Can I Become a Doctor if I Hate (Insert Science Class Here)?

Chemistry? Biology? Physics? Organic Chemistry?

The short answer is ‘yes, but…’ Like most complex matters in life, the answer is not as straightforward as one would like. There is always a ‘but.’

It is easy to become disillusioned with your goal of becoming a physician after you’ve struggled through the first few weeks of a tough class, only to receive a borderline (or failing grade) on the mid-term exam. It could be that everyone you know has complained about the difficulty of this particular class. Or it could seem like you’re the only one having trouble with the material. You may even feel like you are at a crossroads of sorts regarding your goals of becoming a physician someday. You may be thinking, ‘how can I become a doctor when I can’t even get through the first test in Chem 101 unscathed?’ Don’t worry. The sky is not falling. Your feelings are not unprecedented; be relieved to know that many successful practicing physicians have been in this exact position when they were at this stage.

It is OK to not like a science class. Most times, our initial response to challenging situations is negative, such as ‘not liking’ the challenge. I vividly remember my first semester of Physics as an undergraduate at Penn. I had a difficult time with this class in particular. I remember feeling uneasy after receiving a marginal grade on the first test, despite having prepared extensively for the exam. I was troubled by this because the other sciences classes ‘came’ to me a lot easier. The final grade in this class was crucial because I knew that most medical schools were hyper-focused on not only the GPA, but the science GPA in their applicants. There was a lot of added pressure because Penn is a competitive place, and this competition was perhaps most intense in the premed classes, in which the curves were brutal, and there was little room for error. I had always prided myself as someone who loved the sciences and enjoyed them. Yet here I was, feeling a strong sense of ‘dislike’ for the subject material in my physics class. Because there was simply too much at stake, I decided that it was in my best interest to get some additional help outside of regular class hours. I signed up for private tutoring sessions. I knew how the system worked because I had been a peer tutor myself for calculus for two semesters at that point in time. Working through the concepts with some guidance was incredibly helpful, and I went on to perform well the rest of that semester and beyond. As my performance improved, I found myself starting to enjoy the material more and more.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Not liking a subject initially does not mean you have the luxury of signing off and never having to deal with it forever. This is sound life advice in general, but it is particularly pertinent to the aspiring physician. The reality is that modern medical practice is firmly rooted in scientific foundations. The scientific method, which guides modern research in the life sciences, has been in existence for over four hundred years. Countless life-saving medical devices and pharmaceutical agents that are used today were created using the principles of physics, chemistry, and organic chemistry.

You must learn to love the sciences. Because by doing so you will develop a strong enough foundation to perform well and to apply these principles to your practice as a physician. You will be better able to maintain your intellectual curiosity you have now when you are far removed from the classroom and decades into your medical practice. Much of medicine involves the application of science and scientific principles, so you would do better to have a strong command of the science because you will be a better doctor for it. But you do not have to major in a ‘hard’ science in college. You can major in pretty much whatever you want and still get into a high-quality medical school.