Not everyone on the pre-med track plans on heading to medical school after graduation.
While many students at Penn follow what might be typically termed a “pre-med” academic path, not all of those students plan on becoming doctors, or even entering the health care field.
According to Kelly Cleary, a senior associate director at Career Services, students with the “transferable quantitative and analytical” skills and knowledge that come along with a science or pre-med background are “in very high demand from employers in a wide variety of industries.”
Health care and sciences — two of the fastest growing fields right now — are common choices for students following this sort of path. There are also ways for students to go into careers of direct patient care without ever applying to medical school. These options range from nurse practitioner to occupational therapist to social worker, among others.
Other options in the sciences include research and development and health care management.
Cleary also mentioned that there is a certain stigma attached to majoring in particular sciences.
“A lot of students come to Penn thinking they should want to be a doctor, and there are a lot of pressures … out there,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to go into something that you know rather than going into an unexplored area, and I think this is based on a lack of knowledge about other career options.”
Biology major and College senior Mia Weber noted a similar connotation.“I feel like a lot of people feel that if they like science or are good at math and science, the only option is to do medicine. And what’s nice about medicine is that it’s a straight path and you know what you’re supposed to be doing along the way,” she said.
That said, although Weber has “taken almost all of the pre-med classes,” she has decided that a career in medicine is not necessarily for her and does not plan on applying to medical school when she graduates.
Carol Hagan, a senior associate director and pre-health advisor at Career Services, encourages students to really think about the commitments associated with a pre-med path and with medical school. After contemplation, pre-med students sometimes change their minds about their career paths.
However, Hagan added that some pre-health students “want the M.D. as an educational experience and as a credential,” but don’t plan on being practicing clinicians for their entire careers.
“Occasionally I’ll meet with a student who wants an M.D. but also wants an MBA, and they may know that they want to be in administration, or policy, or some type of journalism,” she said. “There are certainly people who are hospital administrators who have non-practicing jobs but who have an M.D.”
Other non-practicing medical careers exist, too. Engineering sophomore Alicia Mathur wants to work in the field of medicine but does not intend on doing patient care. Originally a bioengineering major, Mathur is now a systems engineering major with a focus on medical device product design.
“For me, it mostly has to do with the lifestyle of being a doctor,” she said. “I’m interested in medicine and I’m interested in revolutionizing technologies in medical labs, and I’m interested in helping people. Being a systems engineer is all about design and innovation.”
Mathur added that many of her friends thought that they needed to stick with the track they had in mind right when they entered college.
“Now that I have changed my major, I realize that that’s what college is about,” she said. “This is where you decide what you want to be. Explore your options as far as you can.”