Posted by: oldmedicine | January 13, 2010

Classes you need to take

The first problem many people encounter when mulling over whether to totally change their life and go to med school is the fact that the good ol’ Bachelor of the Arts degree doesn’t cover a lot of the bases that need to be covered for the MCAT and later, your applications.  I am, of course, assuming that you have a 4 year college degree – if you have a 2 year associates degree or no college degree at all, then I suggest you start that course of study and come back in a couple of years. Anyway… back to my original point – the MCAT will test, and most, if not all Medical Schools require that you take following courses:

  1. 2 Semesters of GENERAL CHEMISTRY WITH LAB* (some say “Inorganic Chemistry” but this is incorrect – Inorganic chem is an advanced (upper level) class that focuses on the properties and reactions of alkaline, earth and rare-earth elements). This is your basic freshman level chemistry course that covers valence, stoichiometry, galvanic cells, basic thermodynamics and the like. This class is required to understand the PS (Physical Sciences) section of the MCAT.
  2. 2 semesters of GENERAL PHYSICS WITH LAB*.  These classes cover topics from Newtonian mechanics to optics and is important for the PS section of the MCAT.
  3. 2 semesters of ORGANIC CHEMISTRY WITH LAB*. This is your basic 200 Level chemistry course that covers carbon/nonmetal based chemistry and its various permutations and reactions. Nomenclature is an important skill to learn in this class, as is the art and science of pushing electrons – something you will see again on the MCAT and will need to understand to have any comprehension of how the physical processes of the human body keep us alive.  This is often-times considered a weed-out class because it is the first class in the Pre-Med course progression that is actually sort of difficult.  That is, up to this point lots of people say – “I’ve never wanted to do anything except be a doctor!” – but afterwords they are looking at the business program. Don’t worry, us old people generally do okay in this class… because we are old and don’t have responsibilities out at the bar.
  4. A minimum of 2 semesters of BIOLOGY WITH LAB*.  Biology is structured differently depending on the school, but usually it is split up into two or three courses. The first is a survey course which covers cell biology of kingdoms Animalia and Plantae, taxonomy, basic genetics, and might get into common mammalian systems (nervous, respiratory, etc.). The second course is usually human biology – basically more advanced cell biology.  The third class (often combined into the second) is human anatomy and physiology.  All of these classes are important for the MCAT.  Some schools go off the deep end on plant biology, or botany.  This may or may not be accepted by your med school of choice and nothing more than a cursory knowledge is required for the MCAT.
  5. Some sort of English.  Most college graduates have fulfilled this requirement so it isn’t worth rambling about. However, if you aren’t a good reader stand by — the VR section of the MCAT will punish you for putting down that boring New Yorker and picking up the US Weekly while you’re sitting on the john.
  6. Some sort of Math.  Schools differ on this – some ask specifically for Calculus, some need multiple semesters of calculus, some want statistics, and some don’t ask for anything.  I would recommend taking some sort of higher math if you haven’t needed to in the past – specifically a statistics course.  Why?  Well, the cutting edge of biochemistry and medicine is increasing going the way of physics and becoming an applied math field.  But that is just my opinion, so take it for what its worth.

* Note that I have always said “with lab” behind these courses.  Almost universally, med schools will not accept science courses without lab work, period.  DO NOT go to your local scam-artist-for-profit-suspeciously-located-in-a-strip-mall online “university” to take these courses on the cheap even though they don’t offer laboratories. Why? Well first because they are nationally accredited, which doesn’t mean shit to med schools, who accept work from degree granting REGIONALLY accredited colleges and universities. Second, because you won’t get a good education, which you will need for the MCAT.  Some might disagree with me, but as long as lab facilities are available, I see no problem taking a course or two at the local community college. You will probably be better off actually learning the material at a community college then scamming through with Phoenix or Strayer or any fly by night online college.

OKAY, so we have covered the courses that 95% of med schools will want.  Unfortunately, because schools discriminate against us old people and make their requirements easy for young pre-med college students to follow, there are bound to be other courses that our old minds wouldn’t even think to take but which, unfortunately, your dream school might require. Cover your bases with the following courses:

  1. Biochemistry (with or without Lab).  This class is key for the MCAT and is the introductory topic in Med School, plus many med schools are starting to require it.  The Biological Sciences (BS) section of the MCAT is covers all that Bio you took plus all that O-Chem you took. Here’s a little math for you: BIO + OCHEM = BIOCHEM.  I spent about 10 minutes in my car after the MCAT thanking god for leading me to take biochem instead of sacrificing a semester to Call of Duty (as I had really wanted to). Biochem is like Valtrex: you don’t have to take it, but your junk will feel better (after the MCAT) if you do.
  2. Genetics (with or without Lab).  I don’t see this course as a big deal, but the “rumor on the street” is that it has become an increasingly tested topic in the last few years.  I don’t know about that, because I didn’t see a ton of it on my MCAT.  But again, it can’t hurt and a couple schools out there require it.
  3. Random Humanities Courses.  Some schools require so many credits of humanities, I’ve seen 8 to 10.  This is probably no big deal for your standard BA, but engineers might have trouble with this requirement.

I am realizing that I am passing some pretty general advice here.  I think it provides some use for someone just getting started towards med school, but if you want to find out everything you ever wanted to know about med schools (and what classes they require) buy this book.  It is called the MSAR (Medical School Admission Requirements) and is updated yearly.

I sort of went off the tracks about online schools and community colleges for pre med courses, which leads me to the next topic I’m going to cover – Where to go to school and take all of these classes.

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