I’m starting med school at USUHS in the fall and currently struggling through calculus, one of their requirements. I put it off until the last minute, hoping to get into a school that didn’t require it. I’ll end up doing fine in the class as there’s a lot of extra credit, so I’m not worried about the grade. But I don’t feel like I have a very good grasp on the concepts. So my question is, how much do you use calculus or any math in med school and beyond? Thanks!

Gina

# How much do you use Calculus?

If there was any math beyond nursing-related math required to be a doc, I bet a lot of folks would be in trouble. I know would be at the top of that list, anyway.

Curious to see answers to this from folks in med school, but if the calc requirement is anything but another mental hoop to jump through, I’d sure be flabbergasted.

In trying to think of any other situations where this is not true, I suppose there could be some math involved in research areas…maybe statistics, maybe some algebra. I just can’t imagine where or how calculus would really be applicable to any situation that any physician would find him/herself in. Even the physics required is trig-based for pre-med, and if there was ever a place where calculus was needed (and arguably invented for), it would be physics.

So far, I would have to say none. Looking ahead to my cardio and respiratory modules, I can definitely see a good algebra foundation being helpful, but I haven’t run across any need for calculus yet. In fact, I think I’ve forgotten most of my calculus already.

IMO, statistics would be a far more helpful class in medical school than calculus.

I sometimes use broad calculus concepts when people talk about “the area under the curve” in discussing medical data; other than that, I concur that I don’t use it much. However, calculus is used a great deal in research, and I find that my slide-through-calculus-quick approach has done me a disservice in being able to read papers which use more complex math. (I have to take their word for it and move on to the discussion section.) So, while you don’t use calculus much on the wards it is important for understanding the primary literature.

However, a good grasp of statistics would also help much more along these lines as well, and I think requiring introductory stats would be a much better use of pre-meds’ time.

j

I will respectfully disagree with Joe. I have never used Calculus, don’t understand a bit of it, and have never been, in my opinion, even slightly hindered to this point in my education. I do have an extensive statistics and epidemiology background though, and have published this type of research, so I can generally see through BS in results based on statistics. I do grant that there may be some specialized papers I will encounter where I may not understand calculations done in getting to volumes or something, but as long as they report their results with statistics, I should be fine. If I had to choose one area that should be required for pre meds-- you know, when I’m in charge of these things I’ll drop the requirement for calculus and replace it with requirement for a basic statistics course.

Just one opinion.

Epi

I absolutely agree that stats is far more useful. The calculus I encounter (and usually ignore) is almost never in clinical research, only in basic biomedical research. I find my own school’s calculus requirement absolutely silly. Better to require stats and then to replace our current stats/epi course with a more advanced look at critical examination of the medical literature.

j

Stats yes, (wish premed it was required) Calc no. College level Algebra more helpful.

Zero, thank God!

As a math major who LOVES calculus, I can say that it is not required AT ALL in medical school. Actually, my undergrad required a course called Discrete Dynamical Systems for all students that was more than pre-calculus but not yet calculus. The course taught a lot of the basic ideas and theories that are used in calculus and are periodically encountered in medical literature. This type of rudinmentary understanding of area under the curve is about all you really need.

However, with that said, I am glad that I had calculus based physics. Understanding where the various and many formulas you have to know come from and being able to derive them in a pinch just fed my need to understand where ideas come from rather than just memorize info.

However, I needed physics in undergrad for my engineering minor and you do not need that level of understanding of physics of calculus for medicine.

In addition to stats, having a good grasp of how to interpret graphs and their corresponding tables of data is far more pertinent of a skill that I use all of the time when reading the literature.

Sorry for babbling. Tara

Quote:

I’m starting med school at USUHS in the fall and currently struggling through calculus, one of their requirements. I put it off until the last minute, hoping to get into a school that didn’t require it. I’ll end up doing fine in the class as there’s a lot of extra credit, so I’m not worried about the grade. But I don’t feel like I have a very good grasp on the concepts. So my question is, how much do you use calculus or any math in med school and beyond? Thanks!

Gina

Hi there,

Like Tara, I found my calculus pretty useful for my undergraduate and graduate classes. I have not used Calculus nor General Chemistry, nor Organic Chemistry nor General Biology in medical school or medical practice. I have used General Physics but only in the context of how I place drains in the abdomen and chest for maximum utilization.

In short, you are going to take many courses both in and out of medical school that are not directly applicable to what you are doing but are more useful for background understanding. Like Joe, I find that I use many of my undergradate and graduate courses for reading medical literature with deeper understanding.

Natalie

I have never met a doctor who is very math-literate, or even cares to be, and I think that they are the worst of all scientists in being able to evaluate data. It’s astounding. I hope they don’t really need it, and the good ones recognize their ignorance and come to people like me (stat professor) when they run into any kind of data.

Quote:

I have never met a doctor who is very math-literate, or even cares to be, and I think that they are the worst of all scientists in being able to evaluate data. It’s astounding. I hope they don’t really need it, and the good ones recognize their ignorance and come to people like me (stat professor) when they run into any kind of data.

Hi there,

You obviously have never met me (thank God!) because you would never make such a idiot generalization.

Natalie

whoops!

WOW Docs have to use stats everyday to decide TX, it appears to me this is harsh and judgemental statement. Math is important and Calc is not all math just a part of it as stats are. Let’s not be so narrow in opinions.

Maybe in research but mostly stats in med school…thank goodness, as I am also math challenged.

Thanks everyone for sharing your experience! I’m sure someday I’ll be telling a premed how much I struggled in Calculus, but since it was a requirement for med school, it was worth it. I can’t wait to start med school and be studying all the things I’ve been curious about for years.

Gina

Calculus - specifically as a ‘math’ - is rarely, if ever, used as a component of practicing medicine. Essentially, if you can master the 4 basic fucntions, you’ve medical math covered. But, with the endless cascade of research & “evidence” coming off of the presses, some fundamental knowledge of statistics is an imperitive. Believe, the range of research varies from high-quality to laughable. So, some stats knowledge can serve you well.

Regarding the calculus requirement - I think Joe Wright categorizes it well. The rationale is not really to have you know how to do calculus, but it is to teach you the logic behind it & the fundamentals of interpretted complex data sets & charts. After my two terms of calc, I can derive so much more info from a graph - in an intuitive / conceptual sense - than was possible before calc. Do I use calc? Never. Does it help me in interpretting stuff? Absolutely.

One caveat, if you are bound for hard-corp, bench research in medicine or heavy population-based research, you will need a mastery of calculus, I suspect.

what’s calculus?