Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's your major, baby?

For some reason, people are always shocked to find out I was a math major in college. My math ability, which was embarrassingly nerdy when I was going to competitions with the math team in high school, has amazingly become something that makes me interesting now that I'm a physician. (Which is why I bring it up as much as possible. I like to be interesting!)

My husband was a math major too, so between the two of us, we're expecting our daughter to have no less than 800 in math on the SATs. I mean, you can actually get one wrong and still get an 800. So there's no excuse!**

It's not clear to me why math majors are so rare in medical school. I think I was the only one in my class. By far the most common majors were biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and psychology. But to me, math makes sense too, at least as much as psychology. Because I was good in math, I breezed through physics and chemistry. Mathematical thinking even helped in o-chem. It was only in biology that my refusal to actually memorize anything that I couldn't work out from scratch became a liability. That and, you know, in all of medical school. (I'm kidding. Thanks to my math ability, I have a perfect understanding of acid-base status.)

People sometimes ask me if with my math background, I ever considered a career in finance. I didn't, not even for a second. The truth is, a lot of the careers that are very math-heavy (finance, actuary, engineer) seemed very boring to me.

So my question of the day is: what was your major before you ended up in med school? And if it was something crazy, like I don't know, Celtic Folklore, how did you reconcile that with your future career?


**Before the hatemail pours in, I just want to clarify that I'm joking about this. Any score above 700 would be totally fine.

38 comments:

  1. Major in classics (Greek and Latin) and a minor in French. The classical languages helped in anatomy, certainly not pharmacology.
    I took the science requirements but knew I wouldn't get a chance to study the other things again.
    Our med school class was surprisingly diverse which was really fun and useful when we would pass around the New York Times crossword. Someone would know the answer!!!

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  2. Majors: international business and management information systems.
    Minor: spanish

    Yeah. I'm still waiting for that aha moment when I go OH THANK YOU SELF for all of that knowledge gained in international trade theory classes, its certainly helping out today!

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  4. Sociology. I regretted it for a number of years. It annoyed me that people would comment on what a bulls**t major it was. I'm actually glad I did it now though because I am basically doing sociology now for my PhD. And it's awesome and I love it.

    I think I was the only sociology major in my med school class.

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  5. BA Physics. I loved math and took more than I needed. Looking back, I would have been happy as a math major.

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  6. I'm a lowly premed...yet to choose my major! Since I am a non-traditional student and have accrued a variety of credits, I'll end up going with whatever major can be accomplished in the least amount of semesters which seems to be either psych or human development and family studies at this point.

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  7. Sigh. What I wouldn't give for an ounce of your math ability at this juncture of my life.

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  8. I actually majored in biology, just like 99.9% of all the other medical students. But I choose the major before I choose medical school. And I loved it! However, my emphasis was in evolutionary studies and plant sciences, neither of which helped me so far. (Except when a patient asked if drinking chlorophyll would help with their anemia, then it did.)

    My husband is a math and physics major, and he thinks it has helped him a great deal as he studies for the DAT.

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  9. I majored in chemistry and I have no idea why I didn't minor in math since I had to take more than my share of math classes for undergrad. Math has definitely helped me do quick calculations for cooking, calculating my grades, and quick calculating for the MCAT. I also tutor chemistry on the side and one of the things that I find the most disturbing is that a lot of students are bad at basic algebra and converting units, yet they want to be engineers and physicians. :(

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  10. i majored in P-Chem (physical chemistry). Still not sure why. I think it was for the challenge for conquering a hard major. Truth is, I don't remember much of anything from it. Definitely don't use it on a daily basis. Sometimes, I wish I had majored in Spanish, something I still love to this day (and use daily).

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  11. I'm not in med school yet (currently in interviews) but I'm a health sciences major. I love the program because it makes us well-rounded: we get all the biology and chem classes along with the fun medicine-related stuff (pathophys, pharm); we also take a lot of touchy-feely classes too though, which I probably wouldn't choose for myself but are incredibly helpful! (Sociology of health was immensely useful, as was health care communication). It gives me a very different perspective from people who took pure sciences, and I love it!

