While the rewards of a career in medicine are very high, the training is very rigorous, and students often wonder what undergraduate course of study best prepares them for the trials of medical school. It turns out that either a major in chemistry or biology is strong preparation for this profession, so long as the aspiring doctor takes all the courses required to enter most medical schools.
Med School Prep
Typically, medical schools require applicants to have taken a year of general biology; a year to two years of advanced biology, including one year of human physiology, a course in microbiology, and a course in molecular biology; a year of chemistry; a year of organic chemistry; and at least one course in biochemistry.
The courses most helpful for taking the all-important MCAT are a year of advanced biology in human physiology. Many of the first-year academic courses in medical school focus on advanced biology, including gross anatomy, which draws from physiology; pathology, which draws on microbiology; and histology, which draws on molecular biology. However, first year medical students must also take a course in biochemistry, which draws on their experience in chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. Furthermore, an understanding of microbiology and molecular biology also requires a strong knowledge of biochemistry. In terms of coursework preparation, it is best to pursue a double major in biology and chemistry before med school.
Thirty-nine percent of all chemistry majors who apply to medical school are admitted, giving chemists a slight edge over biologists, who are admitted at the rate of 35 percent at the time of publication. However, the number of biology majors who apply to medical school is five times the number of hard science students who apply to medical school, comprising in total half of all applicants. The percentage of biochemists who are admitted to medical school is 43 percent, a number which makes another strong case for pursuing a double major in both biology and chemistry.
Depending on the actual type of medicine you practice in, a strong foundation in biology or chemistry might prove useful. For example, for someone hoping to be a surgeon or a podiatrist, the strong focus on anatomy, dissection and physiological systems in biology might prove more useful. On the other hand, for someone who wants to be a primary care physician or psychiatrist, understanding the chemical reactions between the body and different drugs and medical treatments is more helpful.
If you’re choosing a major for medical school, you might also want to check out the other career options available for a particular degree, since, as you learn more about the medical profession, you may discover it is not for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for microbiologists, food scientists, biological technicians and environmental biologists will grow 10 to 19 percent by 2020, while the demand for wildlife biologists will grow only 6 percent. Meanwhile, the demand for chemists will grow a mere 4 percent. However, the demand for biochemists is expected to grow a whopping 31 percent, or “much faster than average,” indicating that a dual degree in both biology and chemistry might be the wisest choice for future doctors.
- The New York Times: Economic Scene - Work-Life Balance
- The New York Times: Doctor Shortage Likely to Worsen With Health Law
- John Hopkins University: Medical School Statistics and Trends
- The Student Doctor: Medical School 101: What Medical School Is Really Like
- Georgetown College: Pre-Med - A Four-Year Plan
- Northwestern University Academic Advising Center: Pre-Med Coursework
- Georgetown College: Course Catalog
- University of Iowa General Catalog: Biology
- Biochemical Society: What Is Biochemistry?
- University of Kansas: What Is Microbiology?
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