Close your eyes and imagine being in medical school. What comes to mind? Are you dissecting your very own cadaver, naming the origin and insertion of the brachialis muscle? Perhaps you’re looking at laboratory test results, trying to determine that mystery diagnosis. It’s clear that science pervades the study of medicine, but does that mean you’ve got to spend four years as a biology major to become a great doctor?
The answer is emphatically “No!” Of course, there are certain requirements one must meet in order to apply to medical school, most of which are in fact science courses. At a minimum, medical schools need you to have performed well in a one-year series of biology, physics, and English, in addition to two years of chemistry (both general/inorganic and organic). As long as you meet those requirements (and anything else an individual school may require), you can keep your white coat dreams alive!
However, the question remains…Are science majors accepted with increased frequency compared to their non-science counterparts? The answer is again a resounding “No!” Med school admission rates are comparable between biological science, physical science, humanities, and social science majors. Performance on the MCAT and undergraduate GPA are also largely similar between these groups.
So what are admissions committees looking for? While that is a broad topic with many nuances, committees are generally seeking high performance and genuine interest. Medical schools are looking for individuals who are driven toward excellence in whatever field they choose, and will bring that enthusiasm and drive to medicine. Many of the skills different majors help develop can be employed in the medical field. Learning to create a convincing and logical argument through majoring in philosophy, for example, would be a fantastic skill to use in writing future medical research manuscripts. And majors such as political science and sociology would provide a unique toolkit from which to engage in public health interventions.
Communication and cultural competency are highly sought after in medicine. This is reflected in the fact that the 2015 changes to the MCAT added sociology and psychology sections. More broadly, good communication skills are used as a marker for positive interactions with patients and among medical teams. Most medical schools, from Harvard to UT San Antonio, have incorporated arts and humanities in both elective and required aspects of the curriculum, with the understanding that humanity and empathy are the cornerstones of great medicine.
It should be said that taking additional classes in physiology, biochemistry, and anatomy might provide you with a stronger foundation once you start medical school. However, if you’d rather spend your college years discussing Dante or analyzing Aristotle than genotyping gametes, go for it! But a word of advice…Do it with passion!