Misconceptions: Understanding Pre-Med

Today, biology majors make up at least half of the applicant pool for the medical schools, but statistically they have a slightly lower rate of admission than many other majors, including majors in humanities. In fact, some Admissions officers may find a student who majors in dance, for example, and still performed well in the pre-med curriculum to be much more interesting.

The fact is: There is no “pre-med major” and there is no “under-graduate medical school” at most selective universities. Medical schools look for a well-balanced course selection, and do not favor one major over the other.

So, what is in a pre-med curriculum that any major student can dive into?

Specific course requirements vary from school to school, but most will look like the following:

  • 1 year of Biology
  • 1 year of General Chemistry
  • 1 year of Organic Chemistry
  • 1 year of Physics
  • 1 year of Math
  • 1 year of English (to develop your ability to read critically and write well)

Additional course requirements may include behavioral sciences, social sciences, and/or biochemistry.

Clearly, you do not have to major in biology to be pre-med or medical school eligible. Major in what excites you; chances are you will be more productive in what you study.

If you do major in a science field, be flexible to take courses outside your major. Courses in social sciences, languages, and culture can help you develop an appreciation of people, their beliefs, their behavior, and their perspectives. If you major in a non-science field, excel in your premed courses and even take advanced science courses. Quantitative skills grounded in sciences are crucial.

Becoming a doctor requires your being tested again and again. In high school, you take SAT or ACT. In college, you take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). In medical school, you take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 and the USMLE Step 2. In residence, you take the USMLE Step 3, along with your specialty’s Board Certification exam. Finally, as a real doctor, you take license renewing exams every five to ten years (in many cases).

Becoming a doctor requires years of rigorous training: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years of residency in a hospital.

Becoming a doctor requires your willingness to help other people, work long hours, and handle emergencies. Most of all, it requires you to study A LOT.

Are you ready?

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides useful facts about medical school Applicants, Matriculates, and Graduates of the U.S. Medical Schools. It offers excellent information about students who apply and are accepted to medical schools. Check it out: https://www.aamc.org/students/download/375268/data/datareportspdf.pdf.

Imagine, if most of us are going to be physicians, who is going to brew coffee that keeps all of us awake? I think a smart student will investigate various options in the health profession. Here are just a few:

  • Dentistry is devoted to maintaining the health of the teeth, gums and other tissues of the oral cavity. Go to the American Dental Education Association’s website for dental education resources, www.adea.org.
  • Nutrition trains people to become lab scientists (biochemistry, physiology, etc.) or go into dietetic counseling. Visit the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, www.nutrition.org, for more information.
  • Optometry deals with the diagnosing, managing, and treating conditions and diseases of the human eye and visual system. Visit the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry’s website, www.opted.org.
  • Pharmacy is the science and clinical use of medications. Get more information at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, www.aacp.org.
  • Physical Therapy is the science of healing to meet the health needs of patients. You can get more information on the American Physical Therapy Association website, www.apta.org.
  • Vet Medicine helps animals live longer and healthier lives. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, has detailed information about this profession, www.aavmc.org.

It is never too early to explore. And whatever you do, I wish you the very best!

Have fun!

Wan Chen, Admissions Advisor

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