by Sanford J. Brown M.D.



You can get into medical scool COVER


Differences of Opinion:
The Premedical Society and Summer School


Although most premed mail I receive takes the form of inquiry, I am eternally grateful for letters that are critical of positions I have taken. This is not solely because age brings humility; these letters give me an opportunity to see another side of an issue and, sometimes, to amend my advice for my readers' benefit.

For example, in my original book I disparaged the premedical society. Smugly, I quoted Marx (Groucho) who said that he would not belong to any club that would accept him as a member. I felt that whatever~ advantages a college premedical club offered were outweighed by the competitive atmosphere it fostered. Several years ago I was challenged by a premed student from the University of Southwestern Louisiana:

July 5, 1982

Dear Dr. Brown

A couple of days ago, I was browsing through the reference section of a local bookstore when I found your Getting into Medical School. Being the typical premed awaiting the MCAT, I bought the book immediately and started reading. I especially appreciate your advice to premeds about their major and elective choices. Though I am majoring in biology-chemistry, I am also minoring in English and French. When I took comparative anatomy last fall, I also took poetry-writing and found myself published in the University of Southwestern Louisiana's literary magazine. I wouldn't trade the English, French, psych, and music courses I plan to take for any science electives. I i~tend to graduate with a well-rounded education in biology, English, chemistry, philosophy, microbiology, language, physical education and history.

Despite my general satisfaction with your book, however, I do feel obliged to take exception to one of your opinions. As far as I'm concerned, whether medical schools do or don't care about premedical society membership is unimportant (except, of course, for the Dedicated Dannys who don't bother to join any other society or organization for fear membership might interfere with studying). A premedical society provides members with information about taking the MCAT, taking the "killer courses at their particular institution, applying to medical schools, and exploring various fields of medicine usually not considered. A premedical society is especially important in a university such as mine, in which computer science majors interested in medicine have computer science advisors who don't know much about medical schools. The premedical committee, the premed society advisor, and the premedical society fill the void.

As perhaps you've guessed, I am president of my school's premed society. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at the lack of the "killer instinct" in our members (which you seemed to suggest when you said membership in a society with the people one competes with in class may cause the member to be "uptight"). I've been told the lack of what our advisor calls the" premed syndrome" is related to the geographic, social and religious factors in our location. The University of Southwestern Louisiana is a public university (approximately 15,000 students) in Catholic, southern Louisiana; the major ethnic groups are Cajun and Black and the influence of these family-oriented groups is great. In particular, the Cajuns (or Acadians, descendants of French exiles from eighteenth century Canada) have a lifestyle that accents cooperation, hospitality and celebration. The USL premed society ends each semester with a day-long crawfish and shrimp-bait barbecue celebrating in one event the sophomores' survival of comparative anatomy and the seniors' acceptance to medical school. If you're ever going to be in Louisiana in mid-November or early May, please write the USL premedical society; we'd be glad to share the joie de vivre with you.

Thanks for a valuable "guide to the ropes" and also for hearing me out on my conflicting opinion.

Ellen Lancon

As a physician I often appreciate a second opinion. Clearly, Ms. Lancon's experience with premed societies was different from my own; had I attended her university I might have become a member. At least, I would have crashed the crawfish barbecue. Interestingly, I received a follow-up from Ellen this year. Did she get into a medical school? Two of them! Here's her letter:

January 24, 1984

Dear Dr. Brown,

I'm happy to respond to your request for an update on my pursuit of the physician's life. During the summer and fall of 1983, I applied to and was accepted by LSU-New Orleans and LSU-Shreveport. After serious consideration of both schools, I have elected to attend LSU-Shreveport. Tours and conversations with friends already there have led me to believe I've made the right decision. I'm looking forward to the day I can affix that hard-earned "M.D." to my signature.

Now that I've been accepted to medical school, I'm enjoying what remains of my senior year. I agree with you about choosing courses and majors. I've majored in biology-chemistry, but I've amassed about 60 hours of electives, including ballet, counseling, sign language, creative writing, ethics, history, language and computer science courses. Those electives, coupled with the biology courses I took as electives (histology and immunology), have made my four years of college delightful. Happily, my premed brother has also adopted this philosophy and recently enjoyed a semester of English, French, Greek and organic chemistry.

Remember if you're ever in Lafayette, LA, in early May, drop by USL for the premedical society crawfish boil!

Ellen Lancon

Well, I won't be needing to come uninvited to that crawfish party after all. What a relief. A second critical letter comes from a student at San Francisco State University:

Dear Dr. Brown,

A couple of thoughts:

1. Do you really want to encourage people who don't get into a U.S. med school to go to a foreign med school? Statistics on tiny numbers of these grads who get U.S. residencies are awfully discouraging, and how can an average person finance this without guaranteed student loans or access to part-time work? The latest AAMC guidebook is very discouraging on this subject.

2. Regarding your advice to take those "difficult" courses in summer school-here at State, summer school is much more competitive than regular session. The hotshots who sacrifice their summer vacation to study science are highly motivated.

Alan Steel

Mr. Steel makes several informative points. I did not mean to imply that chemistry courses should be taken in summer school to avoid their academic difficulty; they should be taken in summer school to avoid spending your time with them during the school year. Coincidentally, they need not be taken at especially competitive schools, which apparently include San Francisco State. Having pre-pharmacy, pre-nursing and other science-type majors in the class ought to be a fair handicap for a premed. As for attending a foreign medical school, I was not aware I was promoting them as an alternative for rejected applicants. Rather, I make the realistic observations that they are expensive, culturally alienating, academically questionable, and offer no guarantee of matriculation to a U.S. medical school or training program. Nevertheless, going to a foreign medical school may be better than going to none at all; the risks may be worth taking.





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