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Should Organic Chemistry Be a Premed Requirement? 567

Posted by timothy
from the both-ways-with-extra-snow dept.
1-quack-4-malpractice writes "For the second time, the Wall Street Journal health blog has questioned whether premed students should be forced to suffer through organic chemistry. Dozens of doctors weighed in with comments, and many of them seem to think that the wry subject is an almost useless rite of passage. Wired Science points out that there are not enough doctors who do research in addition to seeing patients, and they are the ones who benefit most from a thorough grounding in basic sciences like organic chemistry."
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Should Organic Chemistry Be a Premed Requirement?

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  • by oskay (932940) * on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:56PM (#25062371) Homepage

    Reminds me of the classic joke:

    A college physics professor was explaining a concept to his class when a pre-med student interrupted him.

    "Why do we have to learn this stuff?" he blurted out.

    "To save lives," the professor responded before continuing the lecture.

    A few minutes later the student spoke up again. "Wait-- how does physics save lives?"

    The professor responded. "By keeping idiots out of medical school."

    • by coldandcalculating (1311907) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:03PM (#25062489)
      Nothing is funnier than the truth. During my undergraduate career I worked for the Chemistry department and it was my job to watch some of these hopeless pre-med students suffer through o-chem lab. Needless to say, I feel a lot better knowing that a good share of the more inept ones got filtered out so early on in the game. Now I work in a hospital doing biomedical research. I see a great deal of talented physicians, but it really surprises me how many of the old guard (and plenty of the young blood) are ignorant on important topics relevant to medicine today. While organic chemistry classes in and of themselves don't remedy this sort of problem, I think that those who succeed in them generally tend to be the kinds of people who can keep their minds open and who are able to learn into their old age.
      • Re:Classic problem. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Autumnmist (80543) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:09PM (#25062547)

        In my experience, the kinds of people who succeeded in orgo were the ones who were LEAST likely to keep their minds open and actually think for themselves. Orgo can be and is most commonly (by premeds) passed purely by massive brute force memorization. It can also be done by having great intuition and scientific insight, but that is not necessary at all. The premeds suffer through the lab portion of orgo but not the test+lecture portion because the lab portion can't be memorized! The kids who do well in lab are the future researchers and scientists... not the future doctors.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I agree that the brute force approach will get A grades in o-chem, but don't you think that maybe our doctors ought to learn how to think like scientists? The only difference between a physicist or a chemist and a doctor is the subject matter; They all face unsolved questions and will only be able reach conclusions through deductive reasoning after considering the evidence available to them. While it is certainly unethical for doctors to experiment wildly with their patients, I'm sure that many slashdotters
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mapsjanhere (1130359)
            This is so funny, as an (organic) chemist I always thought the one thing med students are good at is brute force memorization. Organic chemistry at the undergrad level should be a relaxing experience compared to memorizing all 200+ bones and 600 + muscles and whatnot there is in anatomy.
            On a funny note, my dad always ranted about the professor who tossed him out of his DDS defense (he was an MD already at the time) for being unable to answer an organic chemistry question "that every undergrad should know"
            • by electrictroy (912290) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:04PM (#25063345)

              I think the real question should be: "Is this Organic Chem RELEVANT to the job of being a ______? (insert career)" I'm an electrical engineer, and I had to take Organic Chem. Why?!?!? My job consists of wires, resistors, and gate arrays... not a single protein or amino in sight.

              I can understand taking basic Chem 101 or Physics 101 or History 101 to gain an understanding of these subjects, but I don't see any value in taking any higher-level courses unless those courses have actual use for that person's future job as an Engineer or Doctor. I consider my time spent in Organic Chemistry a complete waste of money (approximately $3000 of tuition).

              (Of course that may be the point - a college is a business after all - any chance to gain more money out of the customers' wallets, even if that means requiring not-needed classes.)

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by mapsjanhere (1130359)
                If the guys at NVIDIA who designed their chip packaging would have been more chemists instead of electrical engineers, NVIDIA would have saved $@50 M in downwrites. If the guys at NASA who designed the Apollo 1 capsule would have been more chemists than engineers they would have understood how filling something with 18 psi oxygen is different from 4 psi oxygen, and Gus Grissom would have been the first man on the moon. If the guys at Boeing who designed the wire running through the fuel tank of the 747 wou
                • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                  by HungryHobo (1314109)

                  He said Organic Chem not plain old Chemistry.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  That just might be a simplification...maybe. In most of those cases if the guys at Q had thought of and tested X they would not have failed.

                  Even as engineers, living, eating and breathing the subject matter, things get overlooked. Particularly when we're solving a hard problem, solve the hard problem and go get drunk, but do not step back and thing about the big picture. Particularly when you're on a schedule, particularly when you are projected managed to death, particularly when your job has been divide a

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by niiler (716140)

                  No...not a troll. This guy has excellent points regarding engineering. We could also put the shoe on the other foot for the IT crowd. Wouldn't it be nice if some of the business types actually knew a little bit about the capabilities of computers, programs and networks so that they didn't make such outrageous demands on us?

