College of Arts and Sciences

Medicine and English

Sickness generates stories—of fear and hope, of doubt and rationalization, of love and regret— and caring for the sick requires the ability to decipher, reconstruct, and sympathize with these stories as patients tell them. Caring and curing demand reading, writing, critical thinking, empathy, and imagination: all skills and habits of heart and mind cultivated by the Department of English.

Medical schools recognize this demand. The MCAT test for medical school admissions covers the scientific prerequisites for medicine, but its format significantly favors students adept at analyzing and interpreting texts because the exam consists largely of passages of text followed by interpretive questions. Don’t take our word for it: as the Princeton Review says, “humanities majors outperform biology majors on every part of the MCAT, not just on CARS [Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section]!” Because medical schools and nursing programs recognize the value of experienced, sensitive communicators and readers for perceptive diagnoses, effective care, and research, many programs now incorporate courses in narrative medicine and literature into their curricula and seek English majors. The HuMed program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for example, explicitly supports the link between liberal arts education and complete, successful medical care.

A Major or Minor in English and/or a Major or Minor in Creative Writing well positions students to excel on the MCAT exam and prepares them to be well-rounded, adaptive, and discerning medical professionals. We regularly offer courses such as ENGL/CORE 3370 Literature and Illness and ENGL 3514 Scientific and Technical Writing that directly ready students for engaging patient stories and for writing in professional medical genres. Other literature and writing courses variously engage students with particular issues—the meanings of bodies, gender, race, death and aging, socioeconomic inequality, privacy and secrecy — that complicate life and work in medicine.

English Alumnus Achieves Pharma Success

David Jensen ‘94, senior sales engineer, discusses his career in pharmaceuticals and how his English degree has come into play. (Read More...)