Many students who dream of going to medical school often choose to major in the sciences: Biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, or any other related field of study. After all, you will be better prepared for medical school, right?
Actually, medical school admission committees are now looking to fill their classes with well-rounded students.
Even as breakthroughs in science and advances in technology make the practice of medicine increasingly complex, medical educators are looking beyond biology and chemistry majors in the search for more well-rounded students who can be molded into caring and analytic doctors.
This is great news, particularly for students who don’t exactly enjoy the sciences to the degree that they do other fields of study. It reinforces the fact that you can major in anything and still get into medical school. The odds are actually in your favor now.
The number of science majors applying to medical school has been steady for the past decadeâ€”about 65 percent of applicants major in biology or another physical science. What’s changing is who gets in.
Medical educators are favoring students who major in the arts, humanities, or related areas. In principle, this makes sense. The science that you learned as an undergraduate student is rarely used in medical school at best. Does it make practical sense, though?
Reinforcing The Generalist
You donâ€™t necessarily have to be good at anything, as long as you are average in everything. This is the basic premise of the well-rounded student — as they adcoms would have us believe, anyway. It’s never this cut and dry, but the argument holds true.
In other words, students who are mediocre scientists but have great social skills should make better physicians than those with excellent science skills and mediocre social skills. This can’t be further from the truth, but is the basis for the change in admission preferences.
During my medical school experience, I saw students both with excellent grades and superb social skills. These were likely the same students who majored in chemistry and studied night and day during college. Along the same lines, I saw students in the top 3% of my class who absolutely sucked with patients. You cannot make generalizations, but that is exactly what the adcoms are doing.
Medicine is an age of specialists. The best physicians are extremely specialized while the general family practice physicians are considered a “jack of all trades, master of none.” This is not to say that generalists are bad physicians, but who would you want treating your hyperthyroidism — your family physician or an endocrinologist?
Consider the pediatric cardiac surgeon who specializes in congenital heart defects. Is this person well-rounded? Maybe in the social realm, but as a medical professional he is about as specialized as you can get.
Whether or not your child’s cardiac surgeon plays the oboe in the city symphony orchestra matters very little to you. What does matter is the fact that he has a firm grasp on the pathophysiology of congenital heart defects and knows how to diagnose, treat and cure them.
Good social skills are required for successful physicians. But, they should not be a substitute for excellence in one particular field.
What I Think
1. If you enjoy it, do it.
If you truly enjoy the sciences and can’t see yourself majoring in anything else, go for it. Being a science major doesn’t automatically make you poor applicant choice.
2. English majors perform better on the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT.
It’s been known for awhile that students who practice verbal reasoning and deduction throughout college outperform other students on the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT — often the most difficult section for students.
3. If you enjoy a wide variety of activities, you are not automatically well-rounded.
Likewise, if you study every waking minute, this does not mean you’re socially inept.
4. Students will adapt.
If changes to the selection process of medical schools change, so will the students applying. Just like many students shadow physicians or do some volunteer hospital work to pad their application, they’ll start to adapt and make themselves more “well-rounded” on paper.
5. It’s just a game.
Any changes to the admissions process is just another new rule in the ever-changing game of gaining a spot in medical school. Play the game well and you will be rewarded. This is your first set of hoops that you’ll jump through over the next four years. Put your shoes on because there will be many, many more.