Why You Should Take Humanities Classes as a Premedical Student (or any type of student)

Sex, Gender & Society. Intermediate Spanish. Pain and the Human Condition. These were some one of my most favorite and adored classes my freshmen year of college. Do you notice a trend among these courses? They are all humanities classes. Yes, I am a premedical student who can proudly say that despite my STEM classes providing me with the basic scientific foundation I will need for medical school, my humanities classes were truly the environments where I thought critically about the world around me and my capacity for storytelling and human connection came out, two critical aspects of a future career in medicine. 

In the sociology course, I was able to learn about gender discrimination in the workplace, which is such a relevant topic with medicine generally being a male-dominated field; about implicit and explicit racial biases; about power dynamics, social structure and how they lead to inequality and harm. In Spanish, I was able to engage with peers in a different language, learn about a culture different from my own, and gain critical skills I can apply to my patient interactions in the future. In the public health course on pain, I was able to study pain from more than just a medical and scientific lens, rather dig deeper into the racial, class, and gender implications of the concept of pain and its perception both in our present society and in our historic past. These courses prepared me for the more interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of medicine: social skills, cultural competence, and the ethical and social responsibility that physicians hold. 

During this quarantine period, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of self-reflection and craft my story, my “why” for applying to medical school. And through this introspective lens, I’ve come to a realization that the role of physicians consists of more than just patient care, more than a clinical assessment and diagnosis, more than a 15-minute regular check-up. Physicians are influencers in their own right, and they truly are a vehicle for invoking change and growth within patients and society at large. In order to act on these roles, they really need to build meaningful relationships with patients and get to know them beyond their medical history. The doctor-patient relationship is one that is incredibly special, and often times I think we put so much focus on the science and diagnostic aspect of medicine that we forget that patients and physicians are all humans with emotions and needs beyond their medical ailments and medical training, respectively. Truthfully, developing those interpersonal relationships could go a long way in successfully treating a patient, rather than just taking a one-and-done approach. I think there’s a lot we can do to bring human connection and empathy back to medicine by really emphasizing from the very beginning of our medical training journey. This is all to articulate that the skills and knowledge we gain from taking humanities classes is one step us premedical students can take in order to make sure we are empathetic and understanding of the human condition in our future roles as physicians. 

If you are a high school student interested in medicine, I encourage you to take as many English, history, language, and social science classes as you can based on your course offerings. Seek out free classes at local universities and community colleges, and start building these skills early on so that you can keep on growing as you continue onto your undergraduate careers. I was fortunate enough to attend a high school that had an overwhelming number of electives in the humanities departments, which really served as the jumpstart I needed to explore these types of courses in college. Truth be told, I was definitely hesitant to take humanities courses in the beginning, especially in high school because they were slightly out of my comfort zone, having stuck to STEM courses for a majority of my early education. But, all you need is one successful language or English class to push you in the right direction. Trust me when I say that these courses will probably end up being some of your favorite. 

As you transition into college, be conscious of the courses you choose to take each semester. Try to have 1-2 humanities courses in your workload, not only to balance out the heaviness of STEM, but also for all the reasons I’ve outlined above. This early foundation you receive from your humanities courses will go such a long way towards informing your career as a physician in a phenomenal way. 

I hope this advice has served you well, and good luck.

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