Health Professions Advising at WWU

Pre-Medical Education

The Medical Profession

At its essence, being a physician is a helping profession. Along with strong science skills, medical schools are looking for individuals who show a commitment to their community and display strong personal characteristics including cultural competence, teamwork, communication skills, and resilience.

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. Even if you are especially interested in a specialty area, you will still need to complete medical school first.


What is the difference between MD and DO?

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.


What Does it Mean to be Pre-Med at WWU?

Western 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 Healthcare Professions Advising Office (OM 280, prehealth@wwu.edu). 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 and other experiences, and a personal interview. Today's medical schools emphasize the importance of a liberal arts education and do not recruit students from one specific major or discipline. 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 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, kinesiology, psychology, 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 161-3 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)
  • two quarters calculus (Math 124, 125) and 1 quarter statistics (Math 240/BIOL 340/PSY 301)