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Studying Pre-Med in The 1960s

Paul was a student at the University of Wisconsin in the '60s and also served in the Navy during America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Doctors in an Operating Room

studying-pre-med-in-the-1960s

Introduction

In high school and college, I wanted to be a doctor. After graduating from Burlington Union High School, I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and took pre-med courses for four years 1962-1966. My dream of becoming a doctor was shattered when I wasn't accepted into medical school. This article is the story of my journey studying pre-med in the 1960s.

Career Choices as a Boy

As early as the second grade, I had wanted to be a priest. I liked my religion class very much, and I remember having to attend Mass every morning before school started. When Sister Colleen asked if I wanted to be a priest, I replied, "Hell, no, I want to be a bishop!" Later I became an altar boy and enjoyed reciting the Latin prayers and assisting the priest during Mass.

After briefly considering being a lawyer while in the seventh grade, I started to become interested in medicine when I got into high school. By the time I was studying biology in my sophomore year (10th grade,) I decided I wanted to be a doctor. About this time, I also visited the Anatomy Department at Marquette University and talked to some medical students who were dissecting cadavers.

While in high school, I became interested in all of my science courses, especially biology. As a science project during my senior year, I remember pithing a live frog and doing a study about its nervous system. By the time I graduated from high school in 1962, I had been accepted into the incoming Freshman class at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Author's High School Graduation Picture

High school graduation picture with mom and dad.  Picture taken in June 1962

High school graduation picture with mom and dad. Picture taken in June 1962

My Freshman Year at the University of Wisconsin

Upon arriving at the University of Wisconsin for advanced freshman registration in the summer of 1962, I declared my intent to enroll in the Honors Program and begin a pre-med course of study. Although I was valedictorian of my senior class, my ACT college entrance test scores couldn't have been that high. That's the impression I got from my college adviser after I was advised to enroll in the regular non-honors courses.

During the fall semester of 1962, I remember signing up for four courses totaling 15 credits. These courses included three credits of general inorganic chemistry, five credits of zoology, four credits of differential calculus, and three credits of freshman English composition. All of these courses were recommended for pre-med students although I could have taken an easier math course. I quickly found out that I had to study harder to get a B in courses than the As I had easily received in high school. Undoubtedly, the reason for this was that I had more competition in my classes and not a close relationship with my professors and teaching assistants. This was due to the large lecture classes in all of my science courses. Even though I finished the first semester with a B or 3.0 average, I quickly found out that there were a lot of students better than me.

During the second winter and spring semester, I took four credits of integral calculus, five credits of inorganic chemistry and qualitative analysis, one credit of solving inorganic chemistry problems, three credits of sociology, and three credits of English composition. I received Bs in calculus, five credit chemistry, and sociology courses, but only Cs in the one-credit chemistry class and English class. It wasn't really necessary to take the one-credit chemistry class, but I had decided I wanted to be a chemistry major. Once again, I couldn't get As in my classes, and the two Cs pulled down my overall grade point average (GPA.)

Bascom Hall at the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison.  Taken in 2019.

Bascom Hall at the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. Taken in 2019.

My Sophomore Year at the University of Wisconsin

My sophomore year (1963-1964) was both painful and rewarding. I got more Cs during the first semester, but I was able to regroup and receive all As and Bs during my second semester.

The fall semester of 1963 was more challenging because I was taking the toughest chemistry and math classes. I had five credits of organic chemistry which included three credits of lecture and two credits of a laboratory class. My third-semester calculus course of four credits was also very difficult. Also, I had a four-credit psychology class and a three-credit course in contemporary British and American literature. My grades went down during this term since I only made Cs in calculus, organic chemistry lab, and English literature. Once again, the best I could do was get Bs in organic chemistry and psychology courses.

During the second semester, I resolved to do better and did by bringing up my GPA. I enrolled in a three-credit organic chemistry lecture class, four credits of analytical chemistry and quantitative analysis, three credits of English literature, three credits of intermediate composition, and three credits of the Greek and Latin origins of medical terms. With a lot of hard work and study, I received my first As in analytical chemistry and medical terms classes and Bs in the other three classes.

My Junior Year at Wisconsin

I seemed to take another step backward during my junior year. This was evidenced by a D that I received in a science course during the first semester and a C in a science course during the second term.

The fall semester of 1964 was extremely difficult because I was enrolled in three science courses in addition to one social science course. My course load included five credits of comparative anatomy with lab, five credits of physics with lab, three credits of genetics lecture, and three credits of American history. With a lot of hard study and long hours, I made Bs in comparative anatomy, physics, and American history classes. I fared very poorly in genetics, however, by receiving only a D.

During the winter and spring semester of 1965, I took two more science courses, a foreign language, and a social science course. My 14 credits included five credits of physics with lab, two credits of an organic chemistry lab, four credits of beginning German, and three credits in American history. My GPA once again suffered when I made only a C in physics.

During the second semester, I also took the American Medical Association's Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) which I found extremely difficult. It was a mistake to take this test without really having prepared for it.

My Senior Year at Wisconsin

My senior year of pre-med began with applications to a few medical schools with the hope that I would be accepted by at least one. The year began with an eight-week summer session running from June through part of August of 1965. Since I was majoring in chemistry, I had to enroll in a physical chemistry lecture class that I hadn't taken yet. I also took another psychology course. I earned Bs in both classes.

I began the fall semester of 1965 by applying to the medical schools at the following universities: Wisconsin, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Loyola University of Chicago. Also, I enrolled in four courses consisting of three credits of physical chemistry lecture, four credits of vertebrate embryology, four credits of second semester German, and two credits of speech. I earned Bs in the chemistry and language courses, but only a C in the embryology class.

During the second semester and summer session of 1966, I enrolled in an advanced inorganic chemistry class, philosophy, economics, and German classes. By the end of the summer of 1966, I had met all of the course requirements for getting a Bachelor of Science with a major in chemistry, but I was rejected by all of the medical schools I had applied to. The best I could do was get on the waiting list at Loyola University. I gave this up when I went for graduate work in chemistry.

Medical School Admissions - Successful Study Habits

Why Wasn't I Accepted into Medical School?

It took me a long time to come to grips with why I couldn't make it into medical school. After having grown in wisdom and looking back on this pre-med journey, I have concluded I didn't get into med school for the following reasons:

1. I Wasn't Smart Enough and Didn't Have the Aptitude to Be a Doctor

It was naïve of me not to realize this from the rather low scores received on aptitude tests like the ACT and the MCAT.

My overall GPA of around 2.73 out of 4.0 should have also told me something. Most of the pre-med students I knew had GPAs well over 3.0.

2. I Took Too Many Tough Courses and Didn't Drop Classes I Was Doing Poorly In

Third-semester calculus wasn't necessary for me to take. When I saw that I couldn't do well in genetics and embryology, I should have dropped these classes to help my GPA.

3. I Didn't Study Enough and Cut Too Many Classes During My Junior and Senior Years

The C in physics and Cs received during my senior year could have been Bs if I had gone to more classes. During this period, I was involved in more social events and partied too much on Friday evenings. As a result, I didn't go to many Saturday morning classes.

4. I Didn't Possess the Desire and Perseverance to Reach my Goal of Being a Doctor

I became discouraged by rejections and gave up. My sister who also received rejections when applying to vet school the first two times persevered and was eventually successful in getting in on the third try. She did this only by retaking courses for which she received a C and also earned a Master of Science degree in dairy science.

GPA When Applying to Medical School

Summary

During my pre-med study journey, I learned that it wasn't easy getting into medical school in the 1960s. A person had to have the intelligence, aptitude, and persevering desire to become a doctor. Hopefully, students going into pre-med will learn from my experience.

Getting into Medical School

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn

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