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Pre-Health: Academic Skills Needed

To be competitive for health professions programs, you will have to develop and demonstrate superior academic skills. Here’s a brief overview of areas in which you will be tested at the college level and in the standardized tests specific to your profession of choice:

1) Basic Life Sciences: Understanding the mechanisms behind how the body works, behaves, and interacts with the environment. Knowledge of these areas is typically gained through biology, chemistry, and physics courses, although other courses will touch on these subjects. You need to be able to apply theoretical concepts from the basic life sciences to applied scenarios. It’s not enough to simply memorize formulas and equations.

2) Behavioral Sciences: Understanding how people behave with regard to themselves and others and the environment around them. Includes areas of study in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and women’s studies, to name a few. In a healthcare setting, knowledge of the behavioral sciences enhances understanding of health and wellness and allows providers to work successfully with patients from different backgrounds.

3) Quantitative Skills: Comfort with numbers and the ability to analyze data sets and make conclusions and predictions about outcomes. Quantitative areas include the subjects of mathematics and statistics. Healthcare providers need to be able to quickly calculate dosages, assess statistical risk/reward, and explain those analyses to patients and their families.

4) Critical Thinking: Ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments, solutions, experimental designs, and approaches to problem solving. Ways to develop this crucial skill include attending journal clubs and research seminars, analyzing primary literature, doing community service, and engaging in experiential learning, writing classes, and coursework in a variety of disciplines.

5) Communication and Cultural Understanding: Cultivating empathy and respect for different cultural perspectives, viewpoints, and ways of interacting with each other.  In a healthcare setting, you will be expected to quickly adapt to the communicative challenges posed by diverse linguistic and cultural communities. As defined by the AAMC, this requires interpersonal skills such as cross-cultural awareness and strong verbal and written communication abilities. You can further develop these in humanities courses related to language, literature, and history.

Choosing a Major

It is very important to note that health professions programs greatly value intellectual diversity and do not specify preferred majors. So, when you are choosing a major, invest in something that really matters to you. Your advisor can help you explore and identify courses that will suit your interests and goals.