Going to medical school opens up a wide range of career opportunities that lead towards some of the most stable job choices available. However, medical schools are notorious for being extremely selective and highly competitive for accepting students into their programs. Before applying to medical school, it is important to complete all of the prerequisites and receive a bachelor’s degree that will be excellent preparation for the rigorous coursework in medical school. The following are some of the most popular bachelor’s degree majors that can help students achieve their dreams of becoming a medical doctor.
Biology or Microbiology
As the primary traditional undergraduate preparation for students pursuing careers in health-related sciences, biology is the scientific study of living things at the cellular, organism, and systems levels. A major in biology provides students with a broad foundation in various biological sciences with coursework in microbiology, cellular biology, genetics, immunology, anatomy and physiology, ecology, and physical sciences. In addition to educating students on the theoretical concepts of the human body, the major helps students foster laboratory and research skills that are essential in medicine. Most degree programs in biology also offer internships that count toward course credits for experience that will garner attention from medical school admissions officers.
One of the hardest challenges to succeeding in medical school is the accelerated pace of the material. American schools do not offer any bachelor degree in medicine programs; instead, medical education is delivered at the graduate level. Classes may move two to three times faster than undergraduate classes, making it hard for students to master the content. With a bachelor’s degree in biology, medical students will already have a basic understanding of the field. This will allow students to fully benefit from the advanced information presented in medical school classes.
Biology is also one of the best degrees for doing well on the MCAT, or the Medical College Admission Test. Approximately 75 percent of the MCAT covers biological topics, so biology majors have a head start when it comes to studying for the MCAT.
Music, Voice, or Performance
Oddly enough, music-related majors are some of the degrees with highest acceptance rates into medical school. This is likely because medical school requires extensive prerequisite courses in the natural sciences, so music majors must be very dedicated to take numerous courses outside of their major’s requirements. Additionally, the long hours in pursuit of perfection required by high-level musical study are also required for medical students and practicing physicians, so a degree in this field signals to admission committees that students are willing to dedicate themselves to their fields. Students with no background in performance arts will be unable to waltz into a music or voice major in college, but for students with a lifelong devotion to performing, it’s possible to pursue both music and medical school.
Chemistry or Biochemistry
A major in chemistry or biochemistry is very suitable for students who wish to prepare for professions related to the health care industry. With the laboratory emphasis of the chemistry major program, it is an excellent option for those interested in a career in the medical field. Students with a degree in chemistry demonstrate that they can work well with their hands, think critically, and solve problems effectively. All of these characteristics are well-respected by medical schools and essential for careers in medicine. Since chemistry is among the hardest majors though, it is suggested that only students with a passion and fascination for the subject choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Like Biology, Chemistry is an important component of the MCAT. Up to 50 percent of the questions on the MCAT cover chemistry or biochemistry. By majoring in Chemistry, students get hands-on laboratory experiences to enhance their knowledge; the impact of this style of learning cannot be replicated by simply reading a textbook.
Second to biology majors, psychology majors constitute the second largest student population within medical schools in the United States. Psychology is particularly an excellent choice for students who are interested in pursuing medical professions in neurology, psychiatry, or behavioral sciences. Although the psychology curriculum delivers students a valuable understanding of the human mind, behavior, brain anatomy, and body mechanisms, it is recommended that psychology majors still take elective coursework in the health sciences.
Psychology also provides students with a thorough understanding of research procedures. By studying the development of ethics in the field of psychology, students will gain a deep appreciation of modern guidelines for performing research. Students will also learn valuable skills in study design and participant recruitment.
In addition, psychology helps medical doctors in all fields provide better education to patients. Oftentimes, patients use the internet or advice from friends to make medical decisions, leading to resistance when discussing medical concerns with doctors. A strong understanding of human psychology can help physicians convince patients to follow evidence-based treatment protocols. Numerous research studies have found that patients are more likely to take prescribed medication, accept recommendations for lifestyle change and attend regular check-ups when patients feel respected by their physician. Learning psychology isn’t just a good way to gain admittance to medical school; it’s also a great way to be a fantastic doctor.
Today’s top doctors aren’t just healers; they’re also inventors and researchers. Cardiologists create new devices for augmenting the human heart, orthopedic surgeons create new surgical techniques and cutting-edge artificial body parts and pulmonologists create new types of inhalers and breathing machines. An undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering can give future doctors the skills to create the next generation of medical devices.
While biomedical engineering is a challenging field, it overlaps significantly with the pre-requisite courses for admission to medical school. Students will take courses in Biology, Chemistry, Statistics and Organic Chemistry. By choosing a science-based major, students will enjoy a rich community of dedicated learners, study groups, tutoring programs and other supportive services. Medical school admission committees understand that biomedical engineering is a challenging major and weigh students’ GPAs accordingly. For example, a 3.5 on a scale of 4.0 GPA in biomedical engineering is more impressive to an admissions committee than a 3.7 in English or Psychology.
