Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

medschool-major-operatingroom

What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Advertisements

Decisions, Decisions…Choosing a Major

          The Spring semester is ready to start and for many of you it is probably time to start thinking about choosing a major, or if you already have a major, deciding if your major is best for you. Just to be clear a major involves the concentrated study of a specialty area. These specialty areas are referred to as “disciplines”. Psychology is a discipline. Similarly, disciplines include English, Hispanic Studies, Economics, Mechanical Engineering…I think you get the picture! It is possible to have two majors–a “double-major” for those who have two primary interests.

student&computer-15812_1920          It would be nice if I could simply tell you what to major in, but that decision has to be yours (no matter how much your parents think it should be their decision!). For some of you choosing a major will be relatively easy. Let’s say you want to be an accountant, you will major in Accounting. In this example, your major allows you to enter a profession upon graduating. This example is what we call a “vocational major” and it involves an applied career. Other vocational majors include Nursing, Education, Architecture, Engineering, and Journalism.

          There may be some of you who are also clear on your professional career goals in other fields. As examples, you may be interested in Medicine (not just being a doctor, but a physician’s assistant or physical therapist), Dentistry, or Law. You should understand that there is not a major (e.g., “medical doctor” major) for any of the careers just listed. If you have one of these career goals you will typically choose a major in a discipline directly related to Medicine (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), Dentistry (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), or Law (e.g., Political Science). After graduating with your undergraduate degree, you will then apply to a specific “professional school” to get a graduate degree. For example, if you want to be a doctor you will hopefully get into a medical school and graduate with a graduate degree—an M.D. (Medical Doctor). All of these fields have changed quite a bit in recent years and you do not necessarily have to major in a directly related field. In fact, you can major in anything as long as the courses you take meet the requirements of the medical school, dental school, or law school you would like to attend. As an example, I can tell you that there are an ever-increasing number of Psychology majors who apply to medical school and law school.

          Unlike the examples of specific careers above, it is important to keep in mind that most majors prepare you for a range of job opportunities and professions. For example, if you decide to major in History the job opportunities include: advertising executive, analyst, archivist, broadcaster, campaign worker, consultant, congressional aide, editor, foreign service officer, foundation staffer, information specialist, intelligence agent, journalist, legal assistant, lobbyist, personnel manager, public relations staffer, researcher, and teacher. For many students, having a major with multiple career options is a real advantage.

          If you really do not know what to major in, try to keep calm about it. You will start college as “Undeclared” or “Undecided”, but you will be fine for two reasons. First, at most four-year colleges and universities, you are not required to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. Second, it is important that you take the time and effort necessary to make an informed choice. This way, in the end you will be rewarded with a major that will help guide you to a successful career. Exploring different majors will require some research, including reading about different majors, talking to others students and faculty and even taking a course in various majors. Other ways to help you decide about majoring is searching the Internet, reading about different majors, talking to your academic advisor, talking to your parents, going to the Career Center on campus, attending meetings of student organizations and clubs, and reading campus bulletins. One thing I will add about taking classes in different disciplines is that while all students seem to know what certain majors are about (e.g., Biology and Psychology), until you take an Anthropology or a Geology course you may not really understand what career possibilities there are in these lesser known majors. As a student said to me, “When I came to college I didn’t have my major chosen and I would  advise    people to explore. Say you do know what your major is, still explore different classes. That’s what your first two years are for. Then if you don’t like your major you’ve already found out. You don’t want to find out your senior year.” A faculty colleague also said to me: “Shop around! Take a broad assortment of classes and see what is the best fit. Don’t be afraid to try out a class that you think you might hate. Make sure that you pick a major that will help you think about the world in a new way.”

          There is one final point to make about majors: Changing your major is not the end of the world. On the one hand, it is OK to change your major because it is critical that you decide on a major that is best for you. In fact, some students will change majors several times before deciding on a good fit. On the other hand, it is important to understand that when you change majors you always risk delaying your graduation date, hopefully by just a little but possibly by a lot. This may occur because certain courses you need for one major do not fulfill requirements for another major. In addition, your new major may require additional courses to be taken. Of course, you should check out all requirements for a major you like and discuss the implications of switching majors with your academic advisor.