Pre-Healthcare Professions Advising at WWU

Pre-Medical Education

Physicians, often referred to as doctors, serve a fundamental role in our society and have an effect upon all our lives. They diagnose illnesses and prescribe and administer treatment for people suffering from injury or disease. Physicians examine patients; obtain medical histories; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive health care. About one third of the nation's physicians are generalists—"primary care" doctors who provide lifelong medical services. These include internists, family physicians, and pediatricians. Generalists provide a wide range of services that children and adults may need. When patients' specific health needs require further treatment, generalist physicians may make a referral to a specialist physician. Specialist physicians, such as neurologists, cardiologists, and ophthalmologists, differ from generalists in that they focus on treating a particular system or part of the body. They collaborate with generalist physicians to ensure that patients receive treatment for specific medical problems as well as complete and comprehensive care throughout life. The most frequently entered areas of practice include the following:

  • Emergency medicine
  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Obstetrics-gynecology
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery

There are two types of physicians: MD (Doctor of Medicine) and DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). MDs also are known as allopathic physicians. Both MDs and DOs may use all accepted methods of treatment, including drugs and surgery, but DOs place special emphasis on the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic patient care. DOs often practice osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), the use of hands to diagnose illness and injury and to encourage the body's natural tendency toward good health. DOs are more likely than MDs to be primary care specialists, although they can practice in all specialties: approximately 65% of practicing osteopathic physicians specialize in primary care areas, such as pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and internal medicine. Many physicians—primarily general and family practitioners, general internists, pediatricians, obstetricians/gynecologists, and psychiatrists—work in small private offices or clinics, often assisted by a small staff of nurses and other administrative or clinical personnel. Increasingly, physicians may be found practicing in groups or health care organizations, including hospitals, that provide backup coverage and allow for more time off. These physicians often work as part of a team coordinating care for a population of patients; they are less independent than solo practitioners of the past. Other physicians work in research, academic settings, or with health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, health insurance companies, or in corporations directing health and safety programs. At Western, there are an estimated 500 students pursuing some type of pre-medical curriculum. Western, however, does not offer a "pre-med" major, and there is no formula for getting into medical school. There is no "preferred" major to gain admission to medical school. If you are interested in the pre-medical program, you should contact the Pre-Healthcare Professions Advising Office (OM 280-M). The application process for admission to medical school is well-known to be selective. Applicants are evaluated on the basis of the grade-point average (both for the sciences and overall), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) results, letters of recommendation, clinical or other relevant experience, and a personal interview. With the help of the pre-medical advisor, you should be able to plan a curriculum and a calendar that will put you on the best track, while at Western, to meet the challenges of being accepted to medical school. Today's medical schools emphasize the importance of a liberal arts education and do not recruit students from one specific major or discipline. Thus, students have flexibility in planning their pre-med educational program. Use your undergraduate years to explore many academic fields, develop basic skills and knowledge expected of all applicants, and demonstrate expertise and experience in a field of study (a major) of your choice. Choose a major in which you will excel and that you will enjoy. Popular majors for pre-medical students are biology, biochemistry, and chemistry, but pre-med students have also majored in a diverse range of academic disciplines including anthropology, physical education (exercise/sports sciences), physical therapy, psychology, history, philosophy, communications, art history, communications sciences and disorders, and Fairhaven self-designed majors. Some students pursue combined majors such as biology/anthropology or cellular and molecular biology. Academic course requirements for admission to medical schools may vary, but prerequisites expected by most schools include:

  • one year general chemistry with labs (Chem 121-3 or Chem 125, 126, 225)
  • one year organic chemistry with labs (Chem 351-355/356)
  • two quarters of biochemistry (Chem 471, 472 or Biol 471, 472)
  • one year physics with labs (either Phys 114, 115, 116 or Phys 161, 162, 163)
  • one year biology with labs (Biol 204-206)
  • 2 quarters calculus (Math 124, 125) and 1 quarter statistics (Math 240)

These courses minimally meet most medical school admission requirements and prepare you for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Some majors offered at Western incorporate all or a portion of these foundation courses. No matter what your major, you will have to include the above courses in your plan of study. In addition, some medical schools require one year of English (expository writing). It is advisable to develop your curriculum to build and expand your skills in mathematics, reading, writing, communication, business, computer science, philosophy (ethics courses in particular), cultural studies, and foreign languages. Many of these disciplines can be addressed within your General University Requirements (GURs). Students who have received Advanced Placement (AP) credit for science or mathematics courses should be aware that many medical schools do not accept AP courses as satisfying entrance requirements. Course taken through Running Start or other programs where students obtain college credit while in high school, however, are acceptable. Courses that appear on a community college or four-year college or university transcript are satisfactory to meet medical school entrance requirements. Note that biology majors will need a grade point average of 2.9 or better for Chem 121 and 122, Biol 204 and 205 and that enrollment in Chem 123 and Biol 206 are necessary in order to advance to a Phase II biology major. Admission to Phase II is required in order to take upper division biology classes. Biol 348 and 349 (Human Anatomy and Physiology) are open to students who are not Phase II biology majors, but these classes are generally not appropriate for most biology majors. Biol 348 and 349, however, are recommended depth electives for the biology/anthropology BS or BA majors. If you major in biochemistry, you will need a 3.0 grade average in Chemistry 121, 122, 123, 351, and 352 and Biol 205 in order to move on to a Phase II biochemistry major.