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Did anyone go onto to med school from a science/engineering background?

  1. Feb 7, 2008 #1
    Ive currently finished my 3rd year in EE, interning in power engineering - however I have a number of friends in med school, or are prepping for med school. Now - I'm incredibly facinated with medicine but not in the sense that I'd like to practice it - but - i'ld love to study it and do research in it.

    Should I be looking into medical science?
    Would it provide me with the kind of rigorous study in topics that I'm keen on pursuing? Also do any of you know of anyone with an engineering background jumping into medical science or med school?
    How big a disadvantage would it be not doing pre-med before hand?
    What would my future look like if for some reason i didn't want to continue working in the medical field and moved back to EE - would that kind of mobility be there?

    Thanks and appologies if any of these questions seem too silly.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2008 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    I hold a Ph. D. in Physics and currently reside in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in a medical school, and I can tell you first hand, from research and teaching experience, that undergrads who come to our Ph.D program with a physics/engineering background are extremely well prepared and do very well. After a tough year getting up to speed on biology, those students probably do better than traditional biology undergrads.

    The MD students generally dislike science, are afraid of all mathematics, and are trained to think like engineers.
  4. Feb 8, 2008 #3


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    I'm curious to know how much mathematics is used in medical school. I have a friend in medical school but he's not from the US. Where he's from, a student can enter medical school after completing his A levels. Hence med school is just like a undergrad degree here. He's in his third year and he tells me he can't think of part of this curriculum where he uses math at all, except in calculating drug dosages. Then again maybe the educational system is different outside US for med school.
  5. Feb 8, 2008 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    That's an interesting question, and relates to what training a MD should have. I have come to think of MDs like engineers: great at memorization and recall, very good at following complex instructions and performing complex tasks, but not good at independent thought or creativity (no offense to the excellent engineers out there).

    Here, the MDs have little to no mathematical training. Maybe they don't need it, maybe they do- I can't say for sure. My prejudice is that I would want my doctor to understand basic physical principles: the origin of blood pressure, for example. But the reality is that MDs don't use math beyond basic adding and subtracting- at least the ones I know. Some specialists have more: a radiologist needs to understand some fancy imaging algorithms, and I'm sure cardiologists understand some of what goes into an EKG.

    But, would I rather my surgeon have spent his time learning how to cut, or learning that log(AB) = log(A) + log(B)?

    The Ph.D. students- the ones going on to perform medical *research*, not just practice, know more math (although not enough, IMHO).
  6. Feb 8, 2008 #5


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    A good friend of mine, who I went to MSEE graduate school with and worked at Bell Labs with for a while, decided that medicine was actually his first love, and went back to get his MD. He is now very happy as an OBGYN, specializing in high risk pregnancies. He said that Med School turned out to be easy for him, because he has always been good at memorization. He said that about half of early Med School was memorization, so his skills at that let him concentrate on the other materials, which gave him a leg up on everyone else.

    I have another friend who I worked at HP with, a very entreprenurial guy, who had a strong interest in biomedical applications. So he went back to school, and got an MS in Biomedical Engineering, and is now a VP at a medium size medical device research & manufacturing company.

    Combining your EE skills and the medical field could be very rewarding for you. I encourage you to keep exploring that option.
  7. Feb 10, 2008 #6
    thing is premed isn't a major, it's a status; you can be a music major and still go to med school if you take the appropriate courses (bio I/II, chem I/II, organic I/II, biochem, genetics, physiology); I'm pretty sure you'd be set with the math and physics if you're doing EE.
  8. Feb 10, 2008 #7
    At the University of Pittsburgh Medical School (a reasonably well rated one), a lot of the premeds earned degrees in engineering, especially electrical. The ability to absorb a lot of information quickly and to apply a 90% solution with confidence carries over from engineering to medicine.
  9. Feb 10, 2008 #8
    My dentist got a bachelor's in engineering before going to med school.
  10. Feb 11, 2008 #9


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    I think you've asked two distinctly different questions here.

    First, you asked if you should pursue a medical degree to satisfy your interest in medicine if you do not intend to practice medicine. On this point, I'd discourage you from doing so (unless you plan to use the MD training to improve upon a future research career). Med school is far too demanding, and slots too valuable to have someone entering if they do not truly want to pursue a career in medicine. You might find things like graduate level coursework in select subjects more useful, particularly areas where you might want to apply your EE training. Alternatively, you may want to just audit some courses to satisfy your interest without actually needing to enroll in the classes.

