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Philosophy and Religion

Pre-Med and Pre-Professional Health

Pre-Med Advisor (Philosophy): Kelly Smith
Pre-Med Advisor (Pre-Professional Health Studies): Harolynn Williams

Why consider Philosophy for Pre-Med?

Philosophy is a very good choice as a pre-med or pre-professional health major for students who are interested in the topic and plan on a career in the health professions. 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.


Kelly Smith, chair of the Department of Philosophy at Clemson, is also an assistant professor of Medicine at USC School of Medicine, Greenville.

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.

Health Care Leadership: Kyle Jensen ('07)


Kyle has used his skills as a Philosophy major to move into a position in health care administration. After graduating from Clemson, Kyle worked for a health policy non-profit in Washington, DC, and was then admitted to the nursing school at Johns Hopkins University - considered by many to be the best in the country. Kyle sees a direct link between his work as a Philosophy major and the skills that have helped him succeed in his chosen profession. He observes "the critical thinking skills that I gained from studying philosophy have served as the foundation for my professional experiences. As a bedside nurse in an emergency department, critical thinking was key in synthesizing the information each patient was providing in combination with their physical signs and symptoms to determine what interventions were necessary to improve their health or in some cases, save their life." He adds that the same skills are central to the current nursing leadership role that he has advanced into: "I utilize critical thinking skills to take a "big picture", systems-level approach to both problem solving and improving outcomes." His favorite Philosophy courses included Metaphysics, Environmental Ethics, Moral Philosophy, and a seminar on Technobodies.

In 2018, Kyle was honored with a "40 under 40" award by the Virginia Nursing Association, naming him as one of 40 exceptional rising nursing leaders under age 40.

What do medical schools have to say about the best pre-med major?

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.

Department of Philosophy and Religion
Department of Philosophy and Religion | 126D Hardin Hall, Clemson, SC 29634