Different Prescriptions

Different Prescriptions

Philosophy? Dance? Economics? The path to medical school doesn't always start with science.

By Alexis Grant '03 | Photos by Johnny Hanson

James Albright '92
James Albright '92, a pedriatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon in Houston, was a government major at Colby. Photo by Johnny Hanson.
Although they attend medical schools all around the country, most Colby doctors-to-be gravitate toward New England schools. The more popular choices include medical schools at the University of Vermont, Dartmouth College, Boston University, Tufts University, the University of New England, and the University of Massachusetts.

Like most colleges and universities, Colby doesn’t offer a premed major. Students who consider themselves premed usually major in biology or chemistry and fulfill the basic requirements for medical school while working their way through the major. Most medical schools require a minimum of a year each of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Some also require a year of math, others a year of English. And Colby science majors also benefit from extensive undergraduate research opportunities that increasingly are leading graduates to admission to highly competitive M.D./Ph.D. programs, faculty members say.

Admissions officers at those schools don’t necessarily expect to see a college résumé full of science, said Parker, who also serves as chair of Colby’s Health Professions Preparation Committee, which helps students navigate the application process. Instead they look for signs that the student has seriously tested her or his interest in medicine and devoted time to the community, Parker said. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Worcester, entering classes are typically made up of half science majors and half non-science majors, said John Paraskos, associate dean of admissions. “We don’t see any huge difference in the grades, and some of our best graduates are people who just took the bare minimum of biology and chemistry in undergraduate school,” said Paraskos, whose son graduated from Colby in 1991. “When people ask me, ‘Should I be a [science] major?’ I tell them, ‘Absolutely—unless there’s something else that attracts your attention more.’”

A liberal arts college offers myriad opportunities, both academic and extracurricular —for humanities, social-science, interdisciplinary and science majors. Kevin Selby ’05, now a third-year student at Harvard Medical School, took the premed route, majoring in chemistry. Because he attended a liberal arts school, he said, he was able to delve into other interests, including a minor in music and rowing for the crew team.

Liberal arts students tend to have multiple interests, which medical school administrators expect. At Dartmouth Medical School, about a third of students are non-science majors, said Andrew Welch, director of admissions. “We don’t care what the student majors in,” Welch said. “Most of the students who make it through a place like Colby and through our admissions process are going to be just fine.”

And those future doctors go through Colby in different ways.

Michelle Stone ’05 started at Colby expecting to be in the premed group. The daughter of two doctors, she had planned to major in biology to prepare for medical school. But early in her first year, she realized she had other interests she wanted to pursue and declared a very different focus: Spanish literature. “I knew that I wanted to go to medical school—that had been the plan all along—so I figured I should do other stuff that I wanted to do, since I was at a liberal arts college,” she said.

Stone managed to feed both interests: she studied Spanish, spent a semester in Ecuador, and also fulfilled basic premed science requirements. But instead of taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) during her junior year, a necessary step to go directly to medical school from Colby, Stone took the test during her senior year, with plans to take a year off.

She worked as a ski instructor (among other things) in Colorado before entering the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Maine, where she’s now in her second year.

“I could have taken more science classes at Colby and been better prepared,” Stone said. “In the long run, I think it’s not going to make a difference.”

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