                  But in regards to organic chemistry, physics, and the rest of the pre-med curriculum, there are several reasons for it classically:

                  • 1) Yes, it serves to weed out those who can't eith
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Cor-cor (1330671)
                That is a really good question. I'm a materials engineer, and we don't have to take OChem, even if we specialize in polymers.

                Our EEs actually just take a semester of gen chem. I think the same applies to some of the others like Mechanical, Aero, and Construction engineering. I haven't taken any electronics courses but I can't really see where that would come in handy for you. So I second your motion of shenanigans.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by thesandtiger (819476)

                Because the purpose of an undergraduate university education is not to get a person a job, it's to help them become *educated* and able to explore many things to depths beyond a casual survey of fields. Of course, actually being *educated* (as opposed to just getting a degree) does help in many, many ways with jobs, but it's not really the point.

                If you want a degree to get a job, that's what grad school is for. You have the rest of your life to become narrow, why make it happen sooner?

          • Re:Classic problem. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Autumnmist (80543) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:40PM (#25063011)

            I'm not saying I think it's a *bad* idea for doctors to think like scientists.... but they don't. (speaking as a scientist who took classes with premeds)

            Our current system for picking/grooming future doctors almost always selects for the least scientifically-minded students--science is the opposite of memorization, but the students who memorize the best are the ones who get into the best med schools.

            MD-PhDs are very very different from regular MDs.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I suppose... but you aren't being very scientific in your analysis of the situation; seeing as how you are using anecdotes as evidence. That being said, if knowing and understanding organic chemistry is not a fundamental part of doctoring then it is a waste of time and money going through the process of studying it.

            People will quickly forget much of what they have learned if they don't constantly re-enforce their memories. For this reason I am also dubious as to the fact that Engineers and IT people often h

          • I agree that the brute force approach will get A grades in o-chem, but don't you think that maybe our doctors ought to learn how to think like scientists?

            Hell, yes! They should think like scientists, but they don't. A majority of physicians in the US approve of teaching Intelligent Design alongside evolutionary theory, after all.

            Further educational devolution (no pun intended) for doctors will not serve any good purpose. Ever looked at the prescribing information for a drug? How in the world is a doctor

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by SUB7IME (604466)

              2005 survey:
              The majority of all doctors (78%) accept evolution rather than reject it.

              Half of the doctors (50%) believe that schools should be allowed (but not required) to teach intelligent design.

              That doesn't look like a majority supporting ID to me. And the question doesn't even provide context for interpreting the answer (i.e., it wasn't phrased as "should ID be taught as science", so presumably some of these people are thinking it could be taught as religion, etc.).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AJWM (19027)

          That's okay, a lot of medical school is massive brute force memorization too. (Anatomy comes to mind in particular, but it's hardly the only one.) It's a useful ability for doctors to have.

          (Me, I was premed until I discovered how easy computer science was and switched my major.)

          • Well, not. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by DrYak (748999) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:05AM (#25069901) Homepage

            That's okay, a lot of medical school is massive brute force memorization too. (Anatomy comes to mind in particular, but it's hardly the only one.)

            No. It's only that massive amount of idiot are hanging around med schools and prefer brute force methods instead of trying to put their brains to more efficient use.
            To take your example of Anatomy, most of the naming is just describing in latin/greek from where to where a structure is connected (the muscle attached to the sternum, the mastoid process and the clavicle is simply called sternocleidomastoid muscle). Most of the nerve connexion start to make sense once you start looking a little bit at embryology. Nature *does* make sense. A weird sense (as nature isn't intelligently designed as much as having evolved through emergent systems). But nonetheless makes sense.
            The fact that countless student are too brain dead to notice it and prefer stupidly learning everything by heart...
            - ... is a sign that lots of students are stupid
            - ... is a sign that the teaching system is broken and doesn't present the data the way they should.
            but doesn't mean that medical school is necessarily brute force memorization. For the record, I never brute force memorized anything in my medical studies and still managed to get my medical degree.

            If anything, some basis in organic chemistry, physics and other hard science (and even more : statistics), are *vitally necessary* to help the doctor acquire a good scientific critical sense.
            Otherwise, they would quickly buy into any snake oil marketed by efficient charlatans even if it blatantly violated several laws of physics or chemistry that they should have understood (but only brute force memorized them instead).

            Disclamer: I have a medical degree, and had worked as anatomy teaching assistant, among others. Had also plenty of time to develop computing skills thank to not loosing my time by brute-memorizing stuff stupidly.

      • Re:Classic problem. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PMuse (320639) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:23PM (#25062771)

        During my undergraduate career I worked for the Chemistry department . . . I feel a lot better knowing that a good share of the more inept ones got filtered out . . .

        Plus, the majors need some one to pull down the bottom of the curve.

