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Pre-Med and Pre-Professional Health

Pre-Med Advisor (Philosophy): Kelly Smith
Pre-Med Advisor (Pre-Professional Health Studies): Jessica Owens

Why consider Philosophy?

Philosophy is good choice as a pre-med or pre-professional health major, to be sure. In recent years Philosophy majors have had the highest and second highest rates of acceptance of any major to medical school, according to the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) book, and their rate is well above that of Biology majors! Moreover though the MCAT doesn't separate out data on scores by individual majors, Philosophy majors score at or near the top of other graduate school exams, and humanities majors statistically outperform biosciences majors on the MCAT exam, so there is good reason to think that philosophers are top performers on the MCAT. In addition, in 2015 the MCAT added a "Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills" section that philosophy is ideal preparation for.

If you find this relation between philosophy and medicine surprising, consider this: a successful Philosophy major is thoroughly trained in a variety of useful skills, including critical thinking, ethical reasoning, intellectual history and both oral and written communication. In short, they tend to be well-rounded, well-educated students. This is certainly part of the reason that Philosophy majors do so well in medical school.

Finally, to quote the most recent edition of the Medical School Admission Requirements, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), "For most physicians...the undergraduate years are the last available opportunity to pursue in depth a non-science subject of interest, and all who hope to practice medicine should bear this in mind when selecting an undergraduate major." Philosophy is recommended as just such a non-science subject.

Dr. Kelly Smith

Dr. Kelly Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Clemson and Assistant Professor of Medicine, USC School of Medicine, Greenville

Alumni Profile: Laura Haselden (Philosophy and Biology '14)

Laura Haselden

Laura Haselden (Philosophy and Biology '14) is currently attending the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. Laura was a busy and dynamic student at Clemson, participating on the rowing team in addition to working on her double major in philosophy and biology in preparation for medical school. Her coursework in philosophy was one of the highlights of her experience at Clemson. Laura reflects that she particularly enjoyed developing papers and finding where she wanted to take her argument, this often coming in an exciting moment of clarity. Among her favorite courses were Metaphysics, a seminar entitled Anarchism and the Limits of Morality, and an Evolution and Creationism course. She believes that her major was not only interesting in its own right but has also benefited her in medical school, noting that her philosophy training has given her a perspective and critical thinking ability that helps her recognize the implications of what people are doing as well as addressing whether or not they should be doing that. She is considering several specialties after medical school, including emergency medicine, and is interested in a the possibility of a fellowship in medical ethics as well.

Should pre-med students major in science?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), students "should select a major area of study that is of interest and will provide a foundation of knowledge necessary for the pursuit of several career choices." Med schools really don't care what your major is and there is no recommended pre-med major, despite what students often think. However, a major that genuinely interests you means you are more likely to make good grades, which medical schools do pay a lot of attention to.

Medical and dental schools require a year each of English, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Inorganic Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. However, this does not mean you must pick a scientific major. In fact, as the AAMC goes on to state: "It should be strongly emphasized that a science major is not a prerequisite for medical school, and students should not major in science simply because they believe this will increase their chances for acceptance...." What the AAMC recommends is a broad academic background that includes courses in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. If you can show that you can handle the hard sciences, but also know how to think and reflect about other things, this makes you a more interesting candidate. Moreover, a recent survey of health care organizations indicated that one thing they desire most in health care professionals is critical thinking skills, and philosophy is an ideal major for developing such skills.

Pre-Med / Pre-Professional Health Curriculum

A pre-med Philosophy major does require some careful planning. The scientific knowledge that is required in the practice of medicine is the focal point of the medical school curriculum, and much scientific coursework should be completed beforehand in both high school and college. Students interested in pursuing this possibility are strongly advised to discuss their planned coursework with both the Philosophy and Biology Pre-med advisors as early in their academic careers as possible. Here is a list of the courses Philosophy pre-meds should typically plan on taking:

1) Biology 1100 and 1110 or Biology 1030 and 1040
2) Chemistry 1010 and 1020 plus labs
3) English 1010 and 1020
4) Math requirement as determined in consultation with pre-med advisor
5) Physics 2070 and 2080 or Physics with calculus 1220 and 1221 plus labs
6) Chemistry 2230 and 2240 plus labs (Organic Chemistry)
7) Eleven courses to complete the Philosophy major (Biomedical Ethics, Science and Values, and Technologies of the Body are among the recommended courses)
8) General Education and College of Arts, Architecture and Humanities (School of Humanities) core requirements

Note that the advanced area requirement for the Philosophy major can be met by taking upper-level courses in Biology, Chemistry, or other Pre-Med related disciplines: this is one way that the major program fits well with a Pre-Med or Pre-Professional Health curriculum.