The case for studying multiple subjects as a pre-med

academic advice premed

I remember the exact moment when I decided to minor in Computer Science and Math in college. I was in the middle of a course on creating mobile applications using Swift, and even though it felt less integrated with my other pre-med coursework at the time, I loved the way the class taught me to approach large projects. It was really fun to compartmentalize problems into smaller tasks (ie create the necessary buttons for a particular app function, design the user interface such that it was more intuitive, attach the proper pages sequentially, etc) and tackle each subproject in a systematic manner. It was also rewarding to have a creative outlet that led to a tangible product afterwards I could share with others. 

During college, there wasn’t as strong of an emphasis on the excitement of clinical integrations of AI in streamlining patient note-writing, triaging, or in reading patient images, as there is today. However, in my current day-to-day, I feel as though each field allows me to critically assess the other more thoroughly. In my PhD, I find myself often thinking about whether I can envision my research being used in real time by colleagues in medical school, and on the flip side, learning about the biology of disease prompts me to think critically about our current standard of care treatment and how it could be improved with technical solutions.  

From speaking with mentees in the past at a similar crossroads of interests, I have heard many students express concern that studying multiple fields might detract from time spent towards building up your skillset and foundational knowledge for a medical degree. Though it is definitely crucial to create sufficient time and space to digest that material with great depth, there can be many benefits from learning aspects of different fields. As the field of medicine grows larger, its applications are also increasingly becoming integrated in different fields. To add more context, I have medical school classmates who previously owned their own bakeries, worked at NASA, spent years training in classical dance, or worked for policy think tanks prior to coming to medical school.  

So, how do you know if you should commit yourself to other fields of study alongside your pre-med coursework?

A FEW CRUCIAL QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF MIGHT BE:  

  • What do I enjoy studying outside of fields typical of medicine and do I envision myself enjoying coursework in these areas or finding ways to integrate that into my overall career?
  • Are there role models who studied multiple fields that I look up to? Can I see myself following in their career path?
  • What skills and knowledge do I think is transferrable between these two interests of mine? How can I leverage that to deepen my understanding of both subjects?

HOW TO TAKE ACTION ON THESE INTERESTS:  

  • An additional degree could definitely be a way to get more in-depth experience in a completely different field (be it a 1-year masters program or a 4-6 year PhD). There are many fellowships geared towards easing the transition between fields of study. 
  • Increased education/years in school may not be for everyone, so there also other ways to merge your interests (such as finding mentors working on research that you can tackle part-time during college or during your summers). 
  • Talk with academic advisors about how to manage your time better between the fields and see if there are ways for you to have classes count for multiple requirements.
  • Summers are a great time to fully immerse in different fields, so internships could be a great way to dip your toes in different fields before fully committing to anything more.
 

Jessika is an MD/PhD student at Harvard Medical School and MIT, researching deep learning applications in drug discovery. She previously graduated summa cum laude from WashU on a full-ride scholarship where she studied Computational Biology with minors in Computer Science and Mathematics.

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