Why undergraduate students pursue or drop a premedical curriculum has received only scant attention. In this study the authors attempted to uncover reasons why students either persevere in their premedical studies or seek alternative careers.
Using convenience sampling, the authors surveyed 97 undergraduates at a small liberal arts college from November 2000 to March 2001. Of those surveyed, 44 were former premed students who completed a three-page questionnaire about why they had decided not to become physicians; 53 premed students completed a two-page questionnaire about their career aspirations.
The response rate was 100%. Premed students were attracted to the field by the intellectual stimulation and the power to help others, yet most were also very concerned about being in debt, dealing with patients who might die, and the compatibility of medicine with having a family. Women students were more concerned than the men about having only limited time to become acquainted with patients on a social level (71% of women versus 45% of men: p =.05). The decision of students to forgo a career as a physician was shaped by apprehensions regarding the years of work required in residency, the need to be on call, unacceptably low grades, and the realization that other attractive career options are available. Of those who said low grades were a deciding factor, most (78%) named organic chemistry as the single course that had affected their plans. Students who acknowledged the role of their poor performance in organic chemistry were more likely to be dissatisfied with their change in plans than were those who did not identify this course as influential (44% versus 29%).
Although the sampling technique and sample size severely limit the authors' ability to generalize their findings, the data offer a starting point for those interested in the reasons for the drop in medical school applicants. The authors state the fact that most former premed students admitted organic chemistry had played a significant role in the change in their career plans deserves attention, and it may be time to consider whether a single course should contribute to eliminating persons who might otherwise excel as physicians.
Ms. Lovecchio is in nursing school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Nursing, and Dr. Dundes is assistant professor, Department of Sociology, McDaniel College, Westminster, Maryland.
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Dundes, Department of Sociology, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster, MD 21157-4390.