AN INCREASING NUMBER of Harvard and Radcliffe students are choosing the undergraduate route to medical school. This rising interest mirroring a national growth of student interest in the medical profession, is rapidly transforming the "pre-med" route into an obstacle course of competitive academic pressure, high cost and limited admissions.
Enrollment into required pre medical school courses has increased considerably at Harvard in the past three years In Chemistry 20, "Organic Chemistry," enrollment has grown from approximately 275 students in the Fall of 1976 to over 400 students last Fall.
Frank H. Westheimer, Loeb Professor of Chemistry, said last week that be expects this trend to continue. "It is our impression that the increase is very largely from pre-medical students he said.
According of Leonard K. Nash, professor of Chemistry, there was a 30 per cent increase in Chemistry 1 and 2 last year which he feels reflects the national increase in pre-medical concentrators.
For example, in the face of an overall decline in Harvard Summer School Course enrollment courses required for medical school have remained constant in enrollment and in certain cases jumped dramatically since 1967. Similarly, students in the Special Students program at Harvard considering medical school have increased from 15 in 1969 to 31 so far this year. Of the Radcliffe women going to graduate school from the class of 1971 26 per cent opted for medical school as opposed to 16 per cent in 1970.
Explanations for this steadily increasing desire to become a physician are varied.
"The general cynical explanation is that people with a bent toward scientific endeavor are having great difficulty getting places." Westheimer said. "Medicine is obviously a place which employs talent yet is extremely lucrative."
However, high salaries are by no means the major motivating force in seeking medicine as a career Westheimer attributes the recent trend more to idealism. "Must of the people I see look upon medicine as one of the few honorable occupations in society today," he said.
Business occupations that engaged most of the Harvard graduates are looked on now as slightly or extremely dirty. These students are casting about for jobs in which they can honestly help."
The desire to help people has always been the greatest motivating factor for Radcliffe women applying to medical school and according to a study on women in medicine by Phoebe A. Williams research associate at the Radcliffe Institute Williams attributes this recent jump in Radcliffe pre medical studies to a break-down of the stigma attached to women doctors, showing medical school to be a viable option.
"Radcliffe women are getting better information one careers." Williams said last week. She added that medical schools are accepting women in increasing numbers.
A Harvard senior in the process of applying to medical schools cited both financial and moral reasons for his decision to pursue medicine.
"It seems to be an occupation where you have no problem about work," he first said. But more than that you can do rather than organize for other people. You can help people perhaps change institutions a little and be your own boss.
"But I'm a little disenchanted with the way the medical profession works in this country," the senior concluded. With good reason, for the process of simply applying to medical school has become a complicated and often disappointing experience.
"Admission to medical school is becoming increasingly difficult even for the well-qualified Harvard or Radcliffe senior," warns the Office for Graduate and Career Plans (OGCP), in this year's After Harvard...What?