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OPINIONS

Ravalations: Fuzzy, premed and proud

“I’m premed but I’m majoring in communication.”

Cue awkward silence. The small smile on my face stays put as I count to 10 in my head, waiting for the inevitable, when one of the people I’m talking to finally decides to break the silence.

“That’s… interesting. Why did you decide to do that?”

This is the reaction that I’ve gotten used to ever since I decided to be a communication major during winter break of this school year. The idea that one might be able to enjoy and pursue both science and the humanities seems unfathomable to many of the people I talk to, both back at home and here on campus. Some of my family members don’t understand why I wouldn’t just want to focus on being a biology or chemistry major, since the major requirements for those departments line up neatly with a lot of the premed requisites. Meanwhile, quite a few of my friends at Stanford remain stumped by my decision. Those who are majoring strictly in the humanities don’t understand how I could possibly want to sit through a math class or do a biology p-set, and those who are premed stare at me like I’m carrying a disease when I tell them that I really enjoy writing. Neither side understands how I could not only be a fan but also be a part of how the other half lives.

Despite the great techie-fuzzy divide, however, I personally don’t see what the big deal is with being a premed humanities major. To me, the concept is simple: thanks to some of my extracurricular pursuits in high school and college, I have realized that I want to spend my life helping others by providing healthcare. That said, I am aware of the fact that pursuing medicine is no small feat. It requires the completion of many prerequisite classes, followed by four years at med school, and then board exams, residencies and fellowships. It’s a long process, and the way I see it, my undergraduate career is really my only chance to delve into and hone my other academic interests so that they can aid me in the future, hence the communication degree.

I don’t see my interests as conflicting. I’ve been slowly working through the list of premed requisites since I arrived here at Stanford, and I still plan on taking the MCAT and applying to med school alongside my strictly scientific classmates. The communication classes that I’ve been taking have merely supplemented those requisites. I have learned how to set and adhere to strict deadlines, how to outline something properly, how to network, how to discern important information from fluff and how to ask the proper questions when trying to elicit information. All skills that I see as helping me out when dealing with patients.

To top it all off, medical schools seem to be accepting the fact that the humanities and social sciences are becoming more relevant to the doctors of tomorrow. It was recently announced that the MCAT will be different starting in 2015. The test, which contains the traditional biology, physics and dreaded organic chemistry sections, is being adapted to include a new social and behavioral science section (think psychology) as well as a new critical analysis section that will ask students to analyze passages from a wide range of social science and humanities disciplines. The reason for the changes? Because “it tests the analysis and reasoning skills you need for medical school and may prompt you to read broadly as you prepare,” according to the preview guide for the 2015 MCAT.

Recent studies have also shown no difference between the acceptance rates of science and non-science majors and no difference between the performances of these varied individuals at medical school.

I often hear some of my fellow premeds talking about philosophy or psychology or other nontraditional paths, but at the end of the day, most of them remain traditional graduates, leaving with degrees in departments that they love but never having fully explored their other interests. To those of you who are still trying to decide what to major in, just consider this: the numbers all say the same thing–there’s no harm in majoring in what you want to major in, even if you plan on being premed.

So, for now, I’m going to keep writing and I’m going to keep going to lab. Sure, it may be the road less traveled, but there’s no indication that it isn’t going to take me where I want to go in the end. And if college has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no harm in a little bit of exploration along the way.

Want to help Ravali study for the MCAT? Please send any tips to ravreddy@stanford.edu.

  • Kevin Baumgartner

    As a former pre-med (now medical student), I say you’re making an excellent choice. Although I completed a biology major (which I’d been waiting to do since seventh grade), I also pursued other interests in sociology, economics, philosophy, policy, and creative writing while at Stanford. I can say with great confidence that my studies outside of the natural sciences have been immensely helpful in medical school, especially in fields like health policy and economics, the patient-doctor relationship, medical ethics, and the politics of health care reform. A good background in the social sciences and humanities will put you in a good position to be an informed leader on these and other issues later in your career. I wish that more pre-meds could see the career value (as well as the personal value) of those disciplines!

    As for MCAT study tips: you can get quite a lot of free practice tests by signing up for newsletters from test-prep services and other sites. A bit of Googling will save you hundreds of dollars! Also, burning a few of your flashcards on a BBQ grill after the test is quite therapeutic. 

  • Bittergradstudent

    I’m sure that you’re going to be a great doctor.