John Wetzel

A paradigm shift

I had just graduated from Stanford in the 1990's with a good score on the old exam. The sun was shining on me as an applicant, so I put up flyers and tried my luck as a free-lance MCAT tutor. I was fortunate in recruiting students, and became the favorite of the students at GA State, Emory and other colleges in Atlanta. It was a gap year project while I stayed close by home for family needs. I had the opportunity for plenty of work and became the "all-around MCAT tutor" in Atlanta in 1993. The MCAT was a paper exam back then. I was teaching seven days a week, month after month, going into the second year of MCAT tutoring, when I awoke one morning in possession of a completely new teaching art. Through the constant day-to-day struggle alongside my students, working to help them master scientific ideas, I had learned how to prefigure physics ideas in a specific way to build the foundation for a common-sense understanding of chemistry. A method developed and became present to me as a skillset for unfolding the physical and biological sciences within a unified curriculum. The curriculum was born out of teaching moments with my students. This was the first spiraling, interdisciplinary MCAT course. These breakthroughs were only possible because I had the opportunity to teach general science as a whole for an extended period years ago. What occurred depended on happenstance and accidents in my own background and disposition. I understood this teaching art to be a significant innovation for science education. I became committed to this work and embarked on developing these ideas further.

Our commitment

I began teaching groups of students and eventually recruited a team to join me. We became Wisebridge Learning Systems. The owl has been with us for nearly twenty years. We built a successful course for the old exam, WikiPremed, which helped many thousands of students online. WikiPremed was well-regarded as the interdisciplinary approach to the old exam. It became a successful teaching service and publishing company. After success took hold for WikiPremed, I had started to think that maybe we had closed the circle on developing new ideas for MCAT review and I could begin the steps to move my work forward into an unconventional MD PhD program, which seemed feasible, when AAMC released the new exam in 2015. Our methods for interdisciplinary MCAT review were already deeply likeminded with the new exam. It felt like a reply to our own teaching ideas. A scientific revolution has occurred over the last fifty years. There is now systems level unity in the understanding of the physical and biological sciences at the molecular level. AAMC made interdisciplinary understanding explicit in the new exam to help future doctors understand the knowledge-base they must build for medical school in the age of molecular biology revolution. We were uniquely prepared in 2015 to begin helping students navigate the challenges of the new MCAT after it was released.

There is no doubt our students have been receiving the most effective MCAT course in the country these past six years, as we have been building our learning program for the new MCAT for eventual release to a wider audience. This is the third MCAT course I have designed. Maybe now I have nearly closed the circle and it will be possible for me to apply to medical school in a year or two. That's the joy of launching something like this. You put your best foot forward. Now I am one of the oldest premedical students in the country, and the wisest. I have kicked the can forward to apply to medical school for twenty years to complete this work because I felt it was important from an intrinsically motivated perspective, and I believe I am one of a few people with the background and natural talent for it. The last claim is easily verifiable from the credentials I earned as a seventeen year old. At seventeen years old, I had a 3.9 GPA full time at Georgia Tech because of German class attendance and am one of some absurd Eagle Scout class of people who got to choose between Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Stanford for where I got to go to college. It reflects like virtue, but there wasn't any struggle in it. When I think back to when I earned a 99% on the old exam, my scientific understanding was basically a joke to now. I didn't even take a practice test. I skimmed my Raven & Johnson Biology book, read the first half of Feynman volume one, and picked up a copy of Linus Pauling's General Chemistry at Tall Tales Bookshop in Atlanta, GA. The exam went great because I was born with a number two pencil in my hand. I once won the majority of middle school math tournaments in the state of Alabama. The MD PhD is future tense for me, God willing, so that credential will have to do, though I can't remember if we had to wear shoes. Thunderstruck, gob-smacked or otherwise blown away is how I will describe what Linus Pauling's book did for me. He wrote a textbook for General Chemistry and it changed my life. I do not have a single credential to demonstrate my knowledge of biochemistry, except that I have taught 1st semester one hundred times and rest up into medical school tutoring. Teaching biochemistry it in medical school some day is an ambition of mine. My highest ambition as a teacher would be to help design an interdisciplinary program for premedical education along the lines of the Structured Liberal Education program at Stanford University, but two years and for life science and health professions majors. I have been working on being able to say something useful about this for twenty years. My teachers have been Lehninger and Lubert Stryer. I love those two people. Those people are my idols in teaching and why I do what I do, though I could never hope to distinguish myself in scientific discovery as they did. I don't know if it will get across for everybody, what this online course is trying to accomplish for you, but I know it works in one-on-one teaching. In editing the videos, the average was approximately twenty minutes of editing to produce a single minute of edited video. This was to make it possible for the viewer to experience what it is like to have me as their one-on-one tutor. If anything, I am a very experienced MCAT tutor. My company and I have worked very hard to create an experience for you at least as good as my students received. The "evidence" in this paragraph is not to justify the claim that this course is revolutionary, or a paradigm shift, or all the other adjectives MCAT courses use to describe themselves. It's just who I am. I believe that this time between undergraduate coursework and medical school, otherwise MCAT preparation, can be one of the most important educational experiences of your life. AAMC means it to be. I know it was for me. It has been for me, though I seem to have settled in as a guide for this portion and keep turning back to help another person across because I might just be more teacher than doctor.

Nowadays, there are thirty something companies providing learning services for the MCAT. What we created is the first content review for the MCAT that is suitably sophisticated for it. We have comprehensive psychology conceptual materials and practice and insightful CARS lessons. The new MCAT is more sophisticated than the old exam. The Integrated MCAT Course is more sophisticated than the WikiPremed MCAT Course was. Although we are a small company, no other MCAT course can catch up with us any time soon. The scope of this type of project, interdisciplinary content review spanning general science, takes years of teaching MCAT just to understand how to do the job properly. The general failure of content review for the new exam is widely acknowledged. There are a half dozen people who know how long it takes to produce anything useful in this field. The years students have been preparing for this exam without proper content review represent the time it has taken our own company to respond to the challenges of this test, basically. That may sound grandiose, but this is not just test-prep to me. I think there are big problems in the way science education is structured in college. I believe AAMC is likeminded about this. MCAT preparation is the only instructional field where my work is possible. The test is just a test, but it is also how medical education is trying to communicate to students about how to get ready for medical school. I take them at their word. Many of my students have told me that my course helped them do well in medical school, and that's not even what it's all about.

The Integrated MCAT Course is a trademark of Wisebridge Learning Systems. Unless otherwise specified, the works of the Integrated Course are published under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike License. MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges, which does not endorse the Integrated MCAT Course. The Integrated MCAT Course offers our customers no guarantees regarding eventual performance on the MCAT.