Both chemistry and biology are fascinating subjects in and of themselves, but if your passion is medicine, it may be difficult to determine which one would be a better lead-in to medical school. It turns out that either chemistry or biology make a great preparation for this rewarding career -- it may even be best to study both.
Medical School Prep
All medical schools require pre-med students to take a year of general college biology, a year of general college chemistry and a year of general college physics, as well as a year of organic chemistry. Many also like to see at least one course in biochemistry on a student’s transcript. These requirements make it seem like a chemistry major covers more of a pre-med curriculum.
Med School Admissions
Not so fast: much of the MCAT is based on an advanced biology course, human physiology. In fact, much of the first-year medical curriculum is based on advanced biology, including gross anatomy, which draws on human physiology, pathology, which draws on microbiology, and histology, which draws on molecular biology. This makes a biology major seem like the way to go.
However, medical school students also take biochemistry, which many consider their most difficult course, and pathology, histology, molecular biology and microbiology all require an understanding of biochemistry. So in actuality, a double major in biology and chemistry prior to med school would be ideal.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the number of biological science majors who apply to medical school is five times the number physical science majors. Biological scientists also account for more applicants to medical school than any other college major. However, 48 percent of all physical scientists are actually accepted to medical school, while only 42 percent of biological scientists are accepted. The strength in numbers for one major, compared with the higher acceptance rate for the other major, again makes the dual degree seem like the best preparation.
Different medical specialties lend themselves more to either biology or chemistry. For anyone interested in surgery or podiatry, biology has an obvious advantage because it gives students extensive practice in the dissection of organisms and the analysis of human physiology. For specialties such as family medicine and psychiatry, treatment is primarily administered via drugs, which makes the understanding of chemistry more desirable. Yet family doctors are also the frontline for any medical problem and are currently the most common and most needed doctors in the country, so in the end, for most doctors, and for most pre-med students, a dual major in biology and chemistry is ideal.
Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.