Bachelor's in pre-med

I was reminiscing with a friend about the 'good old days' when we were both chemistry students. He's a chemistry professor now, and complains endlessly about pre-meds. He teaches one of those required pre-med courses.

Pre-meds (and medical students for that matter) are pretty high maintenance. 'Is that going to be on the test?' should be the pre-med motto. There's no learning for learning's sake: everything is goal directed. I need to ace biochem so I can rock the MCAT so I can get into Harvard Med so I can get a residency spot in derm so I can do cosmetic derm and rake in a seven figure salary. At no time is there any enjoyment of the process. It is facts and test material and hoops to jump through.

The pièce de résistance is that some schools offer a degree in pre-med. This is, in my opinion, ridiculous. When I was in college, I took all the tough science courses. I took all the sections for real science majors. This is because I wanted my degree to mean something, and feel like I'd accomplished something. I didn't want to spend four years earning a degree in 'pre' anything.

Learning about electron affinity, valence shells, and lattice structures may be entirely useless to me now, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't worth learning. Reading the Iliad was useless too, but I wouldn't give it up either.

EDIT 1/4/11
When I mention a degree in pre-med, I am referring specifically to a Bachelors in Pre-Medical Studies, which is an actual degree offered by some smaller colleges, but not at most universities.
I know that med school has a lot of requirements. I took them too. But part of life is enjoying the process. I enjoyed organic chem. It was fascinating. I took a geology class and loved it. I got a letter of recommendation from my Communications prof for one course that I got a B in. I took 3 or 4 classes that had nothing to do with my 'hard science' major because I wanted to learn. The point of education is to learn, not to earn a grade.
One of the hardest things to explain to pre-meds is that grades and MCATs aren't nearly as important as being a decent and honorable person. And if you can figure out how to convey that information truthfully to an interview committee, then there isn't a med school in the country that wouldn't accept you.


Anonymous said...

Pre-meds *are* high maintenance. I used to teach chemistry to them too, and while the "Will these be on the test?" was annoying, it didn't beat the arguing for every single half point after receiving the test results. I'm so glad I'm doing medicine now.

Anonymous said...

I agree, sometimes students need to just focus on enjoying learning the material, and the grades will come on their own.

Anon said...

Strange, "Is that going to be on the test?" seems to be a good IB (International Baccalaureate) student motto as well. Working for the A, and not working for the learning...

Anonymous said...

Pre-med classmates are annoying. In class, I used to want to stab them in the eye.

They are also kind of looked down on by science majors. Why is that?

elise said...

I was (still am?) pre-med, I've asked that question occasionally. Although, there were plenty of other students who asked it for me if I wasn't quick enough though. But I think for me it was an annoyance with the professor who would assign an unreasonable about of material for a particular subject, and trust me I studied hard and read everything that was assigned. Some things are simply more important than others and being focused in reviewing what you know is itself an important skill. I just wanted to be able to get some peace of mind before a big test. So even though my grades typically were all A's, I would unneccessarily stress myself because in addition to learning for learning sake, I wanted to be recognized for having accomplished a goal. My mother always encouraged learning over grades but it is still important to show that you have learned something. If it stays inside your head and no one knows its there, it will never do you or anyone else any good.

incidental findings said...

Elise - my point is that if it stays inside your head and no one knows it's there, then that's all the good it ever had to do.

To this day, I still remember the first line of Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Iliad: 'Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus'. I still remember the Grinard reaction, the effect of a B field on an electron, the dilemma of Schrodinger's cat. I remember all kinds of things that stay inside my head and no one knows they're there, and I still treasure them.

Anonymous said...

The reason why students are so grade orientated is because that is what the program they are in forces them to do.

Don't do well on that test? GPA goes down, so does your chance to get into a good med school. Fumble on the MCAT? Welcome to the M-DOG house. (punny?).

Either change the system or stop blaming the students for trying to play the med school game.

David said...

I'm like that, I ask a ton of questions. My crazy bio teacher told em I need to relax. That may be true but there's a reason I'm on of maybe 2 people who got an A out of the 20 people who *finished* the course....we started with 50. I would love to just be able to learn for learning sake, but it's just not possible with the pressure of being a pre-med in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I always thought I might love medicine itself. But the "game" is exactly why I won't go into it. A passionate emotionally mature student is not always an A student. Our system really takes a lot of the intrinsic pleasure of that field and make its into a rife cut throat competition. Where is the pleasure in that?

I wish it focused more on the type of person and their passion for the field. Yes it requires a high degree of intellectual aptitude, but a great MCAT score does not neccesarily make a great doctor. < or a happy one!

Anonymous said...


A premed degree, in my experience, is essentially a biology major with chemistry minor. Is that not considered hard science?

Premed students are encouraged to take heavy course loads, do research, volunteer outside of school, obtain experience in a health care setting and earn very high GPAs while they're at it.

OCD is practically a must.

incidental findings said...

I have discovered that most all accredited universities do not offer a specific degree in pre-med studies, as it is not an actual field of study.

There are plenty of smaller colleges that do offer such a degree, sadly.

From the curricula of pre-med degrees I can find online, they could not be described as a bio major and chem minor.

Linda said...

I really enjoy the style of your blog - all meaningful snapshots.

The pre-med degree sounds silly, but it's only a blunt summary of many students' undergraduate experience - many med schools have such rigid requirements that you basically have to build your degree around them.

I'm an undergraduate who studies to learn, but even for people who study to ace tests, quite a lot of them still enjoy and retain what they are learning, even if it is to a different end. You can't really get an A+ in organic chemistry without appreciating its concepts, elegance, and puzzles. And although it's easy to point to the archetypical injustice of the "A+ nerd who doesn't enjoy what he learns or anything else in life but gets into med school", it seems to me that the ones who actually excel in school are the ones that do see their education as enjoyable and meaningful in and of itself.

incidental findings said...

I approved a comment, instantly regretted it, and have subsequently deleted it.

Please try to be polite and respectful to other commenters in comments.

PBJ_Time said...

I'm a chemist by training. Best learning experience I ever had. We looked down on the premeds in our class because they were by and large vocally dispassionate about the subject matter. What really ticks us off is when these guys would ask "is this one the test" after a prof enthusiastically engages the rest of the class about something great. Premeds: take it if you must, but STFU if you have a shit attitude.