      • Re:Classic problem. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:16PM (#25063525)

        Nothing is funnier than the truth. During my undergraduate career I worked for the Chemistry department and it was my job to watch some of these hopeless pre-med students suffer through o-chem lab. Needless to say, I feel a lot better knowing that a good share of the more inept ones got filtered out so early on in the game.

        See, I think these people are asking the wrong question. The question isn't whether pre-meds should suffer through orgo - the question is whether chemistry majors should have to suffer the whiny, grade-grubbing pre-meds who slow the class down and turn it into a brainless, memorization-based weed-out class.

        My degree's in chemistry, and the classes got a lot more fun and interesting once the pre-meds got shunted off into the "lite" track of classes like P-chem. We could have actual discussions about concepts for a change.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PCM2 (4486)

          My degree's in chemistry, and the classes got a lot more fun and interesting once the pre-meds got shunted off into the "lite" track of classes like P-chem. We could have actual discussions about concepts for a change.

          Ah! See, whereas I was stupid enough to take general chemistry as somebody who has no intention of getting an advanced degree in the sciences, but who is just interested in them. I was naïve enough to expect a class that taught concepts. Instead, I got a rigorous boot camp consisting of pages and pages of rote math problems based on nebulous ideas with no practical application (example: "Imagine a universe where the lowest element on the periodic table is helium...").

          I spent more hours studying for th

    • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:09PM (#25062551)

      The "idiots" just cheat or do whatever they have to, to get that degree.

      It stops nothing. Seriously, how many times have you gone to a Doctor and said to yourself, "This guy is an idiot."?

      I've had a doctor diagnose a broken rib as pancreatitis, spent over $10k paying for doctors to diagnose a problem that I eventually figured out MYSELF with just some research on the Web(verified by 2 other doctors afterwards) and had a doctor misdiagnose a problem, then make it worse by prescribing something that exacerbated the problem.

      If an idiot REALLY wants to be a doctor, he will become a doctor.

      A more stringent oversight system would be more useful.

    • by martinw89 (1229324) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:15PM (#25062645)

      I go to the University of Florida right now. We're decent for a public school, and our medical program is actually pretty good. Some prereqs apply to Premed and all of the Engineering majors, so when I started here I had some classes with premeds.

      For example, Calc 1 was extremely difficult. Plus, the rude teacher (one of the course coordinator's bitches) was bad at his job. With outside tutoring, I managed to scrape by. I think Calc is important for most majors, even premed, so this might not be the best example. However, the class shrunk as the year went on. Doing Calculus was difficult, but I can only assume less difficult than being a full time, life saving doctor. It's a good thing that these people got weeded out. Plus, it taught people like me to work harder to actually make it.

      What am I trying to get to with all this rambling? I think difficult weed outs are good for the earlier part of your college career. Most premeds won't use Organic. But, they need to prove they can work hard towards a difficult subject early on. Otherwise, the resources go to waste. And as an added benefit, the people who do make it by these weed outs usually gain work ethic from the experience.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yog (19073) *

      This whole debate is rather silly. The blog quotes the academic dean of Harvard's med school as saying the second semester of organic chem should be more medically oriented. He didn't say organic chem should be eliminated. Others may say that but they must be very misinformed.

      Organic chemistry is the foundation for biochemistry, just as general chemistry is the foundation for organic chemistry. The typical medical school or biological sciences grad school pathway is:
      general chem


  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:57PM (#25062389) Homepage Journal

    For working in that army of Java and .NET developers that drives the industry, do you really need to understand anything beyond basic algebra? Why burden CS students with silly classes when they won't even need to know what an integral is? I think it's a scam perpetrated by the academic industry to force us to pay for more credits and more books.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by soast (690658)
      Your missing the point. Even though you may go through your life not using all the math you have learned the point is Math helps you sharpen your problem solving skills which is 99% of what a CS student will use.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Do you know what satire is?
      • Actually, I'd disagree on the calculus part. It's useful in a few bits of computing, but not any that I've spent much time in. Having had a couple of years of discrete maths before university would have been much more helpful than two years of solving differential equations. Sure, I learned how to calculate the trajectory of a rocket going in to orbit where the acceleration is a function of air resistance (which is a function of altitude and speed) and of mass (which is a function of time), but the only
        • by AJWM (19027)

          Anyone who hasn't taken enough calculus to at least grasp the concepts of derivatives and integrals (if not necessarily do the math involving them) is an idiot who knows almost nothing about how the world works. There are a lot of those around, alas. (Many of whom probably took calculus at one point or another and then promptly forgot it all.)

          • That was the first week. The rest of the two years was mindless repetition until I could do in one minute, instead of ten, what I can make a computer do in a tiny fraction of a second.
        • by retchdog (1319261)

          I agree. There is an entrenched view among mathematicians that real results means using Real numbers (all of them!); and this is true for many of them at their level of work. However that doesn't validate the attitude that discrete versions of anything are only for remedial students too retarded or flighty to grok integration.

      • by unlametheweak (1102159) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:36PM (#25063817)

        Your missing the point. Even though you may go through your life not using all the math you have learned the point is Math helps you sharpen your problem solving skills which is 99% of what a CS student will use.

