Byline: Sarah Kliff
One week into his premed classes at Washington University in St. Louis, Ryan Jacobson was rethinking his plan to become a doctor. His biology and chemistry classes were large, competitive and impersonal--not how he wanted to spend the next four years. "Sitting in a chemistry class, I knew it wasn't the right place for me," he says. Jacobson found the history department, with its focus on faculty interaction and discussion, a better fit. But he had no intention of leaving his medical aspirations behind. So Jacobson majored in history while also taking the science and math courses required for medical school. When he graduated last spring, he won the departmental prize for undergraduate thesis for his work on the history of race relations in Tulsa, Okla. He started medical school at the University of Illinois last month. "Historians are supposed to integrate information with the big picture," he says, "which will hopefully be useful as a physician."
Even as breakthroughs in science and advances in technology make the practice of medicine increasingly complex, medical educators are looking beyond biology and chemistry majors in the search for more well-rounded students who can be molded into caring and analytic doctors. "More humanities students have been applying in recent years, and medical schools like them," says Gwen Garrison, vice president for medical-school services and studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges. "The schools are looking for a kind of compassion and potential doctoring ability. This makes many social-science and humanities students particularly well qualified."
The number of science majors applying to medical school has been steady for the past decade--about 65 percent of applicants major in biology or another physical science. What's changing is who gets in. When Gail Morrison, who runs admissions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, sorts through the school's 6,500 yearly applicants, she is not looking for students who spent their undergrad years hunched over biology and physics textbooks. "It doesn't make you a better doctor to know how fast a mass falls from a tree," she says. Approximately 40 percent of the students that Penn accepts to its medical school now come from nonscience …