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


There are, of course, plenty of aspiring doctors who make their way to medical school the traditional way—the majority who tackle a full load of biology and chemistry at Colby. And they say they are well prepared for both the nature of work in medical school and the load.

“I think I’m one of the only med students who thinks they worked harder in undergrad,” Doug Melzer ’03, a biology major, wrote in an e-mail after his first year at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “Other guys, even from Ivy League schools, are struggling with the load, but I think it’s pretty manageable.”

Students who didn’t delve into prerequisites in undergraduate school can get them in a post-baccalaureate program. Those programs—about 100 exist across the country—pack all of the necessary science knowledge and skills into one or two years, then help students apply to medical schools.

Plenty of students also take science classes after Colby without enrolling in a special program, an option that can be less costly than a post-bac but may lack guidance through the admissions process.

The post-baccalaureate option appealed to Alex Browne ’03 because he had always considered a career in medicine but wasn’t ready to commit at Colby. The philosophy major enrolled in Bennington College’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program in Vermont after taking two years off to work as a paralegal. At Bennington Browne fulfilled the requirements necessary to apply to medical school as well as electives like genetics and microbiology. As at many post-baccalaureate programs, students were expected to learn the basics quickly, over just a 12-month period.

“It was the hardest academic year of my life,” said Browne, who’s originally from New York City. “If you went to the bathroom, you could miss a day’s worth of information.”

In February all that hard work began to pay off. Browne was accepted at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey and was waiting to hear from several others. “I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders,” he wrote in a post-interview update e-mail.

Some medical schools offer programs designed to attract liberal arts students with minimal science backgrounds. Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, for example, every year offers admission to a group of humanities students who aren’t required to take the MCAT.

That worked out well for Meade Barlow ’03, a theater major. Now in his fourth year at Mt. Sinai, Barlow recently began a rotation in surgery, the specialty he hopes to enter as a fully trained doctor. “I thought that I wanted to be a pediatrician,” the former Colby actor said. “Then I did my surgery portion and I loved working with my hands. It just sort of spoke to me.”

Regardless of choices made in undergraduate school, experiences outside of what used to be considered directly applicable to medicine pay off for doctors in the long run.

Communication skills are largely what have made Albright, the ENT, successful in his practice, he said. As a result, he has the opportunity to be close to his patients during the best—and sometimes worst—days of their lives.

“That’s really awesome,” he said. Not too many people in everyday life have that experience.”

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