What pre-medical students can learn from the humanities

As I finish writing my final lab report for my Intermediate Physics Lab, the fall semester of my sophomore year comes to a slow, much-needed end. I’ve taken some time to reflect on the impact my classes have had since the beginning of the year. This semester, unlike those of my freshman year, has been markedly different in several ways. For one thing, all my classes were either directed towards my physics or my philosophy degree; none of them were pre-medical requirements. This was a huge breather for me, not because it was less work or I had the chance to be lazy, but because I had more time to develop as a person.

When I took an Introductory Logic course last spring, I leveled up in “Hipster skills” by declaring my second major in Philosophy. Bear in mind that I didn’t know a thing about philosophy. I didn’t know a thing about fancy buzzwords like “existentialism”, “objectivity”, and “postmodernism” that the layman will throw around, and I had never read any philosophy text in my life.

Some park I visited while I was in Waterloo last summer or something.

Fast-forward to the present moment: the end of the fall semester after I had finished my Ethics course. Since the beginning of this class, I have created skills for myself in communication, resourcefulness, and an ever-increasing insight in human behavior and thought. I have started a Medical Ethics Committee and a Bioethics Society to promote the curiosity of ethics. These groups feature (or will feature) student-led discussions, lectures from faculty, opportunities to attend ethics conferences across the country, high school outreach, and a debate-style team to compete in bioethics competitions. I’ve developed a purpose for myself and helped others do the same for themselves through understanding the values of research, ethics, and curiosity in the world. All of this was only possible through my work in philosophy. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone and, in my case, I did so by diving off the deep-end into philosophy.

Unlike the hypothesis-driven, progressive world of science, the humanities help us see each other as human beings capable of morals, emotions, judgements, and values. By understanding how society works from a non-scientific point of view, we are reminded that human beings are not guided by psychological or social phenomena. We are not physical or biochemical problems that are waiting to be solved. We are rational creatures who desire justice and purpose. Some might say that, unlike the sciences, the humanities make you feel more “humane.” I can agree with that.

(Physics equations on the wall from my visit to the Perimeter Institute.)

Though I would advise that humanities courses (like philosophy, history, art, or literature) are very helpful, their effectiveness ultimately depends on whether or not a student can find courses with a meaningful and welcoming atmosphere. I have no desire to sit through a humanities course that is a giant-lecture hall of watching lectures as though you were sitting through a movie with zero interaction.

When I was a freshman, I was incredibly unsure of myself for double-majoring in Physics and Philosophy with a pre-medical track. Though I loved those subjects, I thought it was too unfocused and doubted how they would ever be helpful for a career in medicine. Now, I think my choices have given me more than any other degree program would have, and I’m certainly glad I chose to make those decisions. 

Leave a Reply