I thought about being pre-med for a while. Like many neurotic (and slightly confused) freshmen, I was worried that I would realize one day that I wanted to be a doctor and wouldn’t have taken the right classes for it. So I took two pre-med courses.
By sophomore year, I had stopped thinking about being pre-med.
This means that Penn is doing its job — it is weeding out the students who just don’t want it badly enough (or wouldn’t cut it in medical school). But, over the past four years, I have realized that Penn does a disservice to many of its brightest students by dramatically limiting their ability to excel in their pre-med courses.
Talk to any student in the pre-med program and they will tell you the same thing: To succeed, you have to let it consume your life.
“It’s stressful and fast-paced. You’re working toward a goal that a sizable minority never achieve so the pressure to perform above average in all aspects is high,” said Lauren, a pre-med student who preferred to not use her full name because she doesn’t want to hurt her chances in the medical school admissions process.
And, as Lauren said, that pressure is probably for the best. Part of the point of the program is to identify students who will succeed in medical school. It should be a difficult program — most of us want our doctors to have succeeded in rigorous environments before performing surgery.
What kills me, though, is watching some of the smartest and most dedicated people I know spend months studying for an exam in the hopes of scoring a B-. Take second semester organic chemistry. These students have survived two semesters of general chemistry and a semester of organic chemistry. For the most part, they are dedicated and smart. But only a few of them are going to have any chance of getting an A courtesy of the “pre-med curve.”
It’s not quite an official policy. According to one chemistry course syllabus, the average grade in a class is usually a C+, and the general rule is that you’ll get an A if you are one standard deviation above the average in a course — or in about the top 15 percent of the class. That leaves an overwhelming number of smart students — especially those involved in extracurriculars — with a C.
If GPAs didn’t matter so much in the medical school admissions process, I wouldn’t consider this issue worthy of a column. But it does.
While Career Services Associate Director Anne Reedstrom noted that “medical school admissions professionals have a great deal of experience and are well aware of the level of academic rigor at the undergraduate institutions their applicants attend,” it is clear that GPA, regardless of institution, is one of the leading factors in the admissions process.
According to career services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “your GPA is a very important factor to being competitive with other medical school applicants.” The average student at Harvard Medical School, according to its website, had a 3.8 undergraduate GPA. The importance of GPA — often over that of the undergraduate institution — puts many Penn students (those not quite in the top 15 percent) in a difficult position when applying to medical school.
Luckily, Penn pre-med students do well in the medical school admissions process anyway. According to Reedstrom, 73 percent of Penn undergraduates applying to medical school last year were admitted to one. This number is dramatically higher than the national rate, which was 46 percent for last year. But I wonder if a fairer grading policy might open up more doors for these students.
Most of our pre-med students, not just the 15 percent being awarded A’s, work incredibly hard to succeed and will make fantastic doctors. Dramatically limiting the number of students who can graduate with a high GPA is a disservice. Professors should take a hard look at the quality of their students and seriously consider adjusting their curves.
Juliette Mullin is a College senior from Portland, Ore. She is the former executive editor of the DP and editor of The Report Card. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. In Case You Missed Me appears on Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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