Paths of pre-med: Students talk life on the pre-health track

By Sidney Madden, Staff writer

Aashna Thakur has always wanted to be a doctor. She made this decision at a young age after seeing her grandfather, an OB-GYN, help many patients in India. To support her career goals, she volunteered in hospitals throughout middle school, high school and now college. When it came time to declare her major, molecular and cellular biology was a natural fit.

Today, Thakur, sophomore in LAS, is one of the 1,002 MCB undergraduate students enrolled in the major according to a fall 2017 student enrollment report conducted by the Division of Management Information.

MCB is also one of the most popular pre-health majors. The University does not put students on pre-health tracks or require students to formally declare when they decide to pursue a pre-health track.

However, The Career Center surveyed undergraduate students who applied to medical school during the 2016 cycle. Of the 409 applicants who responded, 220 were MCB majors, making up 54 percent of the respondents. This is consistent with the Association of American Medical Colleges’ data for the 2016 cycle, where 54 percent of all medical school applicants also majored in biology.

For students who want to become health professionals, MCB is a popular choice. Emily Patzke, sophomore in LAS, always knew she wanted to go into the health field, so she declared MCB. Patzke experienced firsthand the competitive nature of the popular pre-health major.

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“MCB is designed to break you — it’s designed to basically break the people who aren’t meant to do med school and who are meant to do med school,” Patzke said.

In time and with a lot of research, she realized the major was not in line with her career goals of becoming a physician assistant. To become a PA, Patzke needs thousands of clinical hours, which means an additional certification. In between undergraduate and professional school, she also needs to work to save up money, so she decided to become a dietitian first.

“When people ask me why I changed my major from MCB to possibly dietetics if I get in, it wasn’t because MCB was too hard — that’s a big concept with MCB majors when you change out — not at all, I did just fine in all of my coursework,” Patzke said. “It was because of the fact that I realized I needed a job. I realized I needed to change my path a little bit, but it’s still to the same end road.”

MCB is notorious for its rigorous curriculum, but it is not the only pre-health curriculum on campus. Kinesiology, community health and human development and family studies are among other specialized health science majors the University offers.

Students in any major can be on a pre-health track to apply to a professional health school as long as they take the prerequisite courses specified by that respective post-graduate program.

Jennifer Crum, senior assistant director for health professions and graduate school services at the Career Center, advises a variety of pre-med students who come from a diverse range of majors. She said it is less about what a student studies as an undergrad and more about the skills and experiences a student acquires.

“There is just a very general misperception that a major like biology or MCB equals medical school,” Crum said. “Your major doesn’t matter because getting into medical school is all about the whole package. But the whole package includes everything else about you — your background, your interests, your activities, maybe some leadership.”

Crum said many medical schools are looking for doctors from diverse backgrounds. As more medical schools adopt team-based learning, it is valuable to have physicians who evaluate problems from different perspectives. She said these perspectives are sharpest when studied with genuine interest.

Thakur believes passion can be a valuable driving force behind getting through pre-med and medical school.

“Bio is for sure not the only major for med school, so pick something you’re passionate about,” Thakur said. “I’m passionate about biology, that’s why I picked it.”

In the same vein, Patzke stressed the value of researching different career paths for uncertain students who want to be on a pre-health track.

“When you come into college, you’re not supposed to know what you’re going to do, you’re not supposed to know what path you’re going to take,” Patzke said. “If you plan everything out and really research, you’ll make it.”

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