but it does help a lot. Fact is you can't know all the drugs that are out there being prescribed. But if you ask the patient for the box and have a look at the active ingredient name, you can immediately place it in one of the major groups. At least you will not confuse a pain relief drug with a psychotrope or an anti-hypertensive. It's just as useful as most of the disciplines studied in medical school. It helps a future doctor form reflexes towards substance recognition that will baffle even some of their colleagues and impress the hospital pharmacist :)
  • It's a lot of work, but it's really not that hard to understand. I aced my chemistry classes in college. The only reason my classmates didn't do the same is because they didn't review study along with studying current topics, and they didn't do enough sample problems either. The problem is it's a lot of work, not that it's hard. I think the main problem in chemistry classes is trying to jam too much material into one semester when not everyone has enough fortitude (or time) to spend on a single class. P
  • I actually did well in orgo. Anyway from my point of view the book we used tended to ramble on and on before getting to the point. At one point there was page after page and they never got around to simply writing out a sodar equation. (Which the prof just told us, it was only a few terms.) I swear the guy writing our book hated algebra. I found myself writing in the margins "I bet he's rambling when it's just concept X" and so many times I'd be right. Of course since the book was so disorganized even the o
  • Organic chemsitry is not a fascinating subject in its ownright. And even though it falls in the purview of physics -- like, uh, everything -- it is best understood apart from physics, as a unique lense. Just as biology is not best understood as complicated chemistry, but rather as a completely different perspective.

    It demonstrates the raw power of abstraction. For example, ask an experienced organic chemist to propose a synthesis of any arbitrary molecule. A good one will normally be able to come up wit

  • by rssrss ( 686344 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:39PM (#45319713)

    FTA: "I asked two medical school deans â" Dr. Robert Witzburg at Boston University and Dr. Lee Goldman at Columbia University â" about admission philosophies. Both are proponents of holistic review, the newish idea that medical schools look beyond grades and test scores to evaluate the whole applicant."

    What this really means is that we are getting to many Asians. We need slots for the children of donors, and big wigs, and for affirmative action cases.

  • by jncook ( 4617 ) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @07:04PM (#45320635) Homepage

    O-chem is useless for practicing physicians. Took it, did OK at it, passed the required tests in undergrad and early med school, never used it again. Licensing boards understand this; there is no organic chemistry on the final board examinations for Internal Medicine.

    In fact, thinking you understand low-level chemistry and biology can be dangerous for a practicing physician. For example, beta-blocker blood pressure medicines slow your heart rate and make your heart "squeeze" less strongly. We were initially taught that you should never give them to patients with heart failure -- their hearts didn't beat strongly to begin with. Given a basic understanding of the underlying biology withholding the medication made sense. Until someone studied them and found that for patients with mild heart failure beta-blockers reduced hospitalizations and death. And we had been withholding them for years. Whoops.

    You don't want your doctor prescribing things based on their understanding of biology. You want them prescribing on the basis of clinical trial data and statistics.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern