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Physics major for medical school?

  1. Feb 18, 2013 #1
    It seems like a bit of an odd question, at least in my mind. But i have an immense passion for both physics and medicine. I did research on getting into med school and many people recommend majoring in whatever you love doing, as long as you get the requirements for pre-med. They also say that your GPA is possibly the most influential factor in you getting into a med school. I am currently a highschooler, so i still have time to think about all this, but i figured i would get some opinions early on.
    If gpa is the most important aspect of med school acceptances, should i really go into a physics major? The goal for med school is an undergrad gpa of about 3.8. I personally don't know how difficult that will be in college, but i have heard that a physics major is extremely rigorous, even if you love the subject.
    The second reason for a physics major is the ability to have a career option if i do not get accepted into med school. I have experience in programming and statistics, would a physics major lead me to any viable career options if the med-school thing doesn't workout?
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  3. Feb 18, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    The advise is good - and exactly what most people will tell you: major in what you love.
    In the case of medicine and physics - that's an unusual combination so it will make you stand out. There are also opportunities in medical physics.

    "viable career" is subjective though ... pure science is not usually considered a lucrative career option in the same way as, say, law or medicine - but physics (with math and computers) can lead to many technical careers.
  4. Feb 18, 2013 #3
    I got that advice and it was bad advice. I majored in what I "loved" and it was not a good choice. Not for a career and not for my own personal fulfillment.

    My advice: Consider all options when choosing a major. You have to balance what you love (idealism) with reality on the ground (pragmatism). If you just majored in what you loved you will not be making a pragmatic decision at all. Getting a career is a very competitive process. Getting your education is a very competitive process. If you are going to do something out of the ordinary make sure it will make you more competitive, not less.
  5. Feb 18, 2013 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    That is pretty unusual - did you fall out of love with your choice of major?

    Normally, and particularly at high-school, what you love is what you are prepared to put the most sustained work into - and that usually translates into results ... all other things remaining equal. It gives you the best chance, but even the best chance may not pan out: that does not make it bad advise.
  6. Feb 18, 2013 #5
    I dont think it is unusual. I think many people who major in something just because they love it are poorly served. In fact, I would make the opposite claim: Its unusual for simply majoring in what you love to be worthwhile. Sure, its fun when you are in school. But afterwords it can be hard to justify. I still love physics, but the love is now bittersweet with all the baggage of loans and lost time and frustration stuck on to it.

    I would have been better served to get a more applicable technical degree/certification or not going to college at all. I have seen this play out time and time again with my peers. One friend got a B.S. in aerospace engineering because it was what he loved. That turned out to be a costly mistake, and now he is doing nursing to try to pay off his engineering loans. I have another who did a PhD in theater, she loves it. Of course now she is bitter with no career and loads of debt. That is generally what you get for majoring in what you love - no career and loads of debt. I think that is the usual course. Most people are not good enough at what they love to make a career out of it. The sooner they realize that and get pragmatic the better. Note that this doesn't mean abandoning what you love, just tempering it with practicality.

    So the the OP - I suggest doing physics for med school if you can justify it career wise. This is probably doable if you take a medical physics kind of perspective. Otherwise, competing with all the other wannbe doctors, it would probably be best to major in bio or chem like they do.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2013
  7. Feb 18, 2013 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    I think that depends on how you are judging your life later.
    But just because the decision did not pan out does not mean you made a bad choice.
    Anyway - it is dangerous to generalize from personal experience.

    I've seen this at work over thousands of students between myself and others ... out of thousands who study what they love the decision fails to pan out for dozens. Out of thousands who choose entirely on pragmatic reasons, almost all end up miserable.

    But it should not be the only factor in making the decision, and I have not suggested that it should be.

    The cost-benefit of the course of action is important too. In some countries the government pays for the bulk of your college education so there is less of a downside to pursuing your dreams. But we don't really know enough about OPs circumstances ... maybe he's a scholarship student? We do know he's talking high-school here, not college. His plan is to go to med school and have a fall-back in case the grades aren't up to it.

    If OP tends to score low in physics despite liking the subject, then it may be better advise to leave physics for an off-major interest and concentrate on grades. What you enjoy is usually where your talent lies but it may not be - you can undervalue your talent because that stuff comes too easy for you.

    But to give advise that way requires a personal interview and not general principles.
  8. Feb 18, 2013 #7


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    I can't tell you what to major in, but here are a few thoughts that you might find relevant.

    First, medical schools will rank candidates by different formulas, but one factor is the GPA specificto the prerequisite courses, themselves effectively the first year or more of most science majors. This value is highly unlikely to be effected by your actual major. Your mark in organic chemistry 101 is your mark in organic chemistry 101, regardless of whether your major is physics, microbiology or history.

    Second, it's worth examining physics in relation to other possible majors that you're considering. Physics graduates, for example, tend to do rather well in terms of salary (both entry-level and mid-career) compared to most other science majors and finish middle of the pack among engineering disciplines. It is, however, an academic field and not a profession. Marketing a physics degree can be tricky.

    Third, this data may be of interest if you aren't already aware of it. Physics majors tend to do rather well on the MCAT exam. Whether this is because physics tends to impose a tighter bottleneck or because it gives candidates a better overall knowledge of science or something else doesn't appear to be established.

    Fourth, trying to pick easy courses to maximize your GPA can be a risky game in that it has the potential to leave you with courses you didn't want in the first place and offers no guarantee of a better GPA. Sometimes the easy courses turn out to be the harder ones.
  9. Feb 25, 2013 #8
  10. Feb 26, 2013 #9


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    Let me ask you a few things, ModusPwnd. Suppose someone that you know will be graduating from high school and he/she is interested in or loves all things science. What would your practical suggestion be to that individual?

    Would you advise him/her to study engineering? But that's not necessarily "practical" because your friend finished his BS in aeronautical engineering and that didn't get him anywhere. Physics? But that didn't get anywhere with you (I'm assuming that you are still underemployed or barely scraping by delivering pizzas). So what would be practical?

    Furthermore, what step can someone take that can be justified career-wise? You might as well suggest that he/she shouldn't even bother attending college, which may be the best option for some, but I have read statistics (I will provide a specific link once I find it) that points out that the unemployment rate for college grads is lower than those who did not graduate from college.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2013
  11. Mar 6, 2013 #10
    I hope that I'm not derailing this thread any further, but the question of whether you should do something you "love" is quite complicated. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to do this, but not everyone is competent at what they "love" (not going into matters of talent since I don't want to start a flame war). A lot of this simply has to do with the fact that many people will have had a head start on studying the subject you're interested in. Aside from that, there are employment opportunities to consider as other people mentioned.

    For example, I decided to major in something I liked a lot and dabbled with but had little experience with in high school. I fit StatGuy's description as someone who was interested in everything. While it's working out fine so far, I found I had to spend much more time than many other people in order to even get a basic grasp of the material in covered in a non-trivial class (let alone deep understanding). Can you handle the constant feeling of being stupid and simply carry on (ex. by laughing at yourself) and remind yourself that this might be the cost of studying something that is very difficult? This is a question that isn't as easy to answer as you would think. Personally, I'm really happy with my decision even things can get quite frustrating a lot of the time. One thing I definitely recommend if you do decide to major in something that would be difficult for you is to constantly ask questions to make sure you have some idea of what you are doing. Also, make sure to talk to a lot of other people in majors you are considering. Finally, I'm also taking some courses outside my major in order to keep my options open. Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2013
  12. Mar 6, 2013 #11


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    We need to get back to the topic of this thread and not start another topic.

  13. Mar 6, 2013 #12
    I would say "Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it."

    Otherwise, I think the OP has a practical plan in mind by going to med school. Particularly if he/she goes for a medical physics type med-school. I think the issue of viable career options if med-school doesn't work out is a real danger and the OP should realize that such a back up plan probably requires going back to school rather than trying to get a career off of a B.S. in physics. A B.S. in physics is no backup plan, its a starting off point towards a practical education.
  14. Mar 6, 2013 #13
    Hopefully something more relevant: Try learning a large portion of the material for intro science classes in college before going (if possible) and look at material for advanced courses to decide what area you want to go into. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there would be too much overlap between med school requirements and physics major requirements, so I think it would be best to decide as soon as possible if you are just about to go to college. Although I think that it is pretty difficult to go to med school as a physics major given this info, I do know of a math major at my school who is going to med school next year. If you still have a couple of years left, take some time to explore your interests and don't worry too much about what to exactly focus on later. It's hard to give specific advice since we don't really know your reasons for being interested in medicine (ex. if mainly interested in biology, could try studying biophysics in grad school).
  15. Mar 7, 2013 #14


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    Your first sentence is not a practical suggestion by any means.

    Let me be clear. You had stated earlier that you have to balance what you love (idealism) with the reality on the ground (pragmatism). What I am questioning is your basic assumption about what is pragmatic or practical.

    I agree that a BS in physics (as is a BS in any STEM field) can be a starting point for a practical education. But what is "practical" can change quite dramatically depending on the circumstances of the time. How can you anticipate what would be practical in, say, 4 or 5 years of time?