    Your second question was whether one can get into a medical school without pre-med training. Pre-med means you are taking the prerequisite courses for med school admission. You will NOT get in without them....they are required for admission. But, there is no specific major, you just need to make sure you take those courses. Some you have already taken as an EE...general or intro physics (with labs) and Calc I and II. You may have even already taken general and organic chemistry, depending on what your engineering program requires. I assume you've also done an English writing course. That leaves you with general biology and lab. I think genetics is still required too. And of course, passing MCATs with a sufficiently high score.

    In our program, the engineers struggle in the first year, mainly because they have fewer basic biology courses and a lot less lab experience coming in, so really are learning everything from scratch while the bio majors have had more foundation in those subjects already. After the first year, they've caught up on basic sciences and do just as well over the long term. On the plus side, the engineers do very well in cardiovascular physiology, where they have a leg up on all but the most rare of the bio students on fluid dynamics.

    And, I'm going to take exception to Andy's comments that MD students aren't interested in science and just memorize. This is a very common misperception. Yes, there is a lot of memorization...you're going to be learning thousands of new terms, literally, in a very short time. But, if all you do is memorize, you're going to fail out, and you'll certainly never pass board exams. There are a lot more conceptual relationships, understanding of relationships between structures and functions and how physiology is related to pathology.
  11. Feb 11, 2008 #10
    Engineering majors going to med school?
    Not a bad prospect indeed.

    I am triple-majoring in
    -Computer engineering
    -Biochemistry and molecular biology
    -Mathematics (pure)

    Although I will have to choose one upon entering grad school :frown:
  12. Feb 11, 2008 #11
    How long you do plan on being an undergrad? 6-7 years?
  13. Feb 11, 2008 #12
    Why 6-7 years?

    Only if I actually took the 'recommended 3 classes/qtr' load!
    (i.e., the general plan followed by students pursuing a single major)

    But no,
    I will finish all three majors in the usual 4 years.
    (I have no problem taking 5-6 classes per quarter)
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2008
  14. Feb 11, 2008 #13
    5-6 classes sound like a normal load. What's that? Like 15-18 credits? It's usually going over 18 at my school that requires special permission.
  15. Feb 11, 2008 #14
    If I took 5-6 classes at my school, it would definitely go over the limit. I'm taking 13 credits right now while taking 3 classes.

    Unless they are the pseudo-3-credit-classes. You know, the ones who offer 5 credits worth of work, but you only meet 3 times a week so that it looks like you're only taking 3 credits. Those are fun.
  16. Feb 11, 2008 #15
    I've been told by a number of doctors that memory gets you very far in med school and that overall it's rather easy, minus the first year where they weed out those that don't truly want to be there (like in every program of study) .

    I've been told by a number of medical students and prospective med school students that med school is indeed very difficult, and that memory doesn't help you as you'd expect it to.

    I have friends who work "high stress" jobs in finance and the pharmaceutical industry. They love to talk about how cerebral their jobs are and how much work they're constantly doing. According to them, they work 90-100 hours every single week solving complex problems. They often forget that I know how much work they actually do and how difficult it really is.

    What I'm trying to get at here is that it seems to me that those in med school and those applying to med school, just like those who work these "high stress jobs," tend to exaggerate just how difficult it actually is. Perhaps a subconscious defense mechanism? "Oh no, you don't want to do what I'm doing, it's far too hard." You know, keep the competition down?

    I have a hard time believing med school is this herculean task that many make it out to be. The formula for admission is not unlike that of getting into a good college or university from secondary school:

    1. Good gpa
    2. Good standardized test scores
    3. Some volunteer work

    None of these require any kind of deep thought or very creative thinking. You'd think the tests you take to get in would be tests of the skills you need for later - I see memorization and motivation to do something medical as the skills tested here.

    So, is it really all that hard? Can we get an honest opinion for those that might be interested in going to medical school? While telling people something is harder than it is will discourage those that don't really want it, it will sometimes discourage those that just aren't confident in themselves at the moment. That doesn't help anyone.

