It took Krishna M. Prabhu ’11 two years to decide to commit to pursuing a career in medicine, but after working in a South African tuberculosis hospital the summer after his sophomore year, he took the plunge.
Now, Prabhu is writing a Social Studies thesis on the practice of medicine in South Africa and why doctors choose to work in certain hospitals. He plans to take a year off after graduation before attending medical school.
Rachel A. Levy ’11, on the other hand, came into college certain that she wanted to be a doctor. After falling in love with the English Department, she says she decided to pursue both interests. After all, she points out, “Keats had studied medicine before becoming a poet.”
Prabhu and Levy are two of many students at Harvard who recognize a value in pursuing pre-medical studies in conjunction with a concentration in the humanities or social sciences.
According to Harvard Medical School Professor Anne E. Becker ’83, more people have begun to appreciate the interface between the social sciences and clinical medicine. Becker, whose research has focused on social determinants of eating disorders, refers to herself as a “physician anthropologist.”
“I think there’s a better appreciation of the translation of empirical knowledge, not just from the bench to the bedside, but from the bedside to care delivery to the community,” she says. “A focus on social sciences in the undergrad years can really broaden perspective.”
And while balancing pre-med requirements with a non-science concentration requires students to straddle two very different disciplines, students who have chosen the route say they are excited about the chance to study what they love.
“Being a doctor [is] a career path [where] I think a lot of people want to end up, but you don’t have to take a linear path to get there,” says Maya E. Pena ’12 , a history concentrator.
A REFRESHING BALANCE
Many social science and humanities concentrators who are also pre-meds say they are not concerned with switching gears from problem sets to heavy reading. In fact, many say they welcome the balance.
“Social Studies forces you into an ivory tower,” says Prabhu. “Science classes help ground a person.”
For many future doctors, college is their last chance to study a field unrelated to science. These concentrators say the skills they are learning in their concentration classes will be very useful in the medical field.
“[In] Gen Eds and higher level Ec classes on global health and American health care policy, having a background in economics is pretty helpful in being able to understand some of the papers that are very quantitative,” says David Wang ’12, an economics concentrator who is also pursuing a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy.
Wang says he wants to run a hospital one day, and is considering a joint MD/MBA program after college.
Tenley A. Malmquist ’13, a pre-med and joint concentrator in anthropology and Romance Languages and Literature, says she decided not to study neurobiology after a summer trip to Honduras confirmed her passion for archaeology and languages and piqued her interest in a “Doctors Without Borders-kind of career.”
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