Major in History, Go to Med School

In the past year, I’ve noticed an intriguing micro-trend among History majors at Bethel: in the space of a year, three of them expressed an interest in pairing a History major with preparation for med school. (And one of my teaching assistants has added History to his Biokinetics major in our Applied Health Science department.)

History and health care might seem like an odd combination, but consider some findings from the career site Zippia. (H/T Business Insider) Using a combination of data from the American Association of Medical Colleges and a set of 7.5 million doctors’ resumes, Zippia discovered that:

  • Biology is still the most popular major for future physicians, with biochemistry/molecular biology #2. But only 39% of the Biology students who apply to med school are accepted.
  • That’s far below Physical Sciences (44%), but the #1 major group was… the Humanities (46%). That’s in part because Humanities majors had the highest average score on the MCAT (504.4, vs. 501.6 for Biological Sciences).
  • The AAMC data set didn’t separate out specific majors, but Zippia’s resume analysis found that English (#7) and History (#10) are the most popular humanities majors with doctors.
"Medical School" _ Harvard
From Harvard Medical School – Creative Commons (Tim Sackton)

Surprised? Zippia writer David Luther suggests that you “consider for a moment the work ethic that an English [or History] major must possess to major in something other than a pre-requisite heavy field, and then to ace the MCAT. Med schools do consider your narrative, medical work experience, and leadership — all things equal, a candidate who demonstrates passion for med school admissions is more likely to maintain sanity through the rigors of medical college.” And perhaps we see yet again the wisdom of majoring in something you love: “First, you’re most likely to maintain a high GPA in it, and secondly the odds are against you getting in, so having a backup career path is probably a good decision.”

(I should add: my dad is a pediatrician who majored in chemistry and math.)

No doubt, a History/Pre-Med track takes careful planning, since students need to complete a list of prerequisites on top of their major and general education experiences. But many of the “soft skills” so important to the practice of medicine — critical thinking, research, finding patterns, and problem solving, but also empathy and interpersonal communication — are strengths of history and other humanities disciplines.

It’s true of other pre-professional healthcare programs. In a 2015 interview on our department blog, Heidi (Hultstrand) Pound explained how her History major helped prepare her for dental school:

Having a non-science major definitely put me in the minority when applying to dental school. I feel that it did likely set me apart during the application and intervew process and worked to my advantage. DAT (the admission test required by dental schools, similar to the MCAT in medicine) scores and grades are the first and non-negotiable factors of admittance. However, when there is an abundance of applicants with great grades and DAT scores, other factors, including one’s major, start to differentiate applicants from one another.

Several of my classmates in dental school had taken more specialized science classes and more additional, recommended science electives during their undergraduate education than I had. This was especially true of the science majors. However, I never felt that I was at a disadvantage. The prerequisite classes are designed to provide a sufficient foundation for the entire curriculum. I felt that my knowledge in history made me a well-rounded person with a broad understanding of the world around me.

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