Nursing and Allied Health Fields
Opinions differ on whether students gain an advantage in medical school admissions by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in an allied health field like radiology technology or physical therapy. On the one hand, students who pursue these courses of study will gain an in-depth knowledge of human physiology and clinical practice, and may even choose to work in their first profession for several years before transitioning towards medical school. For American students, this type of degree is the closest available option to earning a bachelor degree in medicine before committing to advanced medical training. These students can bring an incredible level of experience; for example, a respiratory therapist who becomes a pulmonologist (a physician who focuses on the respiratory system), will excel at working with other respiratory specialists and have a deep understanding of the techniques that respiratory therapist colleagues can bring to patient care.
On the other hand, medicine is a unique field, and some doctors feel that students with previous training in nursing or occupational therapy struggle to adjust to the medical perspective towards patient care. Additionally, undergraduate health coursework often requires in-depth clinical experiences, which can lead students with limited time to focus on the advanced scientific coursework required for medical school admission. Even the best students in the world will struggle to balance 40-hour weeks of clinical work with Organic Chemistry and Biostatistics coursework.
For non-traditional students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy, audiology, nursing or other health professions, it’s possible to present a compelling argument for admission to medical school. Schools of osteopathic medicine, which award the D.O., or doctor of osteopathy degree, are especially fond of students with previous healthcare experience, and are often willing to overlook a less-than-perfect GPA or MCAT score in favor of allied health professionals who want to become physicians.
Today’s medical professionals don’t just focus on individual patients. Instead, physicians often work in public health roles, where they concern themselves with health at a population level. Common public health roles for physicians include medical director of a non-profit clinic, state surgeon general and administrative positions in community hospitals or global health organizations.
An undergraduate degree in public health also help students repay their student debt more quickly. Federal programs offer loan repayment for physicians who volunteer to work in underserved communities, including rural and Native American regions. In these areas, medical professionals are rare, meaning each provider must be able to serve patients with many different needs. Knowing how to direct scarce resources to achieve the best possible outcomes is a key lesson of public health.
Even for physicians who don’t plan on a public health career, it’s important to understand the principles of public health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients are asking their doctors about the safety of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of social distancing and how to interpret data from local and federal government sources. In order to remain a trusted source of medical information and guide patients towards the best health practices, physicians must understand public health guidelines. Unfortunately, most medical schools simply don’t have space in the curriculum to offer public health coursework to medical students, so it’s important for future doctors to study this topic as undergraduates.
Languages or Linguistics
Speaking a second language is a great way to make a medical school application stand out. Fluency in languages other than English allows doctors to speak directly with patients, without the need to call an interpreter or struggle to communicate. This promotes a stronger relationship between doctors and patients and helps avoid cultural misunderstandings. While there is no language requirement for admission to medical school, students are advised to consider the demographics of regions where they plan to practice medicine and learn the basics of the most common languages of that area. For example, students who plan to practice medicine in Miami or Southern California would do well to learn Spanish, while students who want to work in Minneapolis should study Somali.
Additionally, excelling in medical school requires memorizing many Latin names for parts of the body. Previous experience with learning foreign language vocabulary will help students more quickly remember anatomical terms. Studying Latin-based languages like Spanish or French also provides a boost to recognizing prefixes and suffixes in Latin.
Best Minors for Medical School Admission
Applicants do not need a minor to be accepted to medical school, but some courses of study can offer an advantage to future doctors. For students who wish to pursue independent practice as a primary care physician, a minor in Business or Accounting will pay dividends and also show admission committees a long-term commitment to medicine. Most students will come close to a minor in Biology or Chemistry while completing pre-requisite courses, and it’s common for students to take one or two high-level science courses to obtain a minor.
Some students also use a minor to pursue academic interests that don’t closely align with medical school admission requirements. For example, students might take classes in English, Fine Arts or History. While these minors don’t offer direct benefits for medical school admission, they do show a commitment to educational advancement, which is a cornerstone of successful medical education. Additionally, some students use their minors to combine personal passion with medical topics, such as studying the history of medical thought or literary portrayals of medical treatment throughout different time periods of cultures.
While these are the most common undergraduate degrees to prepare students for the coursework involved in medical school, it is important to remember that medical school admission committees are not overly concerned with the major chosen for the Bachelor of Science degree. Medical schools are more interested in applicants with a strong grade point average, solid MCAT score, extracurricular activities, and prior related internship or work experience. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, students who are accepted into medical school have an average GPA of 3.44 in science majors or 3.66 in non-science majors and a MCAT score of 28.3. Therefore, it is highly recommended that prospective medical school students focus on choosing a degree program that allows them to excel and piques their individual interests.
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