A "pre-med" program rarely refers to an actual college major. Instead, it is a set of core courses that most medical schools require. These required courses, which vary slightly from medical school to medical school, give you a foundation for both the Medical College Admission Test and for actual medical learning. Once you complete your undergraduate degree, take the MCAT and are accepted to medical school, you'll generally need to complete four years of medical school and then another three to five years in a residency program to become a fully qualified medical doctor
General Biology, Chemistry and Physics
All medical schools require their applicants to have taken at least a year of general biology, general chemistry and general physics in college. These three disciplines give you a foundation for understanding the workings of the human body; they also demonstrate that you have the scientific mind needed in a doctor. Of these three, biology, particularly human physiology, figures most heavily on the MCAT. Therefore, some pre-med programs recommend that students take three to four courses in advanced biology. For example, extra courses in human physiology can help prepare you for the gross anatomy classes you'll attend in medical school, a course in microbiology can help prepare you for medical school pathology courses and a course in molecular biology helps prepare you for medical school histology or genetics courses.
Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry
Medical schools also require applicants to have taken a year of organic chemistry and at least one course in biochemistry. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based compounds, many of which occur in the human body or in drugs. Biochemistry examines the chemical reactions that occur in different life forms. Both are critical to understanding molecular biology and microbiology. In medical school, students usually have to take a course in biochemistry, often in their first semester.
Calculus and Statistics
Not all, but many, medical schools require future students to take a year of calculus and at least one course in statistics at the undergraduate level. Calculus equations that employ functions are sometimes used to determine the appropriate drug dosage when all of a patient’s organs are not operating effectively. Calculus is also used to examine the flow dynamics of the blood for the application of cardiology treatments, and to model the mutation rate of cancer cells in response to different drugs. Doctors use statistics and probability to estimate the likelihood that a given treatment will be effective.
English and Social Science
Doctors have to communicate effectively and compassionately with many different members of the population, and they hone their skills for doing so in college English composition classes. Most colleges require that students take these classes in order to graduate, and medical schools typically require at least a year of writing-intensive English for admission. Medical schools also often stipulate prerequisites in the social sciences, particularly psychology and sociology. Psychology has obvious value in that it helps students understand mind-body interactions and mental health, and this course serves as a precursor to the medical school courses of psychiatry and neurology. Sociology helps students to understand how social groups and socio-economic status can influence a person’s health and life outcomes. These types of courses help doctors to better understand a diverse array of patients and also serve as preparation for medical school courses in human development and public health policy.
- Northwestern University Academic Advising Center: Pre-Med Coursework
- Georgetown College: Pre-Med- A 4-Year Plan
- The Student Doctor Network: Medical School 101: What Medical School Is Really Like
- Harvard Medical School: Preclinical Courses Year 1
- University of Kansas: What Is Microbiology?
- ACS: Organic Chemistry Is All Around Us
- Biochemical Society: What Is Biochemistry?
- University of Regina Math Central: Math and Medicine
- University of Washington: Pharm 309 Pharmacy Calculations: Lesson 4
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