Calling all med students, past and present
June 29, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Thinking back to medical school classes like Biochemistry and Pharmacology, how much foundational knowledge did you actually use from your undergrad courses in related subjects? Was it important to walk in being able to solve all of the kinds of problems you’d see in general chemistry and physics, or were concepts more important? I am trying to understand how much ‘general’ review is required for success before someone who has been admitted actually starts a medical school program.
posted by mockjovial to Education (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not an MD, but I have a PhD in biochem, have TAd and tutored med school biochem classes, and have done quite a bit of teaching of chemistry (general and organic) to premeds.

I also have several friends who are MDs who couldn't do a synthetic organic chemistry problem at gunpoint, and the last MD I befriended socially actually made loud fake retching noises when I told her I had taught organic chem. ;)

For med school biochemistry classes, for sure, knowing the principles of general and organic chemistry are going to be hugely helpful. pH, pKa, hydrogen bond donors/acceptors, structure and reactivity, the whole schmear. This will be especially helpful in studying metabolism (all those freaking pathways, you will be helped by having a sense of *why* things react the way they do rather than just full-bore memorization, though there will be enough of that anyway) but it also comes into play in protein science, enzymology, nucleic acid stuff.

Can't speak so much to pharmacology, but I have to imagine that a firm grounding in chem will be helpful in understanding PK/PD at least, structural classifications of different drugs, modulation of function with structure.

All that said: taking and mastering the foundational sciences of chemistry and physics help in other ways in training to be a physician, beside just the content knowledge. These disciplines also train you to *think* in particular ways that are crucial to problem-solving the kinds of complex problems docs encounter. General chem and physics are logic, logic, logic, right? But organic is a whole different beast and the multivariate, overlapping, systems features of organic chemistry problem-solving is not so different from sorting through multivariate, overlapping, systemic features of symptoms when someone presents in your office...

I'm hardly an unbiased source but I think if you're heading into med school, it's absolutely worth your while to do a deep dive and brush up on this stuff (presuming you've had the courses before, a while ago?), both for remembering the content and for limbering up with the problem solving.
posted by Sublimity at 12:44 PM on June 29, 2011

I didn't review anything for med school and I honestly think it wouldn't help much, particularly general chem, organic chem, physics and biology. The subjects, while important in themselves and help you develop problem solving skills when you took the classes, have little to do with what med students actually study. and cramming them the summer before med school is just a waste of time, in my opinion.

If you have the time, you may want to brush up a little bit on upper undergrad courses in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. But really, if you have the time, I suggest just have fun and pursue your hobbies.
posted by Pantalaimon at 5:18 PM on June 29, 2011

I'm a few years into medical school. I would definitely not bother reviewing general chemistry, physics, or organic chemistry. A very few concepts from your past coursework will become relevant eventually (e.g., acids/bases, gas physics for the lungs, fluid dynamics for the heart) but you will review them then. No need to do it now. If you feel you must do something, a head start on biochemistry won't hurt you, but again, it isn't really necessary. If you spend a lot of time reviewing now, you'll relearn a lot of things you won't ever need to know and I promise in a few months you'll be regretting the waste of time.
posted by half life at 7:07 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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