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Classics Department Encourages Pre-Meds to Consider Concentrating

By Jonathan G. Adler, Crimson Staff Writer

When picturing a pre-med undergraduate, one tends to think of a student poring over p-sets, staring into microscopes, and stirring beakers. And while those activities certainly apply to the experiences of pre-med students at Harvard, some also choose to explore another area: Classics.

Over the course of the past few years, the Classics Department has mapped out and publicized a dedicated plan of study for concentrators who are also on the pre-med track, according to Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Classics Kathleen M. Coleman.

While Classics concentrators, along with concentrators in the humanities, have long pursued this option, many pre-med students were previously unaware that the option existed, Coleman said. As a result of this lack of awareness, the department created a detailed plan of study, available on their website, several years ago for the Classical Civilizations track. Several months ago, the department also created a plan for its Classical Languages and Literatures track.

“I think simply that people never think of it,” Coleman said of jointly pursuing pre-med requirements and a Classics degree. “They think the way to do pre-med at college is to do a STEM concentration, and certainly you can do that.”

But, Coleman said, students who believe that concentrations in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are necessary for medical school run the risk of missing out on the benefits of a humanistic education.

“Learning how to read, analyze, think, and articulate is the key to success at everything one does, and classics is particularly good at inculcating rigor and discrimination because our material is so fragmentary,” Coleman said.

Michael S. Hughes ’15, a former Classics concentrator and a current student at the Harvard Medical School, echoed Coleman in praising the applicability of the classics to medicine.

“Besides all of the fancy [medical] terminology that gets thrown around that has its roots in Latin and Greek, classics teaches you not necessarily a lot of information but a lot of knowledge and a lot of skills,” Hughes said.

In particular, Hughes said his background in the classics allowed him, once in medical school, to assimilate vast amounts of information.

“There are something like 250 verb forms in Latin,” Hughes said. “That’s a lot of things. How does someone do that?”

Hughes said his education in the classics taught him how to group and analyze different forms of verbs so they are more manageable, a method that lately has proven useful in helping him memorize medical terminology.

“Like with medicine and a lot of other subjects, there’s simply too much information to memorize it all,” Hughes said. “You have to understand how the stuff is put together.”

Gabriel E. Molina ’15, also a former Classics concentrator who now studies at the Medical School, said he believes the classics will help him communicate with and relate to patients.

“It was thanks to my studying in my classics courses that I got to think more about what it’s like to be human, what a human experience actually means,” Molina said. “You get a better sense of what patients are going through in their lives outside of their diseases.”

While there are currently no Classics concentrators on the pre-med track, Coleman said she hopes as students become more aware of the option, more prospective doctors will join the concentration.

“Classics is the kind of thing that is absolutely for everybody,” she said.

–Staff writer Jonathan G. Adler can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JonathanGAdler.

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FASCollege LifeHumanities DivisionHigher EducationAcademicsMedicine