The Pre-Med Boom Lingers On
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?
Ann Spence. assistant director of OGCP, cites state-preference laws in state-run universities as a major cause. "It's definitely getting tougher," she said last week. "What were finding is that it's more, and more important where you're from, not how you do. If you went to certain high schools you could have up to 70 times as good a chance of getting in to certain state medical schools."
Spence said that the rise in medical school applicants from Harvard in the past two years hat not been as substantial as the rise in the number of applications the students have sent in to medical school. However, she added that the jump in enrollment of the pre-medical school required courses may show up in the applicants in the next two years.
Frederick J. Fox '68 pre-medical advisor in Adams House, agree with Spence. "In fact the number of students applying to medical school is about the same." Fox said. It's the kind of people who apply that have changed--more women, graduate students, older people deciding late, and special students."
Whether the number of actual applicants from Harvard and Radcliffe has increased or not, the medical schools are over-applied, and admission is increasingly difficult. Samuel Z. Goldhaber '72, a first-year medical student, in the July 26 issue of Science magazine wrote on the problems of getting into medical school in an article "Medical School Admission--A Raw Deal for Applicants." The article points out that while the number of medical school seats has increased by one-third since 1968 a greater rise in the quality and quantity of applicants makes this increase inadequate.
In addition, students applying to medical school face astronomical costs, fierce classroom competition, the tension of waiting out present "rolling admission" policies of medical schools, and heavy grade reliance.
How, then, can a student interested in medical school improve his chances while a Harvard undergraduate?
"Most students take their pre-med courses in the wrong order," Fox said. He strongly suggests interested students first acquire a fundamental grounding in Mathematics and Chemistry as opposed to Biology. He also urges students to take required courses as early as possible and in taking them to realize that even at this point grades are crucial.
Fox further feels that pre-medical freshmen should investigate the advisors from different Houses carefully before choosing a House. He calls the advisory program at Harvard "non-existent."
The stringent screening of applicants by school still leaves Harvard with 85 per cent of Rs applicants accepted into as medical school--a commendable percentage. However, the tremendous increase in undergraduate class enrollment has led Harvard to promote its screening. This year for the first time, students other than Freshmen receiving a grade below B in Mutural Sciences 3, "Introduction to Chemistry," cannot enroll in Chem 20 unless they receive a score of 700 or better in the Chemistry placement examination.
"There's a movement afoot in the Chemistry Department to limit enrollment," Fox said Thursday. "But it's being hotly contested." He added that such limits underline the tremendous grade pressure on "premed students, equally stremed by grade screening procedures of the medical schools themselves.
Westheimer sees these constraints primarily as a result of an inefficient medical school system. He for sees no reversal in the trend of competitiveness. "Harvard has very highly qualified students, and consequently a certain amount of arrogance, he said. "Although a higher percentage of students from Harvard will get into medical school than from other colleges they're not all going to get in. The percentage is almost certain to fall and there will be many bright bitterly disappointed--and bitter--students.