At her high school graduation, Maria Grinis told everyone that she wanted to study Spanish at Hillsdale College and go to medical school — and she’s doing just that. Grinis will graduate in May with a Spanish major and attend medical school.
She is just one of many students who are discovering that medical school isn’t just for science majors. New research from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson universities suggests a correlation between studying humanities and higher levels of positive characteristics of physicians such as empathy, wisdom, emotional intelligence, and the ability to avoid burnout.
“What I tell students, is if you’re pre-med, you can major in whatever you want, as long as you get the science prerequisites in,” said Christopher Hamilton, associate professor of chemistry and pre-health professions adviser.
Hillsdale offers a pre-medical track program that helps students fulfill the prerequisite courses for medical school. The program recommends several courses in chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, and sociology to give students a strong background in the sciences for medical school courses.
This past year, 18 students and graduates of Hillsdale College applied to medical school. Three of those students were not science majors.
“The short answer is, they don’t care what your major is,” Hamilton said. “The longer answer is, if they’re just looking at you, they rarely just look to see what your major is. We’ve had a number of non-science majors go on to medical school and be very successful.”
Grinis found that her Spanish major with the pre-med track allowed her to pursue what she was most passionate about: the Spanish language and helping people through the medical profession. Growing up with her extended family speaking Spanish, she said she wanted to go to college and cement her fluency. Since she was 8 years old, Grinis said she wanted to work in medical missions, ideally in South America or rural California.
While already accepted into one medical school, Grinis is still interviewing at additional schools and said her Spanish major has turned into a great talking point.
“At every single interview, they’ve asked about my major,” she said. “It has made my application stand out because it is a humanities major…At this point it is asking who has something different to bring to the table, and by studying humanities and studying those aspects of how people interact, that ends up helping you in terms of developing people skills.”
“You want to be a real person, and Hillsdale is going to do that for everyone because of the liberal arts background, but you want to be a well-educated person,” Hamilton said. “A doctor is more than a technical job.”
One of Grinis’ favorite parts of being a Spanish major while preparing for medical school was the opportunity to tie the two together, even through the core curriculum as well.
“Chemistry gives you the basis of how everything works, because you’re literally studying molecules. And then you’re studying biology and you now know how the little things work and work together and how that translates into human life. Then you study the brain, and how these things work, and then the physiological sides of emotion,” Grinis said. “But then you can take that and apply it to how you analyze a character in literature. You know how the brain works, but then you can see the parts that medicine can’t get at. For the parts that science doesn’t reach, that science can’t answer, you can go into the humanities and study the soul.”
Jean Shelton, assistant dean of admissions and student life at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, said in an email that her department looks for strengths in academics, pre-medical experiences, and personal attributes.
“Non-science majors tend to think differently and bring unique ways of looking at problems,” she said. “This is very valuable in our team-based approach.”
Hamilton said medicine has taken on a much more team-based approach, including more than doctors by bringing in different healthcare professionals.
“Bringing in different people from different perspectives and backgrounds can help lead to that creativity that you need, especially when life and death is on the line,” Hamilton said.
Sophomore Sarah Becker is studying biochemistry and philosophy in addition to being in the pre-medicine program. She said she came to Hillsdale in order to dive into the liberal arts, an opportunity she found possible through the core curriculum.
“But I also think that there is a really unique opportunity for students to take classes and learn things that it’s really hard to do on your own for the rest of your life,” Becker said.
She said she thinks a liberal arts perspective is especially important going into the medical field as opposed to research-based graduate programs.
“It really is crucial to know more than just science or medicine or biology, because I think the spirit of things that you see and the people you interact with really requires that you have a broader perspective,” Becker said.
Becker said she hopes to one day enter the neurology field and has a particular interest in bioethics.
“If I am going to treat people and engage in medicine, I really need to understand who the person is, what constitutes their flourishing, and what is good for the person before I go into medicine,” Becker said. “I think that is really important, because they’re not going to give you that in medical school.”