Pre-Med Students Readjust Concentration Choices

Like many pre-medical students not in a science concentration, Haley P. Brown ’15 has struggled to balance her science courseload with classes for her Classics concentration and Spanish citation. As a result of the burden on students like Brown, the number of non-science-concentrating pre-meds has fallen by two-thirds over the past decade, according to the Office of Career Services.

But a series of revisions to nationwide pre-med requirements promises to better the integration of the pre-med curriculum into undergraduate liberal arts programs.

“This could really free up space for non-science concentrators and allow them to fulfill their requirements in a way that’s more in line with what they want to study,” said Avik Chatterjee, a pre-med advisor in Dunster House.

The Association of American Medical Colleges announced in 2009 that it was in the process of readjusting its requirements for pre-med students. This reconfiguration will shift the focus from “course-based” to “competency-based” criteria.

According to Robert A. Lue, Harvard’s director of Life Sciences Education, the new program aims to replicate nationally the structure of Harvard’s Life Sciences program, which opens with framework classes and builds courses around concepts rather than specific scientific disciplines.


“Two of the areas of competence were inspired by Life Sciences 1a and Life Sciences 1b,” Lue said. “While other schools are struggling to figure out which classes provide which competencies, we’re good.”

The new system will also recognize extracurricular research experience, which could give students more freedom with their courseload. Under the current program, even though many students conduct research in their spare time, their lab hours do not count toward their pre-med requirements.

“In the competency-based admissions model, students could submit the research they have done outside of courses towards satisfaction of a school’s competency requirement,” said Oona B. Ceder, who leads pre-medical advising for OCS.

Ceder added that the new program values both interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies.

“It’s what is known colloquially as people skills,” she said. “Much of that is based on the careful study of what is required to deliver effective health care.”

These “people skills,” along with changes to the MCAT set to take effect in 2015, are meant to reward an undergraduate career that also focuses on areas outside the pure sciences, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ report.

“Having more freedom in the classes I can take would be great,” Brown said. “I’m not the only one trying to do a lot of things with my plan of study, and flexibility in courses that count would be really helpful.”

­­—Staff writer Jessica A Barzilay can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaBarzilay.