We’ve started taking a course called the “Introduction to Social Medicine and Global Health” headed up by Paul Farmer and David Jones. This is a course that exposes us to a variety of issues related to the social determinants of illness and health with a different lecturer each week. Recently, we had Nicholas Christakis, this week we have Allan Brandt, and for the next few weeks we’ll have Michael Porter, Tom Lee and many other prominent figures in the field of social medicine.
Needless to say for those of you not familiar with social medicine, this is an all-star lineup. I would go out on a limb and say that nowhere else will you find such a high concentration of individuals who are on the front-lines of global health.
My only question is why isn’t such a course a requirement for all premeds?
I know that many people do end up taking some kind of social science course during college, but why isn’t it a requirement? True you may not get Paul Farmer as a lecturer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn the material. Some would say that the social sciences are just “fluff,” but I would whole-heartedly disagree and tell them to really immerse themselves first in the field, which means more than just taking classes and writing papers, and try to appreciate the complexities behind the “fluff.” As someone who majored in social anthropology, I use that knowledge and experience as a sort of framework in approaching medicine from a more critical and grassroots perspective. I would in fact argue that social science is just as, if not more, relevant and important as biology, chemistry, physics, math and english, which are all the current premed requirements. As requirements, the science classes are weighted more in the eyes of med school admissions, and students often feel obligated to major in a science and do bench research so that they have a more direct route into med school.
Now I’m not hating on the sciences here. I enjoy science and appreciate the beauty and hard-work that come with it. All I’m saying is that I believe there is a problem with the premed requirement system. It’s too science-oriented and it’s become more of an endurance test. How many times have you heard organic chemistry and “weed-out class” in the same sentence? In talking to many of my classmates from college, I’ve noticed a general feeling that these premed requirement courses have become more about “getting through them” and have blinded us to what medicine is all about – a humanistic practice of care. I’m not advocating for getting rid of the sciences for premeds, but in all honesty I don’t think doing well in organic chemistry or physics will necessarily indicate how good of a doctor you will be someday.
At a time when there’s a shortage of physicians in the US, we should be encouraging rather than discouraging students from wanting to pursue a career in medicine. Science is one approach but it is not the only approach. The current premed requirement system is an outdated model that needs to take into account the advances and expansion of medicine today into the realm of the social sciences, politics and business.
Eric Lu is a medical student who blogs at Elusions.
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