    Going back to my earlier post, your friend who earned his BS in aeronautical engineering which is ostensibly earned a "practical" degree (since all engineering degrees are to a certain extent practical) and it did not lead him anywhere. Your physics education led you nowhere career-wise, and you were stuck working as a lowly pizza deliveryman, something any high school dropout with a driver's license can do (at least the last time I had PM'd you, correct me if you are doing something else now). So what are you doing now to practically improve your circumstances?
  16. Mar 7, 2013 #15
    So I'm not a brilliant physicist, just a loser pizza man. Jeez, lay off me. Just ignore me if you think my opinion is useless because of this. This thread isnt about me, its about the OP and his want of physics and medical school. I think his chosen path has a much more narrow line of success than his peers will have and thus he is going to have a hard time competing with them. Going into medical physics rather than "regular" med-school seems like an option though, then he will be competing with his own peers using the skill set he developed instead of making up for lost material.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
  17. Mar 7, 2013 #16


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    I know that my post might come across as insulting to you, but that is not my intent. Nor is this post really about you, per se. What I was trying to do is to challenge and question your fundamental assumption about idealism vs pragmatism in terms of pursuing higher education, and "practicality" is a more complicated issue than what you imply or present. I do not know you and your particular circumstances beyond what you have posted (or what you have chosen to reveal about yourself in your PM to me) and certainly do not consider you to be a "loser". I would hope, however, that you are using the time that you have right now to try to better yourself and retrain/retool in some other "marketable" technical capability that may be of interest you while working as a "pizza man", as I suspect, based on your previous posts (correct me if I'm mistaken) that you wish to work in a technically related career and not continue working in the restaurant industry.

    Now as far as the OP is concerned, I do not agree hat pursuing physics as preparation for medical school will necessarily lead to a narrower line of success, or at least no more so than pursuing a math or engineering degree (I've personally known people who have graduated from medical school and are practicing physicians with backgrounds in math, physics and engineering). It would largely depend on the abilities, dedication and discipline of the OP.

    I do agree that medical physics may be a more "natural fit" for someone with a BS in physics, however. I also agree that studying physics as a "backup plan" may not be the wisest course of action -- if the OP wants to study physics, he should do so out of interest in the material.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2013
  18. Mar 7, 2013 #17
    A practical degree is computer science not aero or physics. A practical degree changes over time at some point in time mech eng was the most practical depending on what industry values. Everyone else has to try hard to figure out how to market themselves.

    As far as OP's question I wouldnt necessarily do physics for medical school. You might "audit" or "add/drop" more physics classes to gain a wider base of knowledge while working the GPA which medical schools care even more about than applying to grad school.
  19. Mar 7, 2013 #18
    I'm the same. :) I love physics and medicine. I'm actually doing the same thing you're talking about. The big issue with going into medicine with a physics degree is that most of the medicine prerequisites are chemistry and biology related. Even though you must only take chemistry 1 and 2 for physics, you have to take organic chemistry 1 and 2 and biochemistry for medicine, as well as biology 1 and 2.

    What the physics major does is prolong your time as undergraduate student. It also makes school harder. I've heard a lot of pre-med students only go up to calculus 1. Physics requires so much more math than that. However, if you're considering doing physics, I'm guessing you are either really clueless or you're confident in your abilities to be successful..
  20. Mar 12, 2013 #19


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    I was (kind of) in the same position as you are in, I much prefer physics over biological sciences but my parents are both doctors so there's always been a lot of discussion about whether or not I would stay in the "family business", I guess you would say. I have a family member with a chem engineering degree from Cal but "average" grades (around a 3.5 or so), and he went to med school- but he rocked the MCATs. So schools might account for the fact that a lot of your classes are tough and you may not have a 4.0.

    The advantage of a physics degree is just that physics majors are smarter, I think. It's not really the major per se. Also, med schools see bio and chem major applicants all day long- do something a little different and I think it'll make up for a slightly lower GPA. My family member with the ChemE degree actually had someone in his med school class who was an econ major, believe it or not- the guy wanted to go into public health.

    Physics majors and engineers tend to do well in med school because quite a lot of it is physics, especially the heart and lung stuff, and orthopedics. And radiology, of course.

    Personally, I don't want to be a doctor (I'm a junior in college now and never did do all the prerequisites), but I am very interested in medical physics- because it's applied physics, not because it's medical.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2013
  21. Mar 12, 2013 #20

    Simon Bridge

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    ... AND people who approach medicine from the biological sciences tend to be physics-averse. Especially when it comes to math.

    I spent two years teaching physics and math to pre-med students ... almost all treated it as something they hated and wanted to put behind them and forget about as quickly as possible. Just ask you GP/Family doctor about the physics requirement.

    I don't think physics grads are smarter exactly, it's just that they have an outlook that favors math, hard science, and a kind of discipline when it comes to problem solving. People who start out deciding to be doctors appear to be more socially smart. Perhaps House started out in physics?
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