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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



In high school and college, I had 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 had 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.

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 because 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. 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 getting 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 the 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 of 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 taking 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 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 of 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 with 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's of Science in dairy science.

GPA When Applying to Medical School


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

© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 20, 2014:

&grand old lady, Thanks for your great inspiring and supportive comments. Yes, I did go for an early naïve dream in my youth, but I really don't regret the experience. I certainly learned a lot about myself and really appreciate all the study doctors have to undertake.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 19, 2014:

Like a fool, I grew up thinking that all courses and degrees are equally challenging and that no degree required more smarts than others. Then I met a medical student who was outlining all the math classes she had to take. Now I know, doctors, and probably lawyers, are not created equal. Having come to view math as the devil through my own academic experience, I have great respect for doctors. I do think it's good that you went for your dream, nonetheless. It's better to have tried than to have never tried and lived to regret it. Being an English teacher has brought you to China and Thailand, and being a mentor is a noble profession. So it's all turned out very well for you and those whose lives you touched, it seems to me.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 22, 2014:

&DDE Thank you very much for your comments. I hope you got a good insight into how hard it was to get into Med school in the 60s.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 16, 2014:

Studying Pre-Med in The 1960s has a great insight to your experiences in another country.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 20, 2013:

Thelma, Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my life experience and I appreciate you thinking that I am a great teacher. I am trying, however, to be a better one.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 20, 2013:

Michelle, Thank you for your great comments and praising me as a great teacher. I am trying to be better, and yes, I do want to share my experiences with students so they can benefit from them.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on October 19, 2013:

This is a very interesting life story Paul. By the time you were in college, my life had just started. You might not be a doctor as you wished, but I´m sure you are a great teacher. Thanks for sharing your life with us. Happy weekend!

Michelle Liew from Singapore on October 18, 2013:

Paul, a great journey of life shared here. While you may not be a doctor, you certainly are a great teacher with rich experiences to share with and benefit your students!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 14, 2013:

Writer Fox,

Thanks for commenting on this hub. Yes, I am sure that there are more options for pre-med studies today. Actually, I probably was quite naïve when I went into the program without examining options open to me. I agree that few people have just one career in their lifetimes.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on October 13, 2013:

Wow! It's amazing that you remember every detail about your college courses and grades. I think there are more options now for pre-med studies, but life is a journey and in this day and age few people have just one career in their lifetimes.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 10, 2013:


Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I'm glad you found this hub insightful and useful.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 10, 2013:


Yes, if I had persevered and possibly gone to another country, maybe I could have become a doctor. But then again, by not having the best aptitude and smarts, would I have become the best doctor and found the work extremely satisfying? Thanks for reading and commenting on this hub.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on October 09, 2013:

Paul, this is insightful, and a very useful article. We may plan our lives down to the finest details, but occasionally, faith has other ideas. Sounds like yours is a very interesting journey.

A great read.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2013:

Looking back is always 20 20 vision. Sounds like you were taking really tough courses! It is obvious that you are intelligent and despite not becoming a doctor, have done well in life. This might be an eye opener for those wishing to attend medical school. One has to start early and persevere. Had you really wanted it, you could have gone to other countries. A relative of my husband went to Mexico and became a doctor down there.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 07, 2013:

Mary, Thank you for commenting on this hub. I wish your granddaughter the best in her pre-med studies. Since she's in an honors program and doing very well, I'm sure she has the aptitude to be a doctor and will eventually get accepted into med school. Yes, I wish all college students would read this hub. Thank you very much for sharing this hub.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 07, 2013:

Au fait,

I think it's just as well I didn't get into med school and become a doctor. Medicine definitely wasn't my niche. Thank you for your kind words in praise of my foreign language teaching and writing. I'm not the best in these two areas, but at least I think I have more talent here than in the sciences. I'm happy you found this hub interesting and useful and appreciate you sharing it with your followers.

Mary Craig from New York on October 06, 2013:

I think any program that leads to pre-med is difficult Paul, no matter when and no matter where. You definitely took on a lot in your four years!

I have a granddaughter just starting out in her freshman year going toward pre-med. She is in an honors program and so far is doing well. time will tell.

I think this is a hub that should be read by all college students!

Voted up, useful, interesting, and shared.

C E Clark from North Texas on October 06, 2013:

An excellent article for young people wanting to go to medical school. High school students aren't always aware that a university may have higher expectations and standards than their high school has and the classes will be more difficult in many cases.

Even though you didn't get into med school, your articles all indicate you are a great foreign language instructor, and you are absolutely an excellent writer. From my perspective foreign language is pretty tough too, just in a different way.

Voted up, interesting, and useful. Sharing with my followers.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 03, 2013:


Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. Yes, UW at Madison is tough because you are competing with the best students from around the country and also international students. I don't think it's wrong not to know what you want to do after you graduate. If you make a decision too soon upon graduating from high school, you could wind up in a situation similar to mine years ago. Thanks for the votes and sharing.

moonlake from America on October 02, 2013:

While you were just starting college I was getting married 51 years this month. I wish I had gone back to school. Madison is a tough school we were just talking about it the other day. Our granddaughter will graduate in the spring. I don't think she is sure what she wants to do. Voted up and shared.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 30, 2013:


Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. When did your friends go through pre-med at Wisconsin? It can be a very tough program if one doesn't have the aptitude in science.

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on September 30, 2013:

Great mini-documentary of your studies in pre-med. I also had friends go to through the pre-med program there in Wisconsin. Tough program!

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