        I've heard this before. It seems to be an urban legend because I have never seen any evidence that Math improves problem solving skills (outside of the field of Mathematics of course) but I've heard many people make that claim. Calculus, for example, may be good for understanding how to maintain a certain speed behind a car while driving in the fog on a curved road, but most people can develop this skill better by actually taking driving lessons. As with a lot of posts here you make your point but don't back it up with any evidence. I wish people who were studying the sciences would be more scientific and logical in their arguments.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Because it gives you a thorough grounding in theoretical math, the type of stuff that I do with computers every day. I program in PHP, which you might think would be even more removed from math than .NET and Java (because it is). But there's no doubt that the analysis of algorithms and the ability to do extended, involved proofs well beyond what you learn in geometry has helped me in my programming job. Hell, even knowledge of Databases is helped by some good, college level linear algebra.

      What it comes
    • by Seakip18 (1106315)

      If they don't like math, then they shouldn't be seeking out a freakin' CS degree then. Computer Science is not Software Engineering/Development. I've seen two friends find this out the hard way by failing out because the stuff we were doing didn't interest them.

      There are classes and programs that do a great job of teaching those developers how to make software without a CS degree.

      A computer scientist is a programmer, though. They just only know how to compile the one language they know: their thoughts.

      • by retchdog (1319261)

        I used to think this, but then I ran into a frightening number (read: "a number greater than zero") of good advanced math students who cringe at even writing two nested for loops. It's not just distaste; it's actual anxiety and fear. (Although it must be said, this is a minority, and the truly powerful always have a knack at computing.)

        In the face of this, I don't understand how they can do math; it completely destroys my cognitive "folk theory" about math. But I must say, however they do it, I'm no longer

    • by robbyjo (315601)

      It depends on what you do. If you're doing a mere run-the-mill database programming, then no advanced math is necessary. But if you're building an expert system (that's not only about simple average or variance), a good grasp of integration will help because you need to know the concepts of cdf, expectation, moment generating function, etc., which are explained in integration.

    • by Adambomb (118938)

      My algorithms would die without having learned calculus. You can definitely follow your reasoning there and have most CS students not require calculus, but you'll never get hired for a developer shop that does any significantly scientific or even just statistical work.

      All you're saying in the end though is that you'd want CS degrees to be split into two kinds, one where they know and are recognized as knowing and one where they don't.

      Then when you're applying for a job that DOES require those skills...well

    • That's why I became a Computer Programmer. Why bother calculating the answer yourself when you can have the computer do it for you? After all, there's code out there for almost any math you're likely to need.

  • Are you kidding?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:57PM (#25062403) should be a highschool requirement.
    What the hell is happening to our education?

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:23PM (#25062777) Journal
      I'll second that, but I'll also add that college-level organic chem should still be required for med students. There's no way high-school level organic chem would be advanced enough to cover what doctors should know.

      If you're a medical doctor, and you think organic chem isn't required, you should have become an RN.
  • costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:58PM (#25062421) Homepage

    Medical costs have been growing at a far far faster rate than inflation. Clearly, demand for doctors is outstripping supply by a lot. We really need to lower the artifical barriers to entry to practicing medicine, such as unnecessary classwork.

    And before you jump up and down screaming "I want only the best of the best to be doctors!" I should remind you that many people don't have access to any doctors at all, and a B-student doctor is just as capable as an A-student doctor at determining whether your sore throat needs further medical care.

    We just plain need more doctors.

    • Re:costs (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Puff of Logic (895805) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:13PM (#25062611)
      Actually, what you need are more mid-level providers. Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, and the like are probably the future of front-line medical care, while doctors will provide an increasingly overseer role. Hell, as a future doc, I'm not particularly happy about that, but it's the reality. I'd rather see fewer but better doctors surrounded by an army of trained nurses and PAs, than the converse.
      • Actually, what you need are more mid-level providers. Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, and the like are probably the future of front-line medical care

        Absolutely. And med students who think they don't need organic chem should instead pursue education to be a PA or NP. Given the plethora of great online tools for diagnosing, etc, IMO the MD's knowledge base is less and less important in the day-to-day than it used to be.

        But, please don't forget the role of the pharmacist, who should be doing mos

    • Medical costs have been growing at a far far faster rate than inflation.

      Because oligopolistic insurance companies have raised premiums at a far faster rate than their payouts have increased.

      Clearly, demand for doctors is outstripping supply by a lot.

      Labor costs of physicians are not the only input to "medical costs", nor are they the prime driver of the increase in "medical costs". Medical insurance profits, compliance and administrative costs (often, again, driven by insurance companies), and pharmaceutic

    • What's to stop B undergrads from going somewhere besides John Hopkins or Harvard? I would imagine a degree at ANY med school could at least get more doctors on the ground helping those with financial difficulties.

      There are other barriers to medical help, such as the condition of health care coverage in this country. I'm not saying that's the sole contributing factor, but it's one of them.

