When you think of a pre-med student, what’s the first major that pops into your head? Biology? Chemistry? Biochemistry? Microbiology? These do tend to be some of the most common ones, since a majority of medical school programs have the classes from majors as requirements for admission. But, in my opinion, these majors’ curriculums are lacking in courses that teach some of the most important information for people on the path to becoming a doctor: public health courses.
When I applied to UMass Amherst, I was a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major. I enjoyed the introductory STEM classes I was taking like biology, chemistry, and physics, but they weren’t fulfilling me in the way that I had hoped. I’m on the pre-med track, and one of the things I look forward to most about my future career is working directly with people and understanding how disease and medicine work in the human body. These classes did somewhat address this, but I still felt like my education was lacking.
I started looking into other STEM majors that UMass offered, in hopes of finding a curriculum that would be better suited to what I was looking for. After a lot of searching, I came across the course requirements for the public health sciences major. I remember lighting up looking at it, reading the course titles and then going to research them further. It was perfect; it included a rounded list of required courses, while also allotting credits for a focus area of the student’s choice to help tailor their degree to their intended career path.
So, I switched my major last spring and took my first public health course over the summer of 2020: Healthcare For All. I loved it immediately, but I remember asking myself why more classes to this effect aren’t required for pre-med students. Sure, some people with a medical degree will be primarily focused on research or other lab-based work. However, a vast majority of them will go on to become some type of physician, working directly with people. So, why aren’t we preparing our pre-med students with a more rounded set of knowledge about their future careers?
I believe that medical school requirements need to be expanded to include more public health courses. Yes, studying intensive science courses is important to building a foundation in medicine. A doctor needs to understand how the human body works and why it does so on a chemical level. However, there’s more to medicine than just understanding the functions of the human body. Doctors need to understand the healthcare system and how the industry of which they are a part of runs. Doctors need to understand how diseases spread, and how socioeconomic positions and demographics play into epidemiology so they can properly treat their patients. Doctors need to understand study designs on a human level ‒ outside the laboratory ‒ and how to interpret study data in order to advance their practices. Public health courses help teach important skills, like problem-solving and critical thinking to find optimal solutions to medical and other public health issues that I don’t feel I’ve gotten to practice in my intensive science courses.
Bottom line ‒ yes, science classes are important. Pre-med students need to take them. But, taking only these kinds of courses leaves a gap in one’s preparation for medical school that can be filled through the opportunity to apply health-related ideas with a public health major.