    P.S. I know I sound like I'm belittling the profession, but trust me, I'm not. A few close members of my family are doctors and they make me look like a drooling idiot next to them. Just want to know the truth.
  17. Feb 12, 2008 #16
    Depending on the institution, students taking more than the recommended amount of classes
    (per quarter, semester, or any general grading cycle) may require special authorization to do so.

    *Edit: Fizziks, are you (by any chance) referring to high school?
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2008
  18. Feb 12, 2008 #17
    Although I am not a doctor, I have some family members who are and I’ve seen their careers develop over time including medical school, residency, and practice. So I’ll drop my 2 cents here.

    You are right on points 1 and 2. Almost EVERYONE that applies to meds has “some” volunteer work. This is also the hard part; the people that get in usually have done something that stands out that their peers were unable to do. It’s not simple as work X hours at Y place for a good recommendation letter. You actually have to make a difference. For example, you can tutor kids at an after school program or you can RUN such a program which includes duties like recruiting tutors, finding space, donations etc. It takes a lot of initiative to stand out in volunteer activities. Keep in mind, you have to do all this while having maintaining a good gpa, and studying for exams.

    I’ve been told that med school is NOT that bad compared residency. Residency is like your internship depending on your specialty. From the stories I’ve heard, it is absolute insanity: at hospital for more than 30+ hrs (you sleep there), continuously being tested, learning many techniques, some where someone’s life depends on it (but attending is usually there i guess).

    I think it’s great that meds has a reputation of being something that’s hard because even good (NOT great) doctors are people that worked their butts off to get where they are.

    After seeing what these guys go through first hand, I have a lot of respect for them. I am not saying every doc on earth is someone amazing… but generally speaking. Don’t forget that they have to deal with some of the dumbest/crappiest people around…. People who just want sue them for their money and etc.

    //end rant
  19. Feb 12, 2008 #18

    Andy Resnick

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    It's not that the MD students are anti-science (other than the pathological fear of mathematics). It's an ongoing effort to demonstrate to the students that bench research has clinical relevance. Just as it's an ongoing effort to demonstrate to engineering students why free-body diagrams of blocks on frictionless surfaces has relevance, or why Fourier optics is relevant to phase contrast microscopy.

    When I taught Physics I to a class of pre-meds, they clearly wanted a list of formulas to memorize and example problems showing how to "plug and chug". They were also very clearly uninterested in anything other that cramming sufficient information into their heads in order to get a good score on the MCATs.

    The only science most MDs are exposed to occurs at the undergrad level- the MD curriculum (here, anyway) is nearly 100% clinical practice. This year some basic science departments (biochem, etc) are offering cram courses for the comprehensive exams because little to no time was spent teaching the science behind medical practice.
  20. Feb 12, 2008 #19
    I used to think the rote memorization, constant drilling (as on rounds), and long hours were Godawful things to do to medical students/residents till I saw my first code blue (arrest) in the waiting room next to my shop. After seeing a group of grungy, sweaty, panting residents bring the guy back to life within less than a minute of the phone call, I got it.
  21. Feb 12, 2008 #20
    I didn't mean to suggest that the volunteer work is trivial. I understand that you're advised and often expected to have this area of you application thoroughly covered. I do , however, know of three individuals who had little in the area of volunteer work and were still accepted. One to upenn, another to jefferson, and the last to umdnj. Only the person who was accepted to upenn had astronomically high mcat scores and gpa to make up for lack of volunteer work. Could they be anomalies? Sure.

    Anyway, this still doesn't address what I was trying to get to the bottom of. I understand that medical school is very demanding, time-wise. I just don't see it being very demanding on a deep thought level, as many applying and going to med school seem to suggest it is. This is easy to understand. I know I used to think that whatever I was studying was harder than whatever you were studying. The qualifications necessary to go to med school certainly don't require a lot of deep thought, just a lot of time, it seems.

    I'm looking for an objective opinion here, and I do believe that's possible to get. I think it's safe to say that an engineering degree is considerably more mentally demanding than a general liberal arts degree. Now, how about engineering compared to the material learned in medical school? Let's exclude the amount of time and will power necessary, as those are secondary characteristics. Anything can be made arbitrarily more difficult as you increase the amount of time required to complete the task.
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