  • Is organic chemistry grimly humerus? Or twisted out of shape - perhaps into a boat or a chair? Is the skew E- or Z-? D- or L-? That's the important thing.
    • by Zymergy (803632) *
      LOL... :) Our favorite friend Cyclohexane in its "chair" and "boat" conformations...
      Thanks for the smile 'gilleain'.. How I hated (at first) those plastic molecular model kits...

      Organic Chemistry is ESSENTIAL to the foundations of understanding HOW organic molecules interact in numerous ways within the human body.
      I recall one biochemistry professor telling us all that the body is really just an exothermic bag of diluted aqueous electrolytes full of fats, proteins, and enzymes whose job was to slowly
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:59PM (#25062427)

    If it's not Orgo, it'll be something else. Gotta have something that separates the unwashed masses from those with some chance of making med-school. And, as chemistry courses go, it's more a memorization than a "physics/math" course and so more applicable to the kind(s) of things covered in med school (from what I can tell).

    The fact that it can toast "real" chem majors caught in the crossfire can be dealt with (and was, in my case).

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:00PM (#25062437) Journal
    Overall the average doc is not a bad critter. But as times change, the drugs change as do their interactions. Organic chem gives the ability to the doc to understand HOW these drugs interact. In particular, when looking at the PDR and seeing the struct, it is possible for a doc to think about what they are seeing in patients, possibly with other drugs.

    In the end, an MD with organic is like the difference between CS vs. MIS. MIS teaches the current tech. It gives somebody a CURRENT job. CS teaches principles to allow that person to adopt and change and get future jobs. An MD with Organic Chem will adopt better to knew methods and new diseases (think prions which were unknown in the industry just 25 years ).
    • by hey! (33014)

      Well, reading the responses, it's not O-chem per se, it's the second semester which focuses on compound synthesis. This is very likely a specialized bit of knowledge very few physicians need, so some med schools allow applicants to substitute an additional term of biochemistry, which seems reasonable.

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:27PM (#25062835) Homepage Journal

      This is precisely my argument in favor of forcing medical students to learn ochem. If you don't understand this stuff, you really shouldn't be prescribing drugs. We understand fairly little (or nothing) about the way many drugs work as it is. To not have some idea at least about how they will interact is simple incompetence through ignorance.

      On the other hand, as the sibling AC comment [] points out, most doctors are just going to prescribe whatever their sales rep is pushing that month. It is a sad reality of patent-protected medicines that when a drug is no longer covered by patent, a new drug will be pushed to the patients both directly and through unscrupulous physicians even if the new drug is less effective than the old one - which is often the case.

      As others have pointed out [] the future is most likely to include more medical practitioners, and fewer actual doctors. This is probably for the best - I think we've all received incompetent medical care in the USA; for most of us it is probably the norm. I know that is the case for me.

      Incidentally, I am not a "computer scientist", yet I am able to learn new skills. I wouldn't hire me for any kind of substantial programming job or anything, but this is really more about a mindset than anything else. Then again, I know far more about the inner workings of the computer than the average "tech" (whatever the hell that means) and that does help quite a bit.

    • My thoughts exactly. It helps them be a better doctor by understanding how certain things are constructed or interact.

      I remember one time where my doctor prescribed a different medicine that just happened to be the levo- form of the one I was currently taking. To me, understanding simple things like that is a key factor to becoming a good doctor.

  • A great question (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I don't see why. In fact, I don't see why we require premedical students to take chemistry at all, or even biology, for that matter. Come to think of it, what is the point of requiring a bachelor's degree in order to pursue an MD- the two are only tangentially related. Why not make the MD degree a trade certificate, something perhaps akin to a license to drive a truck? That way we could confine the premedical curricula to only those topics students really need to know on a daily basis as mature, practic

    • by Nexus7 (2919)

      And, to address the OP's concern, we'll have lots and lots of doctors. Or, more accurately, "doctors".

  • Nah, forget it. I think the desire to help people and a positive attitude should be all that it takes to get into med school.

    Or maybe if you're going to be practicing a science, you should understand it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just like CS students should have to have Cal II and III and Diffy-Q and assembler.

    Too many things are dumbed-down too much already. I'm sorry if you're too dumb to learn organic chem or assembler or higher maths... Too damn bad. We don't want you. Go be a project/product manager or an assembly line worker. We don't need you here.

  • I find myself coming back to chemistry as an engineer, voluntarily or involuntarily, at various points. It's intermittently important to understand how the devices I'm using work, but still important.

