For eight hours or more, Harvard’s legion of pre-medical students will battle against more than 200 multiple choice questions on topics such as optics, kinematics, organic chemistry, metabolism and reading comprehension.
The exam, the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), requires both critical thinking and a substantial knowledge of science. It is also a test of endurance, and probably the longest exam any Harvard undergraduate has even taken.
This trial follows nearly three years of sometimes-cutthroat competition in classes required for admission to medical school.
Some students have subjected themselves to the most rigorous science training that Harvard offers. Others have spent thousands of dollars on commercial preparatory courses, and spent their summers wielding pipets in antiseptic laboratories.
However, pre-meds are not all pasty-faced denizens of the basement of the Cabot Science Library. They reflect the diversity of Harvard’s student body, and their concentrations range from women’s studies and government to the more traditional biochemical sciences.
The competition to get into medical school may be intense—55,000 people around the country are competing for 16,000 spots—but Harvard’s pre-meds have a leg up. More than 80 percent of medical school applicants from the College get in.
The three students interviewed for this story give different reasons for wanting to become a doctor. They come from different family backgrounds and different regions of the country.
But their personal motivations have won them all a full day hunched over an answer grid with a number 2 pencil and a chance at their common dream to become doctors.
Zachary L. Bercu ’04 is the son of a doctor, but he did not always know that medicine was for him. He describes his decision to be a pre-med as a philosophical journey of self-discovery.
Carrie E. Tuten ’04 comes from a “two-stoplight” town in Ohio. She plans to work at a homeless shelter this summer and says she is drawn to the social consciousness that is part of medicine.