Sharma: Humanistic Healing

by Hansa Sharma | 11/8/15 6:30pm

It is common knowledge that medical schools — especially of the caliber to which Dartmouth students are likely applying — have incredibly low acceptance rates. Because of this difficultly, many pre-med students choose to major in STEM subjects, specifically biology. Your MCAT score is one of the biggest determining factors in medical school acceptance, however, and as reported on the Association of American Medical Colleges website, humanities majors actually have a higher average MCAT score than biological sciences majors — although, math and physical science majors have the highest average MCAT scores. Given these statistics, why do so many students lock themselves in the accursed, typical pre-med track? When looking at their plans for the next four years, first-year students must consider majors and extracurriculars outside of the traditional pre-med STEM fields.

During Orientation week, ’19s were thrown academic offerings from all angles — economics, Russian literature, biochemistry, classics, mathematics. You name it, we got it. While access to so many opportunities and resources was helpful, I was put off by the attitude of some fellow pre-med aspirants — many of whom had planned out every single course of their D-Plan for the next 12 terms. When I mentioned that I planned on majoring in comparative literature, I was congratulated for making a smart choice in selecting an atypical premed major. A fellow first-year assured me that “non-science majors have it easier.” Although well-intentioned, this piece of advice made me feel uneasy more than anything else. Others on the pre-med track had refined their future trek to medical school into basic formulas and thought they possessed the cheat sheet to the decisions behind medical school acceptances.

I know the road to medical school is long and rough. I was strongly considering applying for a highly coveted spot in an accelerated BS/MD program for the better part of my junior year of high school, but I decided against it when I visited Dartmouth the fall of my senior year. Like many other prospective students, I fell in love with the campus in all its peak-foliage glory and its promise of an undergraduate-centered liberal arts education. So, despite the College’s rich offerings of humanities courses and well-rounded student body, many medical school aspirants seem bent on the conventional pre-med route, on operating within the system rather than pursuing an area of interest to which they may never have access beyond Dartmouth. I fear that liberal arts pre-med students have become so focused on our postgraduate prospects that we are neglecting to focus on our present education. Moreover, maybe medical school applications are in need of reform. Whatever may be the case, one thing is for sure — our undergraduate education should not just be used as a stepping-stone to the next best thing, especially when it costs nearly $70,000 each year.

Medical school is not the be-all and end-all of health care. It is important to provide our future physicians with specialized training to save their patients’ lives — but, it is even more important for them to understand the value of a life before they proceed to save it.

While working for an arts-in-education nonprofit in New York, I had the privilege of observing arts therapists in action. I witnessed firsthand their tremendous patience and flexibility in healing through creative expression. Healers, including physicians, should not limit their training solely to the development of their scientific skill set. I am not saying that I would let someone who is unsure about anatomy and physiology to operate on a patient. It is crucial to reinforce competence and excellency in medical subjects, but future physicians should be encouraged to go beyond STEM fields — especially as undergraduates, when they are not confined by the burden of specialization and have the freedom to explore, engage and excel in any field of their choosing. Examining what it means to be human can only help in treating humans. In high-stake professions like medicine, empathy can be a powerful tool in aligning body with spirit.

That is not to say that all students fail to grasp the value of a liberal arts education. Most of the seniors with whom I am acquainted who are applying or have already been accepted into medical school are impressively well-rounded in their interests. They are linguistics majors or pursue extracurriculars that combine public policy and health care through the Rockefeller Center. First-years and other aspiring pre-meds should follow their cue and attempt to pursue academic experiences that transcend the run-of-the-mill biology major so common to the pre-med track.