Becoming a surgeon isn't for the faint of heart. Not only is it a challenging and demanding profession, you'll need to invest well over a decade of your life -- and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition -- just to get there. With that kind of pressure to get it right, a lot of aspiring medical students spend way too many hours obsessing over their choice of premedical major and minor. Your choices can be important, but probably not in the way you expect.
The Premedical Degree
Every medical or osteopathic college has academic prerequisites for admission. They vary among schools, but overall, they're pretty similar. You need to take some humanities courses, either calculus or statistics, and several basic and advanced science courses. These can be incorporated into any degree program, either in the arts or sciences. Science majors are the traditional choice, since your med school prerequisites can do double duty and help you fulfil the requirements for your major. However, there's no reason you can't choose an arts major, if that's where your interests lie, and make up your prerequisites through electives or a minor.
Picking a Major
A few schools offer a formal pre-medical major, but that's the exception rather than the rule. More often, aspiring physicians or surgeons choose to major in biology, chemistry, or physics. These are all worthy choices, but not your only options. Much of medicine is driven by mathematics, and math majors tend to do well on the Medical College Admissions Test. In fact, math majors and humanities majors have higher MCAT scores than students with biology or health sciences majors. It's important to remember that as a surgeon you're treating a person, not a condition. A major that interests you and leaves you well-rounded intellectually will better enable you to connect with people. It will do more for you than one that "looks good" on your application.
Picking a Minor
Not all schools offer minors, but a minor or concentration in a second area of study can help you build useful intellectual resources. If you've opted for a traditional science major, a minor in philosophy or literature can help you learn how to think critically and process large volumes of information. Surgery is a business, so a minor in business, management or administration can be a big career advantage. Minoring in a second language, especially Spanish, can help you communicate with patients who aren't at home in English. If you've chosen an arts major, a science or research-oriented minor can help you earn the science credits you need.
It's important to remember that the admissions committee at your school of choice won't pay much attention to your major. At most, a challenging major, such as mathematics, can earn you some respect for a high GPA or buy you some slack for mid-range marks. Committees are more interested in your ability to maintain acceptable marks in the teeth of a heavy workload. More importantly, they're interested in the person you are, and your likelihood of succeeding in medicine. If you've volunteered or found work in a health-care setting, found opportunities to shadow surgeons or simply made time for community work, those efforts will all count in your favor.
- St. John's University: Guide to Planning Your Pre-Med Curriculum
- UC Davis School of Medicine: Becoming a Doctor
- CollegeBoard.org: Major -- Premedicine
- Association of American Medical Colleges: MCAT and GPAs for Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools by Primary Undergraduate Major, 2012
- The Princeton Review: Beyond the Numbers -- Making Your Medical School Application Stand Out
- Indiana University Bloomington: Pre-Medical Study
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