The path to becoming a surgeon begins at the college undergraduate level, but is not nearly as rigidly structured as many believe. While the pre med majors offered by some colleges and universities are designed to prepare students for admission to medical schools and related graduate programs, you can major in any subject from philosophy to the fine arts and still become a surgeon, so long as you earn the necessary subject credits in the biology, chemistry, and physics required by most medical schools. If your end-goal is to become a surgeon, the degree you graduate with is less important than previewing the medical schools you're interested in applying to and ensuring that you meet their credit prerequisites during your first three years of undergraduate study.
Medical School Admission Requirements
Although admission requirements vary from one medical school to the next, most medical school programs require similar core elements, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. With that in mind, the classes to take to become a surgeon include both general and organic chemistry with labs, one year each of biology and biochemistry with lab, and one year each of physics and English composition. Many schools also require one year of calculus, but overall, most medical schools look for these basic science credits in their admissions process. Specific requirements for both medical schools in the United States and Canada can be found at the Medical School Admission Requirements online. The MSAR provides up-to-date medical school guidelines, newly accredited schools, application procedures and deadlines.
Pre Med Majors and Medical Programs
The pre med undergraduate curriculum allows for flexibility, including science and math courses along with those in the humanities. Combined, they provide a solid undergraduate foundation for medical school admissions and are fairly standard for all medical schools. Western Michigan University's new program, which welcomed its first class in August of 2014, emphasizes the applicant's interpersonal, leadership and problem solving skills in addition to the basic science and English courses. Western also recommends that undergraduate study includes behavioral science, biostatistics, genetics and the humanities. However, while the pre med majors offered at a variety of undergraduate institutions will ensure that students graduate with the appropriate credits needed for medical school, they are usually not valued higher or lower by medical school admissions boards: many successful surgeons graduated with undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, and philosophy and still entered medical school without trouble.
Harvard Medical School's Selection Process
In selecting students for each first-year medical school class, Harvard, one of the oldest medical schools in the country, looks for students with a solid grounding in biological and physical sciences as well as math, but also favors students who are well-rounded in the humanities and social sciences. Applicants whose undergraduate majors are in the sciences have no advantage over other undergraduate majors as long as the basic biology, chemistry, physics, math and science requirements are met. In other words, choosing those courses and majors that match both personal goals and the requirements of your medical college of choice is key.
The Important Medical School Admission Test
Classes and majors chosen during the undergraduate years have an impact on the outcome of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam used by most medical schools in the United States and Canada to determine the aptitude of potential students. Most medical school hopefuls take the MCAT at the end of their junior year of undergraduate study. The exam focuses on math and science, but also on other skills, including writing. The MCAT is offered multiple times a year and can be taken between the months of January and September. Most students are advised to aim for an MCAT score of at least 509 to be considered a competitive admission candidate at most medical schools.
Schooling After Admission
Once you've been accepted to your chosen medical school, the path to becoming a surgeon truly begins: working off of the basic concepts learned during your undergraduate career, your medical program will teach you the specialized information and provide the training necessary to prepare you for work in a medical setting. This will culminate in a residency at a hospital, where you will train under supervision from practiced doctors and staff.
Tonda Bian is an education specialist. She has Bachelor's and Masters degrees both specializing in education and English. She also has an EJD in law--research and writing. Her career has included teaching in three colleges and working as a researcher, writer and editor for more than 20 years.