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Advice for Choosing Philosophy Courses for Pre-Med Students

Philosophy courses can be especially pertinent to students majoring in the sciences and who are pursuing a pre-medical professions track. 

Philosophy courses can provide students with skills necessary to excel in the medical professions; and can provide the study of topics of interest to those concerned with medicine and health care.  Philosophy courses can provide practical benefit in medical school admissions for pre-med students, as well.  Humanities and Social Science majors do extremely well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) (data is not available for Philosophy majors in particular). They score significantly higher than all other majors, including Biological Sciences, Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Specialized Health Sciences. Philosophy majors have the highest admission rate to medical school of any major in every field but Biomedical Engineering: 60.2.

The skills conferred by philosophy courses include:

Critical thinking and problem solving

  • extracting the main points from difficult material, following and reconstructing arguments, and thinking questions through.
  • learning to analyze and solve problems, considering them from many points of view and assessing the pros and cons of different proposals.

Communication:

  • learning to express yourself clearly and persuasively.
  • skills in making decisions and then justifying your position in a clear, logical, and compelling way.

Creativity, research, and investigation:

  • proficiency at conducting investigations - learning to ask the right questions, and to develop and assess methods and standards for answering those questions.
  • solving problems using careful but innovative techniques and basing your conclusions on reliable evidence.

Theoretical learning:

  • appreciation of ethical and philosophical issues and their importance, and the ability to recognize philosophical problems and considerations in many contexts.
  • the ability to recall, articulate and apply various approaches to philosophical problems, and to appraise for yourself the routes for dealing with important biomedical and scientific issues.

Practical learning:

  • the ability to reproduce and compare various approaches to solving common human problems that have ethical dimensions.
  • applying philosophical thinking to the “real world” – to everyday living, to specific problems and puzzles, to social issues, to challenges in your career, and so forth.

Throughout philosophy courses, students learn how to think for themselves – open-mindedly but critically – about philosophical theory and applications.  To do this, they learn about specific strategies, theories, concepts, and methods that are the special emphasis of philosophy.  Students may not come to final conclusions about issues by the end of each course, or by the end of their lives, for that matter; but they will almost certainly have made progress in thinking well about issues with philosophical implications. 

Although all philosophy courses offer opportunities for pre- med students, the following courses are most strongly recommended:

  • PHIL 105: Ethics
  • PHIL 108: Ecological Philosophy
  • PHIL 209: Philosophy of Science
  • PHIL 305: Biomedical Ethics
  • PHIL 109: Existentialism and Film
  • PHIL 212: Philosophy of the Social Sciences

By taking philosophy courses, science and pre-med students will encounter questions such as the following:

  • Why should people be moral, as individuals or as medical or scientific professionals?
  • How are personal and professional morality connected?
  • What are the relationships of legal rights to moral rights, and legal goods to moral goods, in medicine and in general?
  • What responsibilities do we have towards animals, plants, microorganisms, non-living beings, ecosystems, and “nature” as a whole?
  • How have Westerners conceived of nature, reason, body, and space?
  • How can we move toward a better ecological ethic?
  • What are scientific theories, and what kinds of considerations bear on whether they should be accepted?
  • What is the difference between a well-supported scientific theory, and a pseudo-scientific or crackpot theory?
  • What is an explanation, and a scientific explanation in particular?
  • What is the nature of scientific truth?
  • What does ‘scientific progress’ mean, and what makes it possible?
  • How can ethical thinking be used in real-life biomedical issues such as euthanasia, allocating medical resources, and human genetic intervention?
  • What is the morally right thing to do in various biomedical contexts? What are good reasons for answers to that question and others like it?