Students and Faculty Reflect on Davidson’s Pre-medicine Track

Caroline Roy-

Students in Davidson’s pre-medicine program face a rigorous four years, as they must figure out a way to balance required science classes with their other interests, make difficult decisions about their priorities, and constantly plan ahead for medical school.

For some, the pre-med program was an important factor in the decision to attend Davidson. Carolina Cacicedo ‘19 says that she has wanted to attend medical school since high school.

“When I was looking at undergrad, I paid a lot of attention to the pre-med options. Davidson had one of the best pre-med programs with high med school acceptance rates.”

According to the program’s website, 13-15% of students in each class apply to medical school, and almost all are accepted.

Brian Wood ‘18 is in the process of applying to med schools and says that Davidson’s reputation for having qualified graduates helps his chances, especially with med schools in the south. Wood lives in-state and hopes to attend med school at either UNC or Wake Forest University.

Unlike Cacicedo, Wood came to Davidson unsure about his plans for the future. Originally, he wanted to major in political science, but after taking other classes his first year, he became interested in a history major and a future at medical school.

At Davidson, “It’s really common to have a non-science major and go on to med school,” Wood added.

But while Davidson prepared him to take a variety of subjects, Wood said that he struggled to fit required classes into his schedule. Along with the his history courses, he had to take two physics classes, two biology classes and four semesters of chemistry, as well as recommended courses like biochemistry, biostatistics, anatomy, and calculus.

“It was tricky when you really want to take a history class but you need a science requirement. You have to decide what your priorities are,” he explained.

Pre-med students frequently face these kinds of scheduling problems, which, like any kind of stress, can start to take a toll on everything from mental health to social lives.

“If you’re preparing for the MCAT [Medical College Admissions Test], and you aren’t wanting to take a gap year, your schedule can get crowded,” Adrianna Jones ‘20 said. “I’m constantly studying and taking three labs. It gets exhausting and taxing sometimes.”

Luckily, Jones has the help of faculty and advisers, who help her stay sane while she plans for the future. Pre-med adviser Dr. Naila Mamoon, who also teaches classes about health, meets regularly with students in the program to help them select courses, prepare for the MCAT, and apply to medical schools across the country.

“She tells me that even if you have a bad semester, you can still recover. The more you stress about something, the harder it will be,” Jones said. “Hearing her say that helps calm me down.”

According to Jones, Mamoon and other faculty members encourage her to apply to various research projects and internships over the summer, making sure that students have hands-on experience before they apply to med school.

Mamoon also encouraged Jones to pursue her other interests so that she would be a well-rounded candidate after graduating. Jones, who plans to minor in East Asian studies, appreciates the diversity of her classes.

“A non-science minor is easier to schedule because I don’t have to line up labs,” she explained. “Dr. Mamoon encourages having a different minor or major to give you a mental break and make you well-rounded.”

Srish Sharma ‘17 echoed Jones’s concerns about tight scheduling, which sometimes interrupted his experience as a liberal arts student.

“I was frustrated by a lack of choice. You only get 32 classes at Davidson before being wrestled away to the ‘real world.’ It felt like many of my 32 were decided for me, rather than by me,” he reflected. “I didn’t get to do as much academic exploring as I had hoped.”

Sharma now attends Wake Forest and says that for the most part, Davidson did a good job preparing him for the rigor of medical school.

“I do wish that the program could be less stress-ridden and more encouraging,” he commented. “I fear that worries about grades interfere with learning to be fascinated with medicine.”

Despite these challenges, Sharma says he didn’t have a problem sticking with the program until graduation, which is not the case for many students who start out their undergraduate careers on the pre-med track. Often, because of shifting interests and stressful schedules, students decide to drop the program and pursue other options.

Cole Ferraro ‘21 is still deciding whether he wants to be pre-med and says that the number of upperclassmen who drop the program intimidates him.

“I’ve wanted to go to veterinary school since high school, but I didn’t realize how much work it is,” he explained.

Mamoon and other professors advise taking a gap year between undergraduate studies and attending medical school, but Ferraro isn’t sure that would be the right option for him. Skipping the gap year would mean taking the MCAT earlier, along with an even busier schedule.

Still, Ferraro says that the program has done a good job reaching out to first-year students and offering support.

“I was able to go to multiple meetings just by hearing about it from other students and getting emails,” he said. “I think being more well-rounded and actually having knowledge in different areas is an important thing about the program.”

Students interested in Davidson’s pre-medicine program should contact Mamoon at namamoon@davidson.edu.