    I'd say it's necessary to have a good understanding of the underlying basic science if you're an applied scientist.
  • O-Chem as primer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Puff of Logic (895805) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:08PM (#25062543)
    Speaking as a current medical student, I absolutely think that Organic Chemistry is an appropriate pre-med subject. While the material covered isn't particularly useful beyond establishing a solid basis for understanding the chemistry of biochemical pathways, the value of O-Chem is that it's usually the first time an undergrad student is hit by a tidal-wave of information. O-Chem, just like a lot of the stuff in med school, isn't necessarily difficult stuff; the challenge lies in assimilating information and understanding relationships at a high rate. O-Chem was an excellent primer for the drinking-from-a-firehose atmosphere of medicals school, as well as a good tool to test scientific critical thinking on the MCAT.
  • by lancejjj (924211) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:12PM (#25062603) Homepage

    I have a doctor who couldn't pass organic chemistry. We call them "nurse practitioners". Sure, they aren't formal doctors, but they'll see me.

    Here are some great follow-up examples:

    Why on earth should engineering majors study optics, when so few will work with optics?

    Why should a computer science major study operating systems, when scant few of them will actually work on an operating system?

    Why should English majors study poetry, when so few will become poets?

    Why should Business majors study economics, when so few will actually become economists?

    Why should a home owner buy fire detectors, when so few will have their house burn down?

    Why should people buy the Journal, when it publishes such stupid crap?

    • Why should a computer science major study operating systems, when scant few of them will actually work on an operating system?

      I think that your analogy is off slightly. The justification for teaching organic chemistry to MDs (aside from weeding out) is that it's a fundamental science upon which many aspects of modern medicine are built. Understanding drug interaction, for example. But organic chemistry isn't really a branch of medicine (like, e.g., oncology).

      I think a better analogy would be: why teach c

    • by hAckz0r (989977)
      Ok, I can see where your are going with this one, but let us just have a little fun for a moment.

      Why on earth should engineering majors study optics, when so few will work with optics?

      I do believe that even mechanical engineers need to do failure analysis, alignment, and predictions, and many of these methodologies employ both acoustics and optics. If you don't understand your own equipment then what good is it to try to design and test anything?

      Why should a computer science major study operating systems,

  • Wait, wait, Organic Chemistry... for people WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, humm... I wonder if the two subjects have anything in common...

    I just hope their poor minds are not stressed with the subject during college, I mean...

  • If you RTFA, and not really in depth, but just the title and author, and the website it was posted on, you'll see that this was posted by one Jacob Goldstein writing on the Wall Street Journal BLOG. So, this is clearly an op-ed piece of some sort. The thing I have to ask Mr. Goldstein is, does he have children? What ages? Did one of his kids recently not get into med school because he flunked O-chem? With all the talk about "helicopter parents" and the dumbing down of education these days, it wouldn't in th
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      With all the talk about "helicopter parents" and the dumbing down of education these days, it wouldn't in the least bit surprise me if this was written by such a person who wants to lower the standards so their precious little snowflake can get into medical school to make his $2 million,...

      anyone who thinks their precious snowflake is going to make their $2M is fucking deluded. Well, that's not really true. They'll make their two million... But our currency will be debased by several orders of magnitude by then. The economy is going straight into the toilet and so is the environment and if you want to learn some useful skills for the future I suggest taking a wilderness EMT course, learning everything you can about farming in all types of weather, and practicing the biathlon and triathlon.

  • I've never heard organic chemistry described as a "wry subject" before.

    I can't believe that pre-meds are whining about o-chem. Organic was cake compared to p-chem, which was the weeder class for chem majors. The American Chemical Society sells bumper stickers that say "Honk if you passed P-Chem"; my professor handed them out after the most of us.

  • by Daishiman (698845) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:19PM (#25062705)

    Knowing the basic science behind professions should be a basic requirement of all university curricula. It is one of the things that separate trade schools from universities.

    Some might say that it gives an additional burden because it might not be applicable directly to the actual job. But it serves two increasingly important purposes: it teaches you to think, and it gives you the ontological foundations for incorporating more knowledge.

    I can only speak from my CS knowledge, but having studied Calculus and Algebra on my first year have truly opened up my mind and helped me become a better programmer, not just a computer scientist.
    Calculus is essential because it's something that most people in related fields need to apply, and the CS curriculum should be designed so that one can interoperate with physicist, chemists, and engineers who have a need to apply their equations with computers.
    Algebra completely changed the way I think about every logical construct, helped defined concepts that abstract away numbers, types, and classes, and presented me with some extremely difficult problems for which there was no other recourse than to brighten up and study and practice until one gets it. Forcing one to think and study beyond what one was used to in High School is a necessity.

    In later years I was able to understand functional programming, abstract data types and numerical methods much more easily than if I hadn't; your mind clicks and relates all these concepts to each other and your learning accelerates exponentially.

    So sure, if you're just a Java drone you don't need this. But Java drones are not true software engineers or computer scientists, and what's worse, they don't really know because they never managed to get into the depth of knowledge the subjects can get.

    Take Type Theory and functional programming, for example. Very few people get to learn this in detail, and while you may never apply it fully professionally, the knowledge it brings helps you to define mental frameworks where proof of properties for objects, abstraction away from implementation, and modelling become significantly easier. Or numerical methods; chances are if you haven't taken a class on numerical methods - where you get pounded with rigorous proofs, arduous excercises, and loads of theory on computation, linear algebra, matrixes and such - you'll never really be capable of pulling off complex math problems without introducing slight calculation errors.

