Being a Pre-Med in the College of Ag, Health & Natural Resources

By Kathleen Renna

Believe it or not, the amount of times I am sitting in a pre-med heavy course (organic chemistry, microbiology, you name it) and someone asks me why I have a CAHNR sticker on my laptop is more than I can count. People often assume that if you are considering a career in medicine, you are a PNB, MCB, or really any hard sciences major in CLAS. In reality, yes – those majors set you up for every course you need for medical school. So why on earth would I not just follow the pack?

I think this dilemma comes from a lack of understanding of two critical pieces of information. Firstly, CAHNR stands for the College of Agriculture, ​Health​, and Natural Resources. Allied health sciences (AHS) and its associated majors is a very real plan of study that prepares students for careers in various health professions, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or mental health counseling. You can find out more about these and other potential career options for AHS students on The Major Experience ​website​.

Personally, I am a diagnostic genetic sciences (DGS) major. So, even if people have heard of AHS, they look at me as if I have ten heads when I throw ​that​ doozy of a major out there. DGS is a professional degree program in the AHS department that students apply into their sophomore year. The program sets students up for ​careers​ as lab technologists, genetic counselors, and clinical geneticists, the latter being the one I am pursuing and which requires a medical degree. I decided on clinical genetics because I have always been interested in the genetic basis of disease; however, I have found out over time that I could not spend my whole life working in a lab. I spent a lot of time searching for a career that would meet my needs and stumbled upon clinical genetics. After some careful thought of whether medical school was for me, I decided that it was worth a shot. I enjoy engaging with people and like the fact that this is one of the few professions where you never stop learning because there are always things being discovered, so becoming a physician seemed like the right choice for me. Therefore by choosing to be in CAHNR, I made a choice to take classes more tailored to my individual interests!

Ultimately, I chose DGS because clinical genetics is a specialty I am not likely to encounter in medical school. In fact, doctors don’t typically get involved with clinical genetics until potentially the third or fourth year of ​residency.​ For me, that seemed like a long time (eight or nine years from right now) to wait and see if I was actually content with my career choice. Instead, I chose to pick an undergraduate school that gave me the opportunity to study exactly what I was interested in instead of waiting ten years and spending copious amounts of money on medical school just to find out I didn’t make the right decision. Even though I am only a few weeks into my DGS major, I am really enjoying the concepts that I am learning and am very excited to see what I learn next.

The second critical piece of information that people don’t fully understand is the one that I consider the most important: you can be ANY major and still get into medical school as long as you complete the required coursework for the schools you are applying to. So yes, being a PNB or MCB major is great because you are taking all of the typically required classes and then some, and I commend anyone who chooses to do this because they enjoy this plan of study. However, sometimes I feel as though students choose these majors because they feel as though this is what medical schools want to see rather than taking courses that genuinely spark their interests.

Truth be told, medical schools want to see a diversity of majors and interests. If you are taking only science classes and participating in solely medically-oriented organizations, you are not showing the admissions committee a diversity of interests. And, for your own sake, doesn’t taking all science classes get a little overwhelming or, some would even go as far to say, boring? Some of the most interesting courses that I have taken, like Sociology of Gender and Anglophone Literature, are not directly related to human cells or tissues, but they are intimately connected with the human condition. They sparked my interest in contemporary topics like gender fluidity and race while also providing me with a background that I wholeheartedly believe will make me a better physician.

One of my good friends, who is also pre-med and in CAHNR, works with animals and shows cows in her free time because it is something she has enjoyed doing since she was 5 years old and in FFA. She makes sure that she is accomplishing all of her medical school requirements but also sets aside time for recreational activities that truly make her who she is! Now, I don’t show cows, but that doesn’t mean I only do science. I have always seen the value in volunteering so here at UConn I made it a point to participate in community service days for Special Olympics Connecticut and for a 4-H program at an elementary school in Rockville. These activities have taught me a lot about working with diverse groups of people and how to empathize more with those who don’t share the same background as me. I also work for the cafes here on campus and for a bakery back at home, so I have been able to learn how to communicate effectively with others, especially in high-stress situations. One of the clubs I am involved in on campus has even allowed me the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter, which both humbled and educated me on privilege and what it means to different people. Because of this, I can truly say that some of my most formative experiences, the ones that make a good doctor into a great one, have not been through science-related activities.

Therefore, who’s to say that a student in CAHNR majoring in environmental studies or natural resources is not qualified for medical school, especially as we increasingly recognize the intimate connections between the environment and our health? You should absolutely focus on your academics with a goal in mind, but you should also explore other areas of interest throughout your coursework and extracurricular activities that will help to shape you as a whole person. College is about doing what is most enjoyable for ​you,​ so make the most of it!