Pre-Med Academics

Why Pre-Meds Can’t Neglect the Humanities

While you’ve probably heard that medical schools are more likely to accept a student who studied in the humanities, you may not understand why or what difference this course of study could make in your life.


While you’ve probably heard that medical schools are more likely to accept a student who studied in the humanities, you may not understand why or what difference this course of study could make in your life. Although majoring in the humanities does not mean medical schools will automatically favor you over someone who majored in the sciences, those who spend time studying humanities (not even necessarily majoring in it) tend to have intangible advantages over those who did not. Maybe it seems silly to take the time to read Emily Dickinson when you could be taking that extra time for organic chemistry. Also, what’s studying the American Civil War got anything to do with being a doctor? It’s easy to disregard the humanities, and many people do so foolishly because they don’t quite understand how these studies are beneficial.

The humanities are disciplines that often focus on analysis, criticism, and theory of the arts or of human history. Since interpretation is one of the key aspects of the humanities, the subject matter can appear to have no wrong answers. This reasoning is far from the truth. Yes, there is more than one right answer, but each of these possible answers must be based upon analyzing the text and making a deduction using evidence. The humanities are a great way to learn critical thinking. They force you to look at all sides of a problem and choose the best possible angle to solve it. Developing this skill for analysis and problem solving is indispensable for both medical school and practicing medicine in the future.

Okay, fair enough, but why do medical schools care so much? Can’t you learn critical thinking some other way? Sure, although the analysis-heavy humanities are a potentially better way to get there. This, however, is not the only reason medical schools care so much about what you’ve studied besides science.

A double major, a minor, or a strong foundation of courses in the humanities don’t just make you stand out on an application because it feels unique, rather medical schools care because they want you to remember that when you’re working with people, they’re just as human as you are. It’s all too easy to read your textbooks and study all the terms, but when you’re actually practicing medicine you have to remember that you’re not just dealing with a sack of organs. This isn’t just about bedside manner either, it’s about empathy, and it’s about seeing your patients as people always and without fail. Ultimately, yes, you are working on a human body, but that body belongs to an individual who is suffering and whose family and friends are suffering for him. It’s so crucial to remember this.

Studying the humanities is proven to help you empathize with other people. If you’ve analyzed the personalities of a hundred literary characters or seen the pain of the artist in his or her sculpture or painting, you have been forced to understand someone far outside of yourself. This ability to relate to and understand another person is what really attracts medical schools to humanities-prepared students.  That ability to really see the patient as a person is the difference between a good doctor who can go through the motions, and a great doctor who can really help patients get better.

The humanities are an indispensable part of any education, but they’re especially relevant if you’re interested in medical school. Not only will the humanities look great on your resume, but they’ll also help you become a better doctor and a better person throughout your career.

Donna Jones is a cancer researcher and an avid blogger. She usually writes about education and mesothelioma treatments. Before switching over to the sciences, she majored in English and fiction writing.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter @ProspectiveDr

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