Pre-med. The word can say everything and nothing about the academic interests and plans of a student. With the extensive requirements necessary for medical school, the decision to be "pre-med" can often be fraught with tension and uncertainty. When asked if he were a "pre-med," Eugene T. Kim '01 says only half-jokingly, "Ask again after sophomore year. If I say I'm still pre-med, then I really am."
Without a pre-med track available, Harvard leaves the choice of concentration up to its students. Pre-med students who concentrate in the humanities say they are encouraged to pursue their interest in non-scientific fields, but must forgo electives in order to complete their medical school requirements, which include a full year of biology, chemistry and physics, plus laboratory experience, organic chemistry and some sort of mathematics.
"I've taken one elective, and that was a mistake because now I have to take pre-med classes over the summer," says Tarissa Mitchell '99, a pre-med English concentrator.
Besides medical school and humanities concentration requirements, Mitchell and her fellow pre-meds say their schedules are further constrained by Core requirements, which take up eight half-courses.
"Science A and Science B are taken care of by certain pre-med courses, but at the same time, it's difficult when you think that a quarter of your classes is devoted to the Core, half [of your classes] is devoted to your concentration and the rest is devoted to your pre-med requirements," Mitchell says. "If I wanted to continue with honors English, I would have something like -2 electives."
The Core: Bane or Blessing?
First-years who enter as humanities concentrators in pursuit of a medical degree often decide not to follow through with their pre-med aspirations.
"I came in wanting to be pre-med and [to] concentrate in English, but I got discouraged because I realized that it was going to take up all of my time, and it wasn't worth it," Ankur N. Ghosh '01 says. "If the Core were smaller, I think I might have done the pre-med requirements, but I knew that would never happen, because Harvard is a slave to the Core." Ghosh is now an English concentrator with no plans toward pursuing a medical degree.
Tricia L. Morente '01 agrees that it is frustrating to "have no electives or to waste away my summer taking science courses to free up space in my schedule." Thus, Morente says she has decided to concentrate in economics or history without the hassle of taking pre-med classes as well.
However, others say they see the challenging courseload as a way for students to gauge their commitment toward the medical profession.
"I think it [Harvard] does structure it so that it's really hard to swing pre-med and not be a science concentrator," says Christine M. Heske '01, a pre-med anthropology concentrator. "I know a lot of people that have dropped pre-med since it eats up time and electives, but I think it is a good thing because it makes you realize whether you really want to put in that much of a commitment before it's too late."
Economics concentrator Reena N. Rupani '99 agrees, saying, "If you're really interested, you'll make time for it."
Rupani says she deals with her courseload constraints by viewing the Core requirements as her electives. "For someone like me, who's already so limited, it forces me to take courses that I wouldn't ordinarily," she says.
Meanwhile, Navin Narayan '99, a pre-med social studies concentrator, says the humanities concentration functions as a source of electives for the pre-med student.
"It's true [that] maybe I am more confined," Narayan says. "But I can't say I'm unhappy. I don't feel constricted [because] the flexibility of social studies lends itself to my interests."
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