Migrating to Medicine from Computer Science
April 21, 2014 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I did my Bachelors (in Computer Science) in India and Masters in Computer Science in USA. I now intend to migrate to medical field and aspire to do a PhD or an MD in psychiatry or any other branch of study in medicine. Can anyone tell me if there are any premier institutes in India or abroad that might have my credentials as an eligibility criterion for an admission? Thanks in advance!

I looked into NIMHANS, a premiere institution in India, and there seems to be only one discipline (Neurophysiology) which marks candidates with Bachelors in Computer Science as a minimal eligibility criterion for admission. I am looking more for other institutes with more disciplines to apply. Thanks!
posted by godugu to Education (8 answers total)
I don't know anything about schools in India, but you will almost certainly have to bulk up on your biological sciences. It's not uncommon at all to need to take more courses as a guest student or similar to prep for med school, but you'll need to examine the courses in your transcript and weigh them against the admissions requirements of most schools. As far as I know, they require things such as organic chemistry, which is almost always a "weed-out" course several semesters past the basic level that most (non-chemistry major) students take.
posted by Madamina at 8:37 AM on April 21, 2014

Medical schools in the US don't really care what your bachelor's was in as long as you can show good grades in the various pre-reqs, which include (but are not limited to) biology and chemistry. If you intend to be a clinician, you will almost certainly have to have an MD or DO. As far as I know, in order to become a psychiatrist you must go through med school and get an MD.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

At least in the US, medical schools don't discriminate on what kind of BS/BA you have, but rather on your specific coursework - that is, they really don't care either way that you have a CS degree, but do care quite a lot about your coursework in biology, chemistry, and the like.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:41 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

At a minimum, you usually need to have taken a year of biology, two years of chemistry (including organic chemistry), a year of physics and a year of English; although this is the bare minimum and places like Johns Hopkins will have additional requirements like biochemistry and advanced mathematics. Like rtha and Tomorrowful said, what degree you actually have doesn't really matter at all as much as your performance in these courses.

If you are missing a lot of these requirements, which I'm guessing is the case based on your comp sci background, the most common way to fulfill them is by doing a postbaccalaureate program (commonly called a "postbac", some examples here) in which you take exclusively the science classes and nothing else that you need to make up the admissions requirements.

Finally, I know this is unsolicited advice but especially if you have to do a postbac, medicine in the US is a very long and expensive path (1-2 years postbac + 4 years medical school + 3-7 years residency and maybe 1-3 years fellowship, so anywhere from 8 to 15 years); please be sure you know what you are getting into.
posted by andrewesque at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2014

For the benefit of US mefites, in India an MD is a higher research degree in clinical medicine, equivalent to a PhD but only open to medics (usually medics already in higher specialist training, ie already passed MRCP/FRCS exams). The basic medical school degree that entitles you to practice is MBBS, same as in UK. Answers about how to get into medical school are wide of the mark.

Godugu, given that, you aren't going to be able to get into an MD programme with a computer science degree. Hopefully that will help you focus your search a bit.

For PhDs, what kind of thing are you looking for? The PhD route is also pretty different to the US - it is only 3yrs, and you usually apply to a specific research project with a named supervisor, so you are expected to hit the ground running. No messing around for 5yrs picking a project! :) Medicine is a very wide field - I'm doing an observational clinical study with a qualitative side-project, the guy sitting next to me is looking at mouse models of neutrophil activation, both within the same disease. I spend most of my time either in a clinical setting talking to patients or crunching statistical data, he spends most of his in the lab.

Usually if you can demonstrate you already have the basic skills to do the research, it doesn't matter what your undergraduate degree was in. So if we are using neurology/psychiatry as an example, you probably have the skills already to do research in some areas such as cognitive neuroscience and bioinformatics. You probably don't have the skills yet to do work in clinical psychiatry, or neurological cellular or animal work. In the UK, you would need to do another masters to get some experience in those areas first. The advantage is that you would then know enough about those areas to pick a project you like, and you might have some contacts. You can get into a masters with pretty much any degree "from a relevant discipline", and I'm sure you could make a case for computer science.

I would have a think about what sort of work you are interested in, read some journal articles, and work out what sort of projects fit your interests best, and then approach some potential supervisors to discuss things. They can give you some pointers about what to do next. If you don't want direct patient contact you definitely don't need to go to medical school to work in medical research.
posted by tinkletown at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my girlfriends did an engineering undergrad then a comp-sci Master's then a medical school; another did a Bachelor of Arts then several years as an actress/art gallery assistant then a medical school. For background, one is a dual Irish/American citizen, the other is an American citizen; both did medical school here in the US; one is now practicing in Ireland and the other is still in school.

For both, the key to getting into good programs and securing scholarships was medical research jobs. Both of them spent a year or more as assistants to doctors who did some sort of applied neuroscience research at Columbia University. These two friends do not know each other so I find it interesting that both took the same path.

As far as I recall their bosses just wanted super smartie personal slaves dedicated to science and medicine. Their backgrounds didn't have to be in med as long as they had a proven track record of academic achievement and a good story as to why they were getting into medicine a bit later in the game.
posted by rada at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2014

You also asked for some links from India or abroad, here are some programmes from the UK that you should be eligible for with a computer science background, see if any of these (1, 2, 3, 4) interest you. There will be equivalent programmes in India.
posted by tinkletown at 9:55 AM on April 21, 2014

"Studying medicine" is usually taken to mean "studying to become a medical practitioner (a doctor)". If this is what you want to do then the key term (at least here in the UK) is graduate entry medical school and there are a number of universities that have such programmes, many of which will consider students with any subject.

But I don't think this is what you want to do. You want, it seems, to get into medically-relevant research. As a couple of earlier entries have mentioned, subjects like bioinformatics, systems biology or medical statistics would be accessible PhD programmes for someone with a CS background. You should look for these kind of research specialities. There are an increasing number of places where "wet lab" science and computational/mathematical work is happening in the same group, so a PhD in such a group would be an excellent way to broaden your scientific horizons from your background. But, remember not to confuse people by talking about "studying medicine" as that has the specific meaning discussed abov.
posted by Jabberwocky at 10:41 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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