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  12. Majored in Chemical Engineering and minored in music. I loved ChemE but not enough to do it for the rest of my life. I like to think of the human body as the most complex chemical reactor that exists. Unfortunately, I don't think it helped that much in medical school except for maybe physiology which is a little more math-heavy. But I like to think it has helped in my problem solving abilities as a physician. Oh, and math comes in handy when I am calculating pediatric drug dosing as a family medicine intern!

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  13. Neuroscience for me. (I wanted to be a neurologist entering med school. So much for that.)

    I went to Brown undergrad and loved the fact that there was no required curriculum. Got to dabble in Urban Studies, Econ, Sociology (Pop Culture in the US was a favorite), Psych, Business/International Relations, Literature, Modern Culture and Media, in addition to usual premed requirements.

    Loved majoring in neuro- found it so fascinating and I truly enjoyed the classes I took. It's kind of strange how I'm so not involved with any of that anymore. But, no regrets.

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  14. I majored in philosophy (a BA in B.S.!) and minored in botany. I knew that I was headed for med school so when I stumbled across philosophy during a philosophy of religion course in a study abroad program I decided to take a leap of faith that majoring in something I loved beyond hard science would still get me where I wanted to go. It did, and became a great topic for interviews. I'm also very glad the gamble paid off, because I have no idea what I would have done with that major!

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  15. Math major, minors in physics and bio. Masters in BioEngineering (Math-based, true engineering degree). I feel like Wile E. Coyote - SOO-PER GEEE-EEK ...
    A

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  16. now I'm wishing Artemis was closer ;o)

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  17. I have just a plain, boring BS in Biological Sciences. (I think my minor was in extracurricular activities). I majored in Bio because I loved all the different kinds of courses, Zoology, Botany, Psychology, Social Science, and Genetics. I loved that (at one time) I knew all these obscure, different minutiae in different areas.

    I also hated math. Still do. As I recall, the Biology major track had the least amount of Math, Chemistry, and Physics needed to just meet pre-med pre-reqs. Looks like I'm in the minority amongst all the math gurus in here! :)

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  18. I was a psychology major - also took a lot of history, philosophy, and religion. When I took the pre-med courses after college - I struggled in physics - always did all right but had to put much more effort into getting those bright shiny "oh!" moments right before tests at three a.m. and my brain ejected the contents quickly afterwards like icky foreign matter. Strangely, o-chem came naturally, like breathing.

    Biochemistry was tough for me in med school for the same reason - I approached the subject with the "stuff this all into your head and spit it out on tests" concept that was so overwhelming (but I blame this more on the absent course directors and the outdated, muddy syllabus than myself). I think that is why when I got to pathology, so visual - match the pictures - I smiled happily. But there's also blood bank, microbiology, chemistry, flow cytometry, etc. - so I still get to exercise my right brain frequently (it needs it more).

    What a great idea for a post, Fizzy! I love reading everyone's comments - so many different ways to get to the goal of taking care of patients.

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  19. Psychology for me. Makes at least as much sense as math :-)

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  20. Philosophy and English Literature. Didn't really help me in a practical way with med school content, but there's lots of time to learn that, I just found I actually had to continue working & learning through med school vs. some of my sciency classmates who were repeating a lot they already knew.

    I'd like to think it gives me broader perspective with patients or something but I find most med students are pretty ridiculously well-rounded anyway, don't you think?! I certainly loved my BA and wouldn't trade those years for anything. There was lots of time to learn it all in med school. And I made a great set of friends who are now NOT in medicine, which is really great for my family now.

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  21. English/American studies. Wrote an undergrad thesis on the work of Eugene O'Neill. Best preparation I could have had for what I do - primary care, now hospice. I listen to stories and try to make sense out of them. Understanding narrative perspective has been far more helpful for me on than knowing more about the Krebs cycle.

    I am also grateful for the thesis experience. It was enough like English grad school that in the depths of my anatomy misery, first year of med school, I knew that English grad school was not the solution.

