Courses outside the core

This is really a question about premed for people who are already into med school or beyond. Besides the big five: calculus, intro level biology, chemistry, and physics, and organic chemistry; are there any courses that benefitted you greatly in either getting admitted to or doing the work in med school?

Good question, I am interested in this as well.


This is really a question about premed for people who are already into med school or beyond. Besides the big five: calculus, intro level biology, chemistry, and physics, and organic chemistry; are there any courses that benefitted you greatly in either getting admitted to or doing the work in med school?

To be blunt - the “benefit” you receive from the traditional pre-requisites is not a direct benefit, as most people perceive/expect it to be.
Calculus - unless you do or plan to do bench-style research, in medicine, you will rarely even use math beyond basic stats or algebra. Now, the logical, progressive style of analyzing/thinking you learn in calculus will definitely come into play - but only if the calculus sequence you take is of the old-school, purist variety. In my opinion, med schools would do better to require math through algebra, a year of logic & statistics…but they never bothered to ask me???
Same goes for the other traditional pre-reqs. Why? Cause these course are taught from the perspective of how a chemist, biologist or future physicist needs to think & not in the perspective of how a physician will need to process. But, by undertaking theses courses & doing well, you begin to develop those skills, you just don’t realize it yet.
The most direct benefit of these courses can be assigned to your potential performance on the dreaded MCAT. Of course, only 1 single sub-section of the MCAT has ever been demonstrated to have any relevant predictive value for med school performance & that is the verbal section…but I digress.
So, in long-winded way, I would not take Ugrad courses under the pretext that taking them will somehow make med school easier or that you might clep out of some med school course if you did well enough as an undergrad. BioChem as taught in med school is a wholly different focus that BioChem for a chem major…same can be said for genetics, PChem & a whole host of other courses people take in hopes of making things easier on themselves.
Simply put, not only in the focus different; but also the pace is phenominal. Our BioChem professors “reviewed” GenChem & BioChem for the class so that we were all starting from the same place - the entire review, mind you two years of Ugrad chemistry, lasted 2 x 50-minute lectures, including Q&A time.
So, if those kinds of course truly interest you - take them & enjoy them for the knowledge they impart to you. However, if they aren’t your bag & you’d rather be taking Lit of Fantasy, Oil Painting, Photography or any of the other wonderfully intriguing courses available to you - do that instead. Med school is sufficiently demanding that it will severely curtail, if not eliminate your pleasure reading time or at least the drive to do so. Use your time as a Ugrad to widen your horizons & deepen your knowledge in areas that are interesting & purely for the hell of it.
Years down the road, while sitting in your 4th or 5th test of the week & God only knows how many hours of hard-core study & lecture, that time you invested in YOU will provide the pleasant memories you will need to recharge your batteries or pull yourself by the bootstaps & keep on chugging!

Hi there,

I can tell you that my graduate work in Biochemistry was the greatest benefit for me. Even if you take an undergraduate level biochem course or even cell bio, you will be ahead of the curve.

Another course that you might want to look into is a histology course. You can’t get too much practice looking through the scope at those slides. My undergraduate histology course was ten time more difficult than my medical school histo course and helped me in both pathology and medical school histology.

A physiology course is a good option too. Don’t waste your time with Anatomy and Physiology(the one course) but take Physiology if you get the option. My Human Physiology course was invaluable for both MCAT and medical school physiology.

In terms of usefullness for MCAT or medical school, Biochemistry, Histology/Cell Biology and Human Physiology in that order. Bioethics was a good choice too.

Good luck!


I would second everything Dave said, and would add, that’s a helluva post from someone who’s post-call! I need the little clapping smilies from SDN to indicate my applause for his comments!

Taking immunology benefited me because I loved it and then I took more and then I moved across the country to go work in the lab of an immunologist whose work I loved.
Every success I have, I have because I followed what moved me, because of the times I found what was beautiful in the path in front of me. Immunology was one of those things.
Be strategic, but not too strategic.
good luck

A friend of mine is a MSII this year. The only class I have heard her mention that she wished she had taken as an undergrad was Histology.

My calc I class is giving me a true appreciation for logic, and I’m debating between taking an anatomy class or a logic class next year. From a pre-med point of view, anatomy seems like a useful class. Why do you suggest logic, and why do so many of you disagree that anatomy would be helpful?

Logic because that is the sort of methodology to the processing that physicians typically use in clinical decision making…of course, mixed in with a healthy portion of intuition forged through clinical experience. The most important preparation you will get from Ugrad & esp from med school is not the specific knowledge, per say, that they convey to you. It is the ability to learn on the fly from situational occurences & the capacity to teach yourself - always pushing to delve deeper. Med school professors will tell you that greater than 50% of what they teach in your 4 years will later be proved inadequate or patently wrong…problem is, they cannot predict which half. So, as a physician, you must remain on top of things & deligently continue your education & training for as long as you practice medicine.
Ugrad anatomy is most typically taught jointly w/ physiology, neither of which are sufficiently rigorous as to supplant what you will encounter in medical school. However, even some exposure to both topics may prove useful…depends on the quality of the course(s) you take & how intense you are in leanring the material. If offered at your school, you would be best served by taking the separate physiology & anatomy courses that may be available to majors in those areas.
Be aware though that very few med schools, no matter your level of expertise, will allow you to test out of med school coursework. A guy who was 1 year ahead of me had been a PharmD for many years & actually taught pharmacology at the Univ of Washington’s medical school for 8 or so years. His butt was sitting in their with the rest of them during pharmacology…course, he aced all of the exams too. And, he was an awesome tutor to have!