Being a Pre-Med Student Majoring in the Humanities

Author: Alyssa C., ’23

Before coming to Rice, I was under the impression that because I wanted to attend medical school, I had to commit to majoring in one of the natural sciences. Now, as a pre-med student majoring in English, it is safe to say that I have since adjusted my perspective.

During O-week (Rice’s orientation week), I saw that there was a substantial amount of “Huma pre-meds”—Rice speak for pre-med students majoring in the humanities. From what I have learned, there has been an increasing nationwide movement towards intellectual diversity in medical school, particularly in the humanities. The humanities add a valuable component in training to be an empathetic, attentive doctor because of soft skills such as emotional appraisal and sociocultural understanding. The critical analysis taught in the humanities is a transferable and useful skill in learning how to be an advocate for patients.

Even though I could understand that a background in the humanities would supplement my studies in the natural sciences, I was reluctant to major in English. I believed in the misconception that I would have a disadvantage on the MCAT. However, several studies have shown that students who major in the humanities have done just as well on the MCAT as those who majored in the natural sciences such as Biology or Chemistry. Additionally, other studies show that humanities majors have just as good a chance of getting accepted into medical school as natural science majors. Moreover, after having gone to numerous Pre-Med Advising Sessions put on by Rice’s Office of Academic Advising (OAA), I have been informed repeatedly that you can major in anything to be a pre-med student. From my experience, I have witnessed the OAA’s claim to be true; I have met pre-med students majoring in subjects ranging from Economics to Philosophy.

While this information has helped reassure me about my decision to major in English, what has alleviated my concerns the most is Rice’s collaboration with the McGovern Medical School in the Texas Medical Center. This program allows up to eight Rice students majoring in the humanities (e.g. History, Religion, and Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and so forth) to gain facilitated entry into McGovern Medical School during their junior year—note that there are additional criteria students must meet in order to apply for this program. This special opportunity for Huma pre-meds at Rice allowed me to realize that medical schools not only see the immense value of being well-versed in the humanities, but they are beginning to actively pursue students who have a humanities background.

One other thing that I learned about being a Huma pre-med is that people often raise their eyebrows at such an unconventional, seemingly impractical idea. The emergence of Medical Humanities as a field of study in the United States is relatively new. However, its newness does not undermine its legitimacy. I am currently taking a Medical Humanities course at Rice, and we discuss topics such as the commercialization of the medical field, the social construction of illness and disease, as well as the difference between patient-centered care and disease-centered care. Although humanities may seem to be the polar opposite of the natural sciences, they have a recursive relationship in clinical medicine. They imply one another.

Overall, I love being an English pre-med student. My schedule is balanced between learning about biomedicine and humanism. One hour of the day I could be in a huge lecture hall learning about how the p53 gene is the “guardian of the genome” when it comes to the prevention of cell  proliferation; another hour of the day, I could be in a small room with a table that fits fifteen people at most, discussing heavy literary theory such as Jacque Derrida’s notion of differánce in language. I enjoy cross-disciplinary studies, and it is even more fulfilling and exciting when I see parallels between the two academic disciplines.

In the grand scheme of things, my experience thus far at Rice has allowed me to have a considerably well-rounded education, in that I am able to explore my passions on top of forging a practical career path in the future. Suffice it to say that I am excited to see where being a Huma pre-med takes me in the future.