Nontraditional Pre-Health Majors

by Jessica Dallas and Tiffany Nazar

With the motivation to pursue a career in the medical field comes the critical decision to choose between a traditional or non-traditional pre-medical major; traditional majors generally being science-based, like biology or chemistry, and non-traditional pre-medical majors being in humanities or another such field. Although a major may merely seem like a word or two on one’s degree, it ultimately has the potential to limit or expand which classes an undergraduate student is required to take while possibly playing a significant role in the application process to medical school.

“The application process to medical school is a very complex task filled with many unknowns,” said Dr. Kenneth Geller, MD, the director of pre-health advisement at USC. Indeed, each medical school is looking for the most eligible undergraduates who fulfill the school’s criteria and possess the traits deemed necessary to ultimately fulfill each school’s individual mission.

However, students seeking a major that gives them the best chance of being accepted into medical school might want to think twice about selecting a science-based major. In fact, according to the American Medical Student Association, humanities majors have a higher acceptance rate into medical school than science majors. Which major has the highest chance of getting a student into medical school? Philosophy. According to the AMSA’s 1998 study on medical school acceptance rates, 50 percent of philosophy majors were accepted into medical school. Students majoring in biology, the science-based major with the lowest rate, had a 35 percent acceptance rate, while biochemistry majors, the science-based major with the highest rate, were accepted at a 43 percent rate.

“The greatest advantage of the non-traditional applicant is that they are usually more mature because of their previous life experiences; perhaps somewhat more focused in that they have given a lot of very serious thought to their decision to change direction in their lives and enter the long, difficult training process to becoming health care providers,” said Dr. Geller.

In analyzing the disadvantages of applying with a non-traditional major, Dr. Geller said, “some disadvantages may be the perception of the particular schools of medicine that feel that these students are somewhat not qualified or cannot handle the heavy, scientific course work in medical, dental or other professional school.”

Like the many other decisions that any student must face throughout his or her lifetime, choosing between a traditional and non-traditional pre-health major has both advantages and disadvantages.

However, one non-science major may have different advantages and disadvantages compared to another when applying to medical school. Selecting the right one depends upon an individual student’s passions, abilities, and career goals.

The Theater Major

A theater major requires students to critically analyze the motives and sympathies of the writers, characters, and other actors in a production. Theater students also learn to organize and direct myriad elements within a production to create a flawless product. Furthermore, theater majors are taught to tightly control their voice and movement in order to fully embody a character. Each of these skills requires immense patience to endure immense amounts of time honing these skills and a great deal of self-monitoring, both of which are integral to becoming successful in the medical field.

“I think that theater gives me diversity in the application process,” Max Glickman, a fourth year pre-med student and theater major, said. “But I also think that theater helps pull the medical studies into a somatic process to feel it through your entire body, and not just as an analytical process.”

However, Glickman recognized the advantages and disadvantages of his major as well.

“I don’t necessarily get to dive in as deeply as my friends and peers in either of my areas of study,” Glickman said. “But the advantage is, I think, that I am a really well rounded person. This is what I wanted to do and if someone appreciates that, then it’ll get me there.”

The Gender Studies Major

A gender studies major allows to students to observe gender-related issues in society from multiple angles, often requiring a great deal of analysis and critical thinking on the students’ part. Furthermore, gender studies majors are asked to contemplate how abstract ideas, theories, and generalizations affect societies and communities in practical ways. These aspects of gender studies coursework allow students to develop skills that a science-based major may not have allowed them to hone as effectively.

“Personally, I would say that my coursework is ‘easier’,” Monica Ramsey, a second year pre-medical student majoring in gender studies, said. “Technically, I have fewer exams and less dry studying. That being said, I think my humanities classes make up the difference in their intellectual rigor; that is, they require me to think deeply and critically about things, instead of just having me memorize and regurgitate a slew of information.”

In terms of applying to medical school, Ramsey is confident that her major will give her an advantage over students with science-based majors.

“I believe that I am more competitive because I offer a unique outlook and perspective on the importance of medicine in a gendered context,” Ramsey said

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