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  22. Languages and literature! We had a required senior thesis for undergrad where I went to college, and I translated a novel! How gloriously unrelated to my career in medicine. It still brings me joy to think about it!

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  23. Neuroscience, and Philosophy. (Extraneous comma there to indicate that those were not related. It occurred to me years after the fact that "Neuroscience and Philosophy" sounds like a really cool course I wish I could've taken, and less like a combination of majors.) Almost had a theatre minor on top of that, and can honestly say that most of my favorite courses had nothing to do with science, let alone medicine, with the exception of the very excellent "Perspectives on Illness in Literature" - the only real literature course I took in undergrad, and absolutely one of the most enjoyable. The focus was similar to what Jay mentions - understanding narrative related to medicine, and the various viewpoints that contribute to the experience of health and illness.
    But math! I took the required calculus 1 over intersession (mini-semester in January) and praised God that the professor was kind and rewarded my immense effort. I don't think you're really supposed to get credit based on effort once you've reached the college level, but that's the only way I got the grade that I got.

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  24. Geophysics. I wasn't planning to go to med school at the time, and I picked it because it was a hard science where you got to go hiking and so on. I enjoyed it (and worked in the field before med school) so I get frustrated by medical/biology types, like during a certain med school interview, who think it's somehow not a *real* science. I took more math courses than the physics majors, thank you very much.

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  25. I love it that everyone did such a variety of majors! I did Sociology, was the only Soc major in my class, and absolutely loved it. It really gave me a framework of sorts to understand the world. I also did a thesis - on interracial relationships. I would never had done Sociology if I hadn't known I was planning on medical school - I probably would have done engineering, or something like that.

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  26. Art History. Like Jay I found it to be all about people telling stories through their art. Fits medicine perfectly, IMO.

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  27. Before med school I got my BA in political science and my masters degree in public health and tropical medicine. I would sacrifice at least my baby toe to have majored in something that I actually liked... french, italian, or photography. That would have been worth the money at least.

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  28. I majored in English. I love to read, and my ability to read large volumes of text in a short amount of time and actually understand it has aided me well throughout school. After one of my mentors in med school told me that I should forget my English background because I was going to lose my writing skills, I started my blog "A Musing MD." I didn't study English for four years to let it go to waste!

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  29. math competitions in high school ARE fun... even if we do get social crap about it. CoC Math Meet, for example, gets you out of a day of school AND you go to the beach!

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  30. Almost majored in Art History, then took a painting studio and loved it! I always knew I wanted to go to med school, so did all my pre-med in undergrad... and viola! The only pure art practice major (no minor in biology) to take biochemistry as an elective.

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  31. Linguistic Anthropology. It has no application to anything I do or plan to do - all the linguistics I learned was mainly about dead or very rare languages, but it was very interesting.

    Other classes that probably made someone in the med school admissions process questions my motivation/aptitude: Ceramics, Sculpture and woodworking, Archaeology, Sonnets.

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  32. I never said math team wasn't fun :)

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  33. I worked 30 hours a week while taking enough extra hours to get my marketing degree in 3 years. When I had an epiphany (seriously, like a religious moment) that lead me to medical school, I quit my job and took that last year of college I owed myself. It took a lot of explaining. But I wanted to help people and be challenged. And mostly I wanted to use my time on this planet wisely. I wish I had double majored in Ceramics and History. But I come from a very practical family of business people. Oh, and I had fun. Studied abroad multiple times.

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  34. Music major, specifically vocal performance (opera).

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  35. I'm a second year med student with a degree in Statistics.

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  36. I was an Exercise and Sport Science major with an emphasis on Sports Medicine... a glorified Kinesiology major. Initially I was going to be a physical therapist but wanted more... I also had a minor in Anatomy and Neurobiology- was going to be a Neurologist but ended up an Anesthesiologist!

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  37. B.A. in Music (vocal performance) and B.Sc. in Biology.

    I trained as an opera singer, and did that for several years before the call to medicine became too strong.

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