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Medical School Prerequisites: Masochism?

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As a future physician it is your duty to have sound “scientific literacy”.   In in fell swoop I’ve answered the question stem to my blog entry, job well done me, time for a pint — oh wait, you were expecting an actual entry, back to work me.  Alright, so you’ve decided to take the physician plunge (make sure you learn the secret premed handshake) so let’s discuss those arduous prerequisites.  It’s a time honored tradition for premeds to bemoan the seemingly esoteric course work required just to get into [US] medical schools.  But, I believe most premeds miss the intent of the rigorous coarse work, falsely associating it with some type of twisted sadism created with the sole intent to crush your soul.  As a reminder, the typical premed course work consists of a year of:

  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry *optional at most schools
  • Physics
  • English
  • Upper level math

Along your coursework you’ll probably eventually encounter this famous quotation incantation or another “Biology is just chemistry, chemistry is just physics, and physics is life”.  If that doesn’t encapsulate the importance of the medical school prerequisite consider that, as a physician, you will be expected to not only have an empirical understanding of medicine, you are also expected to be able to understand and even take educated guesses.   The prerequisites will serve as your foundation, when you become well versed in these courses making the leap into the MCAT will seem less intrepid.  In addition to science content topics, the MCAT will test scientific inquiry and reasoning skills:

  1. Knowledge of scientific concepts and principles
  2. Scientific reasoning and evidence-based problem solving
  3. Reasoning about the design and execution of research
  4. Data-based and statistical reasoning

(Hilborn & Friedlander, 2013)

Medicine is changing faster than ever, and it will likely continue to do so.  To stay in lock step with this evolution requires physicians to not merely be clinicians, and this requires premeds to obtain more than a sophomoric understanding of the core science breadth.

Besides, getting nerdy jokes like this is part of the experience.
Besides, getting nerdy jokes like this is part of the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, you can get pretty far on empirical data, typically it’s more important to know which medicine to use at a given instance than understanding which amino acid residue is phosphorylated.  However, at the same time, if you limit yourself to not understanding how things work you’ll be doomed to memorize everything because you won’t notice the patterns except from experience (not that there will always be one).  Personally, I feel doctors should understand the medicine and tools they are using: you should know how hydrogen atoms correlate to MRI scans while searching for tumors, understand how lens properties effect focal length and power of the eyes,  and why high doses of potassium can be fatal.   There’s a lot more to being a doctor than being a scientist, but if you don’t revel in the thought of science meshing with medicine than you have long torturous journey ahead of you.


There’s a lot of ways for you to deliver positive outcomes to your fellow man, and a lot of them wouldn’t require these prerequisites, MCAT, nor over a decade of education and nearly a quarter million dollars in debt.  But, it takes a special type of sadomasochist to enjoy what it takes to serve people as their physician.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from medicine, but just remember if you’re going to be a patient advocate, a physician, you better be okay with having deep ‘scientific literacy’.  It’s just your responsibility.

twitter: https://twitter.com/doctorORbust For more research literature about the MCAT see: