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Is the UMAT even relevant to medicine?


Sometimes it can feel like the UMAT has got nothing to do with being a doctor. It can feel like just another one of the oddly-shaped hoops one must jump through in the medical entry process. However, this mindset that the UMAT is just a barrier to doctor-hood can be demotivating and counterproductive. In this post, I’ll give some real life examples of how each section of the UMAT relates to skills I’ve had to develop in medical school, and how UMAT preparation is related to, or perhaps even beneficial to, the study of medicine.

Section 1: Logical Reasoning and Problem Solving 

Everything we know about medicine is based on a whole bunch of research experiments. Therefore, in order to stay on the cutting edge of medical knowledge, one must be able to interpret various types of data presented as tables, graphs, scatter plots, and a variety of other fancy ways. This information also has to be contextualised and adapted for use in the real world. For example, you might have to decide whether or not to use a drug, even if the patient you’re treating might not belong to the same population that was tested in the drug trial! Section 1 of the UMAT exam provides you with valuable skills in data interpretation and extrapolation, and is a stepping stone to critical evaluation.

Logical reasoning is also important for understanding confusing concepts such as hormone feedback loops. Some hormones encourage the release of more hormones, and other hormones suppress the release of yet another type of hormone. As medical students, we have to learn how disturbances at various points affects the rest of the system. You may very well come across a similar question in your UMAT preparation – if you get that question right, then you may have saved yourself a few minutes of head-scratching during a first year lecture!

Section 2: Understanding People

“Health and disease don’t exist in a vacuum.” – Some Lecturer

But it is absolutely true. Physically, a broken arm is a broken arm, and it can be fixed in a similar way, whether the patient is an athlete, a builder, or a single mother. However, the same injury will represent profoundly different things to each of these patients. Here, it is important to understand the context of each patient, and to also address their motivations and concerns. Something to keep in mind is that patients are more likely to sue a doctor for poor communication than for medical incompetency. Hence, the skills tested in Section 2 of the UMAT exam are skills that can help you empathise with patients, and save you getting into trouble later on!

Section 3: Non-Verbal Reasoning

In the later stages of training, a lot of medicine becomes pattern recognition, similar to what is being tested in Section 3 of the UMAT. When reading a heart trace (electrocardiogram or ECG for short) of a very sick patient in front of you, it’s probably not a good time to work out the abnormalities from first principles. Of course, when you first learn about the patterns, it’s a good idea to learn about why they occur, but once they’re learnt, they need to be able to be spotted and interpreted within seconds. Then, these patterns must also be verified against the bigger pattern of the patient’s symptoms and risk factors. So, as you can see, sometimes medicine is just another form of extracting meaning from strange shapes and abstract concepts!


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