Is a Liberal Education Compatible
with a Career in Medicine?
This is a question that our Admissions officers often hear from prospective students who, although intrigued by the College’s classical curriculum, are concerned that they will not complete the necessary prerequisites to attend medical school.
The short answer is: Yes. Many Thomas Aquinas College alumni pursue careers in medicine. Doing so, however, takes some forethought and planning.
Cara Buskmiller is a graduate of the Class of 2011 who is currently a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine.. During her undergraduate days, she founded and led the Thomas Aquinas College Medical Society. As Miss Buskmiller describes it, her time at the College was not only compatible with her interest in medicine, it was essential in preparing her — intellectually, morally, and spiritually — for her future as a physician.
In the following Q&A, Miss Buskmiller answers some of the most common questions from pre-med students, and offers a detailed plan for how to get the most of the College’s unique, faithfully Catholic education, while at the same time making oneself a competitive applicant for medical, dental, or veterinary school.
by Cara Buskmiller (’11)
- If I go to the College, will I need to take extra classes?
- How can I get these credits?
- How much will this cost?
- If I go to Thomas Aquinas College, will I become a competitive applicant?
- Where do I go for resources?
Medical school, veterinary school, and nursing school require classes that are not part of the College’s curriculum. Typically, these schools require:
- two semesters of college physics with lab
- two semesters of organic chemistry with lab
- two semesters of inorganic (general) chemistry with lab
- two to four semesters of biology with lab
- one semester of calculus or statistics
- two semesters of English with composition
- (sometimes) biochemistry with lab
Most of my experience is with medical schools, so instead of all the possibilities listed above, I’ll just say “medical schools.” The prerequisites may differ slightly for other careers.
1. Thomas Aquinas College classes/thesis
2. AP credit
3. CLEP credit
4. classes at another college/university
5. post-baccalaureate programs
1. A Thomas Aquinas education is valuable and robust. It supplies enough hours in physics and calculus to numerically satisfy a medical school application. However, the physics and calculus students take at the College is not the problem-set-driven classes that the medical schools usually have in mind. Some supplement should be made to the College’s classes, such as self-study with an old textbook (available from the College library) or with online worksheets.
2. Most medical schools take IB and AP credit if it is recognized by a college or university — that is, your AP credit must be translated by a college or university into course numbers and credit hours on an official transcript. The College cannot do this, but another college or university can (if you have attended another college in the past, or if you are attending somewhere for summer school).
3. College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests are like APs for students out of high school. They are tests in specific subjects that most colleges and universities will translate into credit hours. Again, the College cannot do this, and medical schools are only interested if another college recognizes these credits on an official transcript. Neither AP exams nor CLEP exams are closed to students desiring to take the exam without formal enrollment in a course or institution.
4. Don’t rule out summer school. Find a college or university near home and enroll for the summer or take online classes if you find a reputable program. Medical schools don’t mind an additional college or university; they may ask about a community college in your interviews, especially if your Thomas Aquinas College GPA is below average; online classes might only meet with approval if you have a good MCAT. I cannot recommend taking classes during the fall or spring semesters; the liberal education deserves the student’s full attention.
5. A post-baccalaureate program is a one- to three-year set of courses (usually two years; depending on the institution, how hard you push yourself, whether you are working at the time, your practice MCAT scores…) that offer medical school prerequisites to college graduates who have not completed them. Grads from typical universities might enroll in one if they major in Spanish and then decide in the fall of their senior year to apply to medical school.
Most Thomas Aquinas College alumni take one or two years off to complete their prerequisites. They do this with a gap year before they graduate from the College (e.g. between junior and senior year), or in a post-baccalaureate program. The gap year is cheaper and faster, but may be harder. Only two graduates have prepared for med school during their four years at the College.
Carefully and prayerfully consider the financial part of this choice.
Costs on top of the College *
Thomas Aquinas College credit/thesis
Course at another college/university
To take a five-unit course in biology during a summer at UCLA costs $2,450.
To take a five-unit course in biology with out-of-state tuition at Ventura College costs $1,380 (at Santa Barbara City College, $1,600; at any L.A. Community College, $1,120). In-state tuition is cheaper at the community colleges, costing only $46 per unit hour (for a five-unit course, $230). These estimates don't include fees (e.g. lab fees, health fees, parking permits, etc.).
$17,000 (for two years, plus any room and board, fees, and living expenses incurred)
Other colleges and universities have premedical advisors or premedical tracks or majors to help their students build a fantastic application. The College does not have a premed advisor or a premed track. Its purpose is to charge its students with the truth, not to groom them for their professions. A premedical Thomas Aquinas student must show constant initiative and interest in pursuing the field of his choice. He has many more opportunities to examine how important medicine is to him and to show that to admissions committees.
The College’s premedical students are largely responsible for finding their own advisors (parents, friends, Internet communities, books), although some resources have been pooled for them. If you go to the College with a health career in mind, you must be determined enough to find opportunities, network, and overcome obstacles without a premedical advisor on campus.
That being said, alumni who have gone into healthcare tell me that the College teaches them to make decisions and distinctions, which is invaluable to their work. I saw in medical school interviews that a Thomas Aquinas College education is very attractive to medical schools since it creates well-rounded, thoughtful students, develops character, and gives its graduates perspective and enthusiasm for the truth.
I graduated from the College and went to medical school after four years; I don't have a shred of regret about what I did. The College offers a true liberal education. Among all Catholic colleges in this country, it is a unique servant of Christ. What a grace, to have graduated from this place!
Long lists of links make me want to visit none of them. Here is the single best pre-health site I have ever come across, in eight years of looking: Student Doctor Network. This has been my pre-med adviser. (This, and Jesus.)
This site has forums for allopathic and osteopathic medicine, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, podiatry, psychology, veterinary, audiology, occupational therapy, speech pathology, medical business, military medicine, masters in public health degrees, and medical researchers.
It has special places for high schoolers and college students, plus various levels within professional training and the professionals themselves. Even some admissions-committee panelists post to this site.
Cara Buskmiller (’11)
“When I first came here, since I am not a Catholic, I was nervous, because it’s a different culture for me, but people have been so friendly, so charitable. It is such a blessing to live in this community, where people care about you. You make strong friendships that last a lifetime.”
– Sanjay Adhikari (’18)
“Thomas Aquinas College is one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the country and the pride and joy of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region.”
– Most Rev. Robert E. Barron
Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles