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Frequently Asked Questions

Does Holy Cross offer students an opportunity to prepare for careers in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or other health professions?

Holy Cross has always enjoyed an excellent reputation for its success in preparing students for the health professions. More than 10% of living Holy Cross alumni are practicing medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, etc., throughout the world today. Holy Cross students have been accepted at almost every medical school in the country, and our alumni occupy important positions throughout the entire medical establishment.

For a sample of our distingushed alumni in the health care field, see How have Holy Cross alumni done in medicine?

How does Holy Cross' Health Professions preparation differ from those at most colleges?

In addition to giving students the best possible science education in preparation for medicine and other health professions, Holy Cross strongly emphasizes the ethical and humanistic side of medical education. This focus on the humanistic side of medicine is not confined to the many classes in literature, philosophy, ethics, etc., that we offer our students or even the many service activities to which most of our students contribute; it also is present in the atmosphere that we attempt to create within the premedical and health professions preparation itself.

Too many people believe that 'survival of the fittest' must be the operative strategy for a premedical student, and they advise students that they must work frantically to beat their competition. Holy Cross is unalterably opposed to this sort of approach, and we have worked hard to try and eliminate the Darwinian selection process that is all too common in premedical education. Instead, we have endeavored to create an atmosphere of academic excellence in which any competition is directed toward the material being studied rather than toward one's classmates. Indeed, we hope to promote an atmosphere of cooperation among students rather than competition. Many of our laboratories, in fact are purposely set up in a way that makes student collaboration necessary. We believe that this is the best possible preparation for a future in which health professionals will be increasingly dependent on continuous cooperation and communication rather than on competition between individuals.

Can a student at Holy Cross major in Premed or a Health Profession?

Premed or the Health Professions is not a major.  Students should major in a discipline that interests them.  Indeed, we have found that students do best when they are intrinsically motivated, i.e., passionate about what they are studying.  With thoughtful planning, medical school or other health professional school admissions requirements can be fulfilled along with the requirements for any major.  It is largely a myth that students should major in biology or other science majors in order to get into medical school.

For more detailed information on preparing for application to medical school, see the Holy Cross Medical School Application Primer.

Is the Holy Cross Health Professions preparation rigid and inflexible?

Not at all! We have found that students with a wide variety of educational backgrounds have been successful in gaining admission to medical school. Once in medical school they have found that their diverse backgrounds have been a strength rather than a weakness. This is one reason why the Health Professions Advisory Committee consists of faculty from a variety of disciplines. We therefore genuinely encourage students to focus on the quality of their overall educational experience rather than focus too narrowly on admission to medical or pther health professional school. We also urge students to consider taking advantage of the many educational opportunities offered at Holy Cross, Junior Year Abroad, the Washington Semester, the College's interdisciplinary concentrations (e.g., Peace and Conflict Studies, Women and Gender Studies, etc.), academic internships at hospitals or research facilities in the Worcester area, and the Honors Program.

What science courses are required of students preparing for careers in the health professions?

Medical schools (and other health profession schools) are interested in well-rounded students who have demonstrated that they understand the basic language of science. Medical schools require students to take one year each of biology, physics, and mathematics plus two years of chemistry. All science courses must be taken with the appropriate laboratories. Starting with the MCAT in 2015, courses in biochemistry and statistics are strongly recommended.  Students must also take one year of English, since their basic communication skills are at least as important as their abilities in science, and a semester each of psychology and sociology. While upper-division electives in science are not required for admission to medical school, they are recommended, especially for those students who have not demonstrated solid ability in the basic sciences. For example, students who are not science majors are encouraged to take a genetics and/or a microbiology course after taking basic required courses in chemistry and biology.

Other health professional schools have different requirements, and the health professional advisors can assist students in determining the right course wrok for such programs.

It should be noted that Holy Cross does not have a traditional nursing program, which requires extensive clinical work. The advising committee can help students interested in pursing a career in nursing to find graduate programs through which an RN or NP can be obtained.

For typical course sequences and other useful information relating to preparation for medical and dental school at Holy Cross, see the document entitled "Holy Cross Medical School Application Primer" (Document is in Adobe PDF format using the free Acrobat Reader available from www.adobe.com).

How can non-science majors possibly compete with science majors with regard to medical school acceptance?

We have seen no evidence whatsoever that students who have majored in a non-science field are at any disadvantage compared to science majors when applying to even the top-ranked medical schools. Our students can major in any field and still gain admittance to medical school because our science programs are so strong. The introductory science courses required by all medical schools are well taught in relatively small sections by full-time faculty who are dedicated to undergraduate education. The science courses taken by the health professional students are the same as those taken by the science majors. Thus, students who have done reasonably well in only the basic required science courses can still handle the work in medical and other health professional schools.

I genuinely enjoy science and would like to major in biology, chemistry, or physics. How strong are these science departments at Holy Cross?

Holy Cross has excellent science and mathematics departments that offer an outstanding undergraduate science education. Holy Cross is a member of the Oberlin Group, a collection of small, liberal arts colleges that are nationally recognized for their excellence in undergraduate science education. Holy Cross has a higher percentage of science majors and a much higher percentage of graduates who have Ph.D.s in science than most major research universities. We have modern laboratories that are well equipped with scientific instrumentation both for instruction and undergraduate research. Science courses are taught by full-time faculty, since our faculty is committed to an undergraduate learning environment in which there is close contact between students and their professors. Above and beyond the courses required for medical school, we offer excellent advanced science course and numerous opportunities for undergraduate research. For instance, in most years more than half of our chemistry and biology majors participate in an undergraduate research project before they graduate. Most of the students who do undergraduate research will have their work published by the time they graduate. The research opportunities include projects working with faculty on campus during the academic year for which students receive academic credit as well as externally funded projects during the summer. There are also many opportunities for our students to do research at UMass Medical School (which is three miles away and easily accessible).

Is there any advice available on campus for students interested in medical, dental or other health professional schools?

Yes, students can obtain advice from a wide array of sources. All students are assigned an academic advisor who is usually a professor in their major field of study. Students interested in the health professions can also turn to Professor Miles Cahill, Health Professions Advisor, or Professor Jumi Hayaki, Associate Health Professions Advisor or any other faculty member of the College's Health Professions Advisory Committee. Professors Cahill and Hayaki are very familiar with all aspects of premedical and medical education and can help students with any problems they might encounter.

How have Holy Cross alumni done in medicine?

Very well indeed. More than 10 percent of the living alumni of Holy Cross are physicians and dentists, and they have done very well in a wide variety of positions. For instance, Dr. Joseph Murray was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990 for his pioneering work in transplant surgery. Dr. Murray was the first surgeon to transplant a human organ, a kidney. Dr. James Shannon was Director of the National Institutes of Health and is considered to be the "father" of the NIH. Dr. Robert Scully was the longtime editor of the Weekly Clinicopathological Exercise from the Mass. General Hospital, which is published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is probably the most widely read regular column in all of medicine. Dr. William Nolen wrote many books on medicine including The Making of a Surgeon and A Surgeon's World. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, where