Social Structure and Demographics
The content in this chapter should be relevant to about 13% of all questions about the behavioral sciences on the MCAT.
This chapter covers material from the following AAMC content categories:
7B: Social processes that influence human behavior
9A: Understanding social structure
9B: Demographic characteristics and processes
A frail, elderly Chinese man is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital. He is gaunt, weighing just over 100 pounds, in severe respiratory distress, and nearing circulatory collapse. The intensive care team works to stabilize the patient by starting intravenous lines and pumping fluids. The patient screams statements in Mandarin and is eventually sedated so the team can intubate and ventilate him. They begin to run tests and discover that the man has widespread metastatic lung cancer that is unlikely to be cured or even controlled through chemotherapy or radiation. The patient’s wife and children visit the next morning and are told of the bad news. After crying for some time, they turn to the intensive care team and ask them not to inform the patient of this grave diagnosis. They explain that in their culture family members are expected to make healthcare decisions for the ill to avoid burdening them with such matters. The members of the medical team, however, feel that they must adhere to the tenets of American medical ethics—and American law—and allow the patient to make his own healthcare decisions. As the head of the hospital ethics committee, you get a call from the team to help them make this decision. What would you do?
Ethicists and sociologists alike wrestle with medical dilemmas like these. As a clinician in an ever-diversifying society, you will certainly run into difficult situations like these, where you must try to balance a patient’s cultural beliefs with your own beliefs. In this chapter, we’ll explore some of the sociological topics on the MCAT, focusing on theoretical models and the key institutions on which you are likely to be tested. We’ll then explore culture itself. Finally, we’ll describe demographics, the mathematical and statistical modeling of sociological concepts.