    In the same vein, if you have the basics of organic chemistry, understanding how cetain medicines and biological processes work become significantly easier as you can get a feel of how that works on a fundamental level. I don't think that's exactly what keeps people from becoming doctors(something tells me it's got to do with being tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time you graduate). I mean, if you suffer so much from just one course that it prevents you from continuing another 6 years of education, you never really had it in you to keep going, right?

  • by Ubi_NL (313657) <joris&ideeel,nl> on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:20PM (#25062713) Journal

    As a PhD in the research dpt of an academic hospital, I can tell you that such classes are really beneficial. Not in the least so that MDs finally understand what they are working with. Make no mistake: Doctors generally have no clue *why* for instance a lymphe node has swollen, or even what many antibiotics actually do. This complete lack of mechanistical insight in disease and cures by MDs has boggled my mind since I came here (and I have to teach them lab skills). Some background info on their actual work is no luxury.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trax (93121)

      It depends on where the MDs received their education and training. In the US, MDs go through rigorous training during and after medical school where basic sciences and clinical sciences are aggressively taught and integrated.

      Not all people are made from the same cloth and not all doctors are going to be the best and the brightest.

  • Dozens of doctors weighed in with comments, and many of them seem to think that the wry subject [organic chemistry] is almost useless rite of passage.

    I hear the pre-med Biology classes are a bitch as well.
    [Note: Learning the "Ankle Bone" song helps a lot.]

  • that the organisms they are going to treat have a whole lot of organic chemistry going on inside them?
  • by sgent (874402) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:29PM (#25062873)
    The proposal is to eliminate 1 semester of O chem (currently 2 are required) and substitute it with biochemistry.

    The second semester of O chem is mostly synthesis which is useless to physicians.

  • Why study organic chemistry when most people in the class will never so much as make one dime as a practitioner of the field? In the undergraduate science curriculum, organic chemistry occupies a special place that makes it a great case study in problem solving. Students come in generally with no background in the field, and they must learn to adopt a formalism for something they cannot see (even having completed a PhD in organic chemistry, I have never directly observed any of my reactions on a molecular l
  • While doctors may not need most of what is covered in O.Chem they do have a necessary requirement for Biochemistry (usually a 1 year series following O.Chem as a 1 year series) and that one Biochemistry class usually needs to support the needs of both Medicine and Biochemistry undergraduates. While the medicine folk could probably get away with an abbreviated O.Chem and a Biochemistry series that doesn't directly use that O.Chem knowledge, Biochemistry undergrads can NOT. So, if you remove that restrictio

  • How about killing off maths - so tentative doctors aren't required to know the difference between a 10mg dose and a 10g dose.

    Let's get rid of a need to know physics, so doctors won't need to bother with the difference between a dietary intake of 2000 calories and 20,000 calories - they're only arbitrary numbers, after all.

    How about english? Do doctor's really need to know how to spell, or read properly. Let's face it, there's not a lot of difference between death and dearth, or patients and patience.


  • You need O-Chem to understand Biochem. And oddly enough, I want my MD to actually understand what the hell is going on with my body chemistry.

  • of course (Score:5, Informative)

    by scapermoya (769847) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:43PM (#25063055) Homepage
    As a pre-med undergrad at UC Berkeley, I think it needs to be taught. I have been through a year of it (including labs) as part of my requirements, both for my major (molecular cell biology) and for med school. It was one of the hardest subjects I have ever taken. The kid next to me during the final for the second semester of it didn't write a single thing in three hours. I just heard him flip, flip flip.

    It isn't about the course content. To be an effective doctor you don't need to remember how to synthesize carbonyls. Find me a clinical physician who can take me through the steps of glycolysis. Organic chemistry is a gauntlet. It's an incredibly difficult subject that doesn't smile kindly on rote memorization. Rather, a complete understanding and application of knowledge, often in seemingly-unfamiliar settings, is required to excel in the course. Yeah, some people made hundreds of flash cards, and some of them probably did well. But the longitudinal thinking that one has to go through to really shine in ochem is also needed in medicine.

    Also, especially at Cal, classes like ochem are needed to pare down the pre-med pool. The merits of "weeding" kids out can be discussed, but there's no doubt that ochem is good at that.
  • by myc (105406) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:44PM (#25063073)

    IAABP (I am a biology professor).

    IMHO O-chem as it is taught by most chemistry departments is completely useless for pre-med students. There ought to be a lower level biochemistry course in its stead as a pre-req for pre-meds. Most MDs will NEVER have to worry about organic synthesis and crap like that; they WILL need to worry about metabolic pathways and enzymatic reactions.

    • by rangek (16645) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:29PM (#25063703)

      IAACP (I am a chemistry professor).

      IMO, you need organic chemistry to understand biochemistry. Now, extensive synthesis and all of that "crap"? No. But a one semester "intro to organic" followed by at least two semesters of biochem is what should be required. You can't build a pyramid starting at the top. You need a foundation.

  • Useless course. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MMC Monster (602931) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:50PM (#25063165)

    IAAD (I Am A Doctor), and organic chemistry has less to do with the practice of medicine than general physics. (Really. Try understanding the limitations of an MRI machine without some physics background.)

    I say get rid of organic chemistry and add in a requirement for something in the humanities, a year of a language, or something else that may actually come up when dealing with patients.

    Or better yet, a year of economics, as physicians are notoriously bad at things dealing with money. I would suggest business management for a year, but is that even available as an undergraduate course?

  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:52PM (#25063191)

    It seems that more and more, doctors (like engineers, administrators, etc) are becoming specialists, rather than generalists.

    Unfortunately, this sometimes has the effect of giving the specialist tunnel vision. ie - they only see things from the perspective of their specialty. They tend to ignore the sometimes obvious things that a generalist would notice.

    There are definitely reasons for becoming a specialist, but being a generalist, and having the broadest based education that you can has a lot to offer as well.

  • A good MD will try to be informed on developments in medical science, and you can't do that if you don't understand organic chemistry well. For instance, some substances that can stop ostheoporosis caused by some forms of cancer, can also induce osteonecrosis, especially in the presence of certain metals. An MD confronted with a patient with cancer-induced osteoporosis has a few options but must be alert and aware of the existing scientific papers on this specific field - and must be able to understand thos

  • As someone currently applying for medical school I can tell you the whole thing is a shot in the dark.

    An enormous number of people who will obviously go on to be awful doctors become doctors because they test well and do well in organic chemistry.

    The opposite is also true. Plenty of great future doctors never get a shot at even going to med school. I have a good friend who has worked in medical research since high school. She has spent the last two years working directly with patients and physicians at the

  • Yes, of course organic should be a pre-med requirement. So should biochem.

    And what is "wry" about organic chemistry?

  • as a (non md) researcher, i believe that there are, even in the pool of people who are MDs, very few who can do both clinical duty and research; this small group of exceptional people eat organic chemistry courses for breakfast, and then go on to one of the small number of spots in the MD-PhD programs ("Mud Fuds"), a program specifally designed to produce clinician researchers.

    If you want clinical research, where you need both doctor (md) and doctor (phd) skills, it is probably best to have collaborations


  • by Invicta{HOG} (38763) on Friday September 19, 2008 @11:32AM (#25071881)

    But I don't think that it should be a pre-med requirement. I was a physics major, loved math, and found chemistry exciting. However, I look at what a doctor does on a daily basis and realize that I rarely if ever use the skills I learned in organic chemistry. And this isn't just about what a doctor should learn in school - organic chemistry is a major component of the MCAT medical school entry examination.

    I've read a lot of the arguments (here and elsewhere) for organic chemistry.

    "Doctors need to know the basic science behind what they do" - as a physicist, I realize that undergraduate organic chemistry does not accurately represent the basis for chemical reactions. It certainly gives you a language for lab and industrial synthesis. But until you take at least physical chemistry, the rest is hand-waving. I think that chemistry should be taught to pre-meds, but feel that biochemistry is best matched to actually understanding the way that drugs work, for instance.

    "We need a weed out course for all the idiots" - fair enough. But there are many potential weed out courses with equally compelling claims to relevance. Take differential equations, for instance. It's one of the first places in math that you learn how to ask a scientific equation and actually have the skills to construct an appropriate model. And I guarantee you that it would weed out a lot of people. Or physical chemistry - if you really want people to know the basis of chemistry (as chemists see it), you should use the traditional chemistry major weed-out course. Or take an advanced statistics course - much more applicable to the actual accumulation of new knowledge as a doctor. The ability to critically read journal articles is probably the most important scientific skill for most practicing clinicians.

    "Doctors need to be more scientific and understand how basic science works" - couldn't agree more. But organic chemistry does not accomplish this. The best way to learn how basic science works is to do basic science. Research in a basic science lab would be an excellent pre-med requirement. Not a class focused on using pre-derived reactions to create a final product. That's just a mathematical proof in another name.

    "Organic chemistry is mentally challenging and builds mental rigor" - this is not really true as it's normally taught in the first two semesters. It's mostly an exercise in memorizing individual pieces of a language and then being able to use that language to create a previously unknown sentence. To that end, logic classes are more helpful to form a generalized framework for approaching new problems. And plenty of classes challenge the mind - pick pretty much any math class, any upper level physics class. Heck, being able to critically read a work of literature or critically view a work of art challenges the mind. That's what college is for.

    Anyway, pre-medical education is an interesting topic which is currently being debated in medicine. The most recent comprehensive treatment of the subject was in the New England Journal July 17th by Jules Dienstag, head of medical education at Harvard. From personal experience under him, I can say that he is well qualified to help plan for a future where physician-scientists will have to incorporate ever more vast expanses of knowledge in order to treat patients effectively.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"