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Preparing for a Career in Medicine

If you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine, you need to build a strong foundation in the sciences and intellectual skills in a number of other areas as an undergraduate student. You should plan your college education with the goal of building a diverse set of skills, and select a major that challenges and interests you.

Indiana University does not offer a "premed" major. Medical school admissions officials usually say that they do not have a preference for one particular major over another, and do not give preference to students who have completed a "premed" major.  In fact, most of them say they do not even prefer science majors over nonscience majors.  Rather, their priority is in admitting students from all majors who have developed a strong foundation in the sciences, as well as other intellectual abilities and skills.

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Therefore, premed students are quite free in deciding on a major, but they do have to complete a rigorous set of coursework in the natural sciences, including courses in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. Before applying, medical schools expect that applicants develop certain competencies through undergraduate coursework, especially in the sciences, to provide the foundation for studying medicine.  (For information on coursework to help you build these competencies and meet admission requirements please consult the Premedical Coursework and Competencies page). In addition, premed students need to develop strong reasoning, analytical, and communication skills.

As a premed student, you can major in a non-science field, like sociology or history, or a science field, if that's what really appeals to you.  Premed students should select a major that interests them, allows them to build strong intellectual skills, and one that could provide opportunities for graduate work or employment if they choose not to pursue a career in medicine.

Premed students can select any major to combine with premed coursework.  What matters to medical schools is that you have excelled in completing your premedical coursework and have built good analytical and communication skills. Medicine is a field firmly grounded in the sciences, but also centered on the human condition and our vulnerability to illness. Good preparation for the field of medicine can come out of a liberal arts education that gives students a strong foundation in the sciences, and also helps them build a broader understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of the world around them.

A good physician must be adept at using language. Just stop and imagine the thousands of interactions that take place every day between doctors and patients, in which patients describe their symptoms and doctors must listen skillfully, ask the right questions, and then make sure they communicate about the proper course of treatment to their patients and other healthcare providers. The process of diagnosis and treatment is highly dependent on language use. If you want to become a good physician one day you will need to pursue an education that will help you build strong communication skills. Advanced coursework in the humanities and social sciences can deepen your abilities to communicate with patients in a variety of ways.

The MCAT, or Medical College Admissions Test, not only tests competencies in the natural sciences, but competencies in verbal and critical reasoning, because medical schools recognize that to be a successful physician you need good communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills in addition to a strong science background. Advanced coursework in the humanities and social sciences will help you prepare for the critical reasoning component of the MCAT exam.  In addition, coursework in behavioral and social science disciplines like sociology and psychology will help you prepare for the new version of the MCAT to be introduced in spring 2015.

Students majoring in the sciences should include in their course plans some advanced-level coursework in the humanities and the social sciences, in order to stretch their verbal reasoning and analytical skills.

By the same token, you can be a very appealing candidate for admission to medical school if you majored in a humanities or social science field and mastered the premedical science coursework, but students pursuing non-science majors may want to consider completing a few additional upper-level biology courses to make sure they are fully prepared for the demanding curriculum of medical school.

You should pay attention to one very important fact. There are approximately twice as many applicants who apply to medical schools as seats available. In fact, over the past few years, the number of applicants to medical schools has steadily increased, resulting in greater competition for admission.

Most students find premedical science coursework much more challenging than they anticipated, and you should not view this coursework as simply part of a checklist of tasks to get out of the way before med school.  You should view your premedical coursework as a means to build critical competencies that will be vitally important for success on the MCAT and in medical school.  You will need to prepare systematically and plan carefully to gain admission to medical school.

Gaining admission to medical school requires the development of a sharp scientific mind, good interpersonal sensibilities, and extraordinary dedication. Many students start college with an initial attraction to the idea of becoming a doctor, but once in college taking demanding science coursework some find that it may not be the best fit for them. There are many degree programs leading to fulfilling careers in the health professions that have less competitive admission requirements and require less rigorous coursework than medical school. Please take the opportunity to explore all areas of this website for information on the many possible careers you could pursue.

To learn more about premedical preparation, please read the document Preparing for Medical School: A Guide for Freshmen and Sophomores.

Please also consult the website of the Indiana University School of Medicine for information on their programs.

Advising appointments at the Health Professions and Prelaw Center are focused on helping students prepare for admission to professional school.  You should periodically meet with your assigned advisor (either a University Division advisor or an advisor in the academic department that offers your major) to plan your schedule and discuss how to best work admission prerequisites into your undergraduate degree plan.  Your assigned advisor has expertise on the curricular requirements for your degree and is the best person for you to consult on most questions regarding your class schedule to make sure you are making good academic progress.