A diverse medical program

Though we lack a traditional pre-med program, Physiology prepares pre-medical students.

by Vincent A. Barnett, Ph.D., director of undergraduate studies in the Physiology Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology

The Minnesota Daily editorial board lamented on the lack of an undergraduate pre-medical program at the University of Minnesota in a Dec. 4 editorial. An important point the editorial board conceded is that a specific major is not required to attend medical school. A student need not pick a particular major; they can choose their own academic path as long as they keep an eye toward fulfilling the scientific basics required for application and admission. This is a good thing. Desiring to become a physician is less of a trade than it is the pursuit of a multidisciplinary, science-centered occupation.

Constructing a specific pre-medical curriculum that appropriately serves all students who are considering medicine as a career is a daunting task. Allowing students the latitude to pursue other interests ultimately brings to our society a cadre of physicians whose diversity of preparatory study makes them better prepared to take on the challenges of modern medicine.

However, for students at the University seeking a program that provides both structure and academic latitude as they prepare for medical school, there is already a major that provides this opportunity — physiology. It has been said that medical professionals are practicing physiologists, and while the University does not have a pre-medicine major, it does have an outstanding undergraduate major in physiology. For several decades, the physiology major has prepared University students for careers in medicine as well as the full spectrum of other health sciences professions. The curriculum of the major provides a rigorous foundation in the physical and biomedical sciences, satisfying the medical school prerequisites. In addition, the program provides excellent latitude so that students can tailor their studies toward the areas of biomedicine that interest them most. The curriculum also nurtures each student’s communication skills and understanding of contemporary science, society and diverse cultures. The major is offered by the Medical School’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology but is located in the College of Liberal Arts. This unique positioning allows physiology majors to become well-rounded citizen scientists prepared to take the next step in their professional training. We would argue that there is no need to create a new program — the program already exists.