Entering college, the constant stream of repetitive questions followed me to every introduction. What’s your name? Where are you from? And the most thought provoking one: what are you planning to concentrate in? Every time I responded, I would say “Neurobiology, secondary in physics and I’m pre-med of course.” I expected my fellow pre-med students to also respond with something in the sciences, but more and more often, I received responses like “English”, “Economics”, or “Government.” All these students were hoping to pursue medical school, but weren’t going to concentrate in the sciences.
It felt so natural to assume that someone interested in medicine would concentrate in the sciences, but I quickly learned that there were so many students interested in concentrating in non-science fields, but were just as passionate about the medical field and health care as the next pre-med student. Furthermore, I attended a Health 101 panel at the Harvard OCS and remember talking to more upperclassmen who were concentrating in “History and Literature” and “Mathematics” and would be applying to medical school in the upcoming few weeks. In addition to not concentrating in the sciences, these upperclassmen were taking gap years to work at hedge funds in New York or travel abroad to learn new languages before diving into more years of schooling.
Flipping through Harvard’s 49 Concentrations guide, I began to question the “pre-medicine path.” What does it mean to be pre-medicine? What do medical schools look for? Do they prefer a certain concentration over another? I imagined that most pre-medicine students had a routine: concentration in the sciences, research in a prestigious laboratory, gap year working at a medical clinic of some sort, and studying for the MCATs during the summers. Coming into college, I quickly realized how welcoming the pre-medicine society was at Harvard and was especially surprised by how diverse the community was. There are a handful of humanities and social sciences concentrators, many students who wish to go into banking before medical school, a good number of students who want to take multiple gap years, and so many more combinations.
Recently, Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City reported that “Applicants — and, consequently, medical students — were too single-minded” (Rovner, 2015). The dean of the medical school has a quote on his wall that says, “Science is the foundation of an excellent medical education, but a well-rounded humanist is best suited to make the most of that education”(Rovner, 2015). Although medical schools want great scientists and students who have flawless grades, those students who show skill in the other fields, such as the humanities, make even better doctors. In a US News report, Chang reports, “According to their [The Association of American Medical Colleges] data, only 51 percent of students who enrolled in medical school in 2012 majored in biological sciences” (Chang, 2013). This recent trend in medical school acceptances is encouraging more students to break away from the traditional medical school “path” and concentrate in fields other than the sciences. Alison Garber, a freshman at Harvard College, says, “The quality I find most inspiring about doctors is not their technical know-how, but their incredible ability to connect to their patients. And that, for me, is exactly what humanities can provide for me: a way to broaden my understanding of how humans interact and think” (Garber, 2016).
So, don’t feel limited by the traditional medical school path. Embrace the pre-medicine society at Harvard and consider concentrations in the humanities and social sciences if that interests you! Who knows, it might even boost your chances of getting into medical school!