Welcome to the North Park University Physics Department

Physics and Medical Careers

Introduction

There is a cottage industry that provides resources for premedical students (as a Google search on "MCAT" or "premedical" shows). Instead of reinventing the wheel, here we provide advice and resources for physics students who are interested in medical careers.

What Major Should Premedical Students Choose?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, you do not have to major in biology to become a doctor. In fact, you do not even have to be a science major to become a doctor; many undergraduate humanities and fine arts majors are very attractive to medical schools.

What is important in choosing your field of study is that you want to major in that field, and that you do well in the prerequisite courses for medical school (e.g., biology [1], physics, chemistry [2], mathematics [3]). (As to course selection, it also makes a difference what your level of academic preparation and what career options you wish to have available. Is your goal clinical practice, or would you also like to engage in non-clinical academic research? How you answer these questions will play a role in your choice of courses and major. The footnotes below provide some more information.) The career center at Cornell and the career center at MIT both give helpful answers to this question.

That being said, physics is excellent preparation for a medical career. Although medical school admissions are complex, a look at 1997-1999 MCAT scores broken down by major gives some helpful information (see the "Links to Data" section below for links to the reports). These scores show that the median score in the biology portion of the MCAT for majors in the physical sciences is the same as those who major in the biological sciences, but that the median score in the physics portion of the MCAT is higher than for majors in the biological sciences, suggesting physical science majors more than hold their own in all the science portions of the test.

At North Park, physics majors have an exceptionally well-rounded education, covering philosophy, theology, and history, in addition to math and physics. Physics majors are encouraged and supported to be broad in both their curricular and extracurricular activities. The goal is a comprehensive and well-rounded education, the type of education that will help future medical doctors provide excellent and compassionate care that ministers to the whole person.

What Other Options Do Physics Majors Have in Medicine?

As a physics major provides a high-quality general education in the physical sciences, graduates can apply the problem-solving and reasoning skills learned to a variety of occupations. Bioinformatics, neuroscience, biomechanics, and radiology are just a few of the health related fields physicists thrive in. An entire profession, medical physics, exists for physicists involved in radiology and medical imaging. The physics department at North Park counts a number of medical physics Ph.D.s amongst our alumni.

Career Advice About Medicine

Links to Data

Footnotes

[1] This is not to say biology is not crucial for pre-meds. Studies on premedical education show that pre-meds will benefit from a deeper background in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, histology, etc. (see, for instance, J.L. Dienstag, 2008, Relevance and rigor in premedical education, New England Journal of Medicine, 359:221–224).

[2] As an indicator of the importance of chemistry for some very academically prepared students, consider that there are medical schools that require more chemistry than biology. For instance, Stanford University's medical school requires one year of biology, two years of chemistry, and one year of physics (link accessed July 24, 2008).

[3] As an indicator of the importance of mathematics for some very academically prepared students, there are also some medical schools that may require math beyond calculus: The Harvard-HST program requires differential equations (MIT Careers Office, 2007). While biology is always critical for medical doctors, all of the three basic natural sciences and mathematics are important for medicine at the most academic research focused programs.

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