Preparing for Health Care Professions

Philosophies of education, course requirements, qualifications for enrollment, and systems of training vary among the nation’s medical and other health care professional schools, but all schools recognize the desirability of a strong foundation in the natural sciences, highly developed communication skills, and a solid background in the social sciences and humanities.

Many students preparing for health care professions major in science, although this is by no means necessary. Whether you major in the sciences, the humanities, or the social sciences, your program must be rigorous and thoughtfully organized, because medical and other professional schools are most concerned with the quality and scope of your work. Students who major outside the sciences, and who take the minimum number of science courses required, must do very well to ensure adequate preparation for medical school and favorable consideration by admissions committees.

Specific courses prerequisite to medical school admission vary by program, but all schools demand an advanced understanding of both the sciences and the psychosocial bases of behavior. Advanced placement credit cannot usually substitute for course requirements, but students who qualify for acceleration in relevant disciplines should enroll in higher-level courses. Science courses must be taken with the corresponding laboratories to meet admissions requirements; biochemistry laboratory is an exception in most cases. Courses that fulfill the requirements for medical school must be taken for a letter grade, and grades below C are not accepted. Schools for other health care professions, such as osteopathic and dental medicine, have requirements similar to those for medical school.

Topics on the required Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) cover material equivalent to one year each of college-level biology, physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, as well as one term of biochemistry and courses in college-level mathematics (particularly statistics), introductory psychology, and introductory sociology. Detailed information about the MCAT is available on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Web site.

There is no prescribed sequence for premedical courses, but since you will be judged on the basis of the work you have completed by the time you apply for admission, you should plan to finish the majority of required courses before taking the MCAT or submitting applications. Freshman premedical students often elect two courses each term in the areas of science and mathematics. Most students will want to fulfill the general chemistry requirement during their first year in addition to doing some course work in biology, mathematics, or both. For additional information, see the Office of Career Strategy publication “Preparing to Become a Health Care Practitioner” (PDF).

Information on placement exams for biology, chemistry, and mathematics is available under Special Programs, Placement, and Preregistration. Many students complete the general chemistry requirement for medical school with one of two yearlong introductory chemistry sequences: CHEM 161 and CHEM 165 or CHEM 163 and CHEM 167 Comprehensive University Chemistry II. Students who place directly into CHEM 167 may complete the general chemistry requirement by taking a term course in biochemistry with laboratory, usually in the sophomore or junior year, selected from MB&B 300 Principles of Biochemistry I, MB&B 301 Principles of Biochemistry II, or MCDB 300 Biochemistry. First-year students who complete organic chemistry in CHEM 174 and CHEM 175 or CHEM 220 and CHEM 230 should consult an adviser at the Office of Career Strategy about options for fulfilling the general chemistry requirement. Freshmen with placement equivalent to MATH 115 should consider taking an additional mathematics course, preferably statistics. Students can meet the physics requirement by taking PHYS 170 and PHYS 171 University Physics for the Life Sciences; PHYS 180 and PHYS 181 University Physics; or PHYS 200 and PHYS 201 Fundamentals of Physics. A useful guide to medical school course requirements is Medical School Admission Requirements, published on line by the AAMC.

In addition to discussing your course selection with your freshman adviser, you are urged to consult an adviser at the Office of Career Strategy, 55 Whitney Avenue, third floor. A general informational meeting for incoming freshmen interested in health professions is held during Freshman Orientation and announced in the Calendar for the Opening Days. In addition, extended open office hours are conducted during course selection period (“shopping period”).

Academic performance is an important admissions criterion, but it is by no means the only one. Admissions processes and related practices evolve with changing medical education requirements. The AAMC states, “Medical schools are dedicated to achieving a system of medical education that prepares physicians and scientists to meet the nation’s evolving health needs, while reducing application barriers and encouraging students from a wide variety of disciplines, majors, and backgrounds to apply to become the next generation of doctors.” One example of this dedication is the current transition toward competency-based medical education (CBME). In CBME, competencies—observable abilities related to a specific activity that integrates knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes—are prioritized over the measurement of knowledge alone.

Noncognitive traits evaluated by admissions committees in an application include, but are not limited to, critical thinking, written and oral communication skills, scientific inquiry, service orientation, demonstration of cultural competence, ethical responsibility, resilience and adaptability, and capacity for improvement. It is important to demonstrate these traits through your extracurricular activities. For a comprehensive list of Yale and New Haven volunteer opportunities, consult the Web site of Dwight Hall, the Center for Public Service and Social Justice at Yale. Further information is available in the Office of Career Strategy publication “Health Care–Related Volunteer and Community Service Opportunities in the New Haven and Surrounding Area” (PDF).

Additional resources about preparing for a career in the health professions are available in the Health Professions section of the Office of Career Strategy Web site.