With great pay and a looming shortage of workers in the U.S., the career of a doctor offers many opportunities and many rewards. However, medical training is long and grueling, and only 50 percent of all applicants are accepted to medical school. When choosing between biology and biochemistry as a pre-med major, choose a major that will benefit you on multiple levels.

MD Coursework

If you simply want to pursue a major that will prepare you as much as possible for the MCAT and the coursework of medical school, a major in general biology is the way to go. Human physiology, an advanced biology course, has a heavy presence on the MCAT, and the academic core of medical school covers the principal areas of human biology: gross anatomy, which will be your most demanding course; pathology, which has a basis in microbiology; histology, which is based on molecular biology; and also biochemistry. However, understanding microbiology and molecular biology requires familiarity with biochemistry. Because biochemistry is often considered to be the most rigorous course except for gross anatomy, a major in biology and minor in biochemistry would cover the widest range of courses.

By the Numbers

Nationwide, 43 percent of all biochemistry majors are admitted to medical school, the greatest percentage for any group of science student applicants, while only 35 percent of biology majors are admitted. However, nearly half of all medical students hold biology degrees, while only a fraction hold biochemistry degrees. Biochemistry is generally considered to be a more rigorous discipline due to the math involved.

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By the Specialty

When determining a pre-med major, it helps to determine exactly what kind of doctor you want to be. For example, if you want to be a surgeon or podiatrist, the heavy focus on dissection and physiological systems in biology might be more helpful to you. On the other hand, if you plan to be a primary care physician or a psychiatrist, understanding the biochemistry of different drugs and medical treatments will likely be more helpful.

Having Options

When you make the decision to choose a major, your non-medical career options should be considered as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that demand for biochemists, who work in laboratories developing drugs, foods and biomedical products, will grow 31 percent, or “much faster than average” by 2020. On the other hand, demand for biological lab technicians and environmental biologists is expected to grow only 14 to 19 percent, or about as fast as average, while demand for wildlife biologists and zoologists will grow only 6 percent. In terms of career options available, biochemistry may be the safest choice for a major.

About the Author

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.