Strongly considering medical school? You may have the option of declaring yourself ‘pre-med’ – but why do so when there are so many degrees that can complement your medical studies? You may, for example, consider a degree in psychology or psychological sciences. Is psychology a potentially competitive undergraduate degree? Yes - if you go about it right. Northwestern University states that nationwide, psychology majors have an admission rate on a par with biology and chemistry majors.
Some schools offer multiple psychology tracks for students with different aspirations. One track may be identified as being appropriate for those heading on to medical school.
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Program Options; Getting in Your Prerequisites
If you are considering psychology as undergraduate preparation for medical school, you may want to give a good deal of thought to whether to earn a B.S. or B.A. Some schools have two tracks, with the B.S. being heavier on science and research. The University of Missouri notes that the B.S. is the better preparation for students who plan to go on to medical school and become doctors or psychiatrists. At the University of Mississippi, B.S. students take higher level statistics and complete a science track of their choosing. This is not uncommon.
Be aware, though, that the distinctions between psychology B.S. and B.A. are not identical from department to department and that some schools offer just one psychology degree. You will want to look ahead to see how well the curriculum aligns with pre-med requirements, and choose your minor and electives accordingly. You will need a significant number of science prerequisites. A science background can also help you on the MCAT.
Your psychology coursework may have a lot to offer you. Increasingly, the medical community recognizes the connection between mind and body. Northwestern University notes that coursework in social and personality psychology can develop sensitivity. Developmental psychology is of value to prospective pediatricians – as is psychology in general.
You may consider specialized psychology coursework that will complement your medical studies. Your program may include electives in health psychology. Some psychology departments even incorporate neuropsychology or neuroscience..
Psychology as Undergraduate Preparation for Psychiatry
If you plan on going into psychiatry, realize there will be a separate competitive process at the residency level. Your performance during clinical rotations will be more important than what your undergraduate major was. However, you may well find that you have a store of background knowledge to draw from.
You will apply a fair amount of your medical school knowledge to your psychiatry practice; you must determine, for example, what medical conditions must be ruled out before treating someone for a purely psychiatric condition. However, only a portion of your medical school experience will be specific to psychiatry. Even your residency may not provide a lot of experience in psychotherapy. Your undergraduate psychology will bring in perspectives from another discipline and add to your knowledge of human behavior.
Some individuals opt to spend the latter part of their psychiatry training pursuing research interests. If you take advantage of research opportunities during your undergraduate years, you will have had some exposure to research specifically related to psychological processes.
The Princeton Review notes that pre-med majors are good at weeding out those who can’t handle rigorous science (or pass the MCAT), but that they aren’t a guaranteed path to medical school. Peruse forums and you will see some common advice: Those who want to go on to medical school can and should choose undergraduate majors that interest them. It's an advantage, though, to have rigorous coursework as well as a high GPA. Your program choices – including research participation - can give you references as well as pertinent experience.