Navigating Med School with a Non-Science Major

Emily Chan
January 30, 2017
Posted in Student Life


Having completed my undergrad in psychology and then taking two gap years, by the time I entered med school it had been about six years since I had taken any basic science courses. I had also never taken a biochemistry course. So it was safe to say that I was pretty nervous about being able to keep up with my classmates. I won’t sugar coat it; the first six weeks (biochemistry and genetics) were difficult, mostly due to the fast-paced curriculum and the sheer volume of lecture information. And yes, I did have to put a little more time into understanding the material than some of my classmates. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because when we got to later blocks that the entire class found difficult, I had already established a work ethic and study strategy, and was able to transition relatively smoothly into the new blocks. Also, once we got past the first 12 weeks and started learning anatomy and physiology, everyone was pretty much on an even playing field in terms of background knowledge. In fact, I very quickly forgot how behind I felt during those first few weeks and only reflected back on it at the end of my second year, when I realized how long it had been since I’d felt like my non-science background held me at a disadvantage from my classmates.

For anyone coming from a non-science background, here is my advice: Don’t be nervous. It’s ok if you didn’t take biochemistry or genetics or physiology, or if you haven’t taken any science courses in the recent past. Is our curriculum fast-paced? Yes. Will you work hard? Absolutely. But so will everyone in med school! Keep in mind, if you’re admitted to Vanderbilt, you’ll have already undergone a rigorous screening process by the admissions committee, and they don’t accept students that they don’t think will succeed. Also, don’t discount the value of your unique background; the parts of the curriculum related to your major (for me it was the psychiatry block) will come easier to you. And regardless of the subject matter, you may find that you approach things from a different angle than traditional science majors and be able to contribute a unique perspective when working through problems. The bottom line is: sure, you may start out feeling behind, but you’ll soon realize how little that matters in the grand scheme of things, and before you know it you’ll have caught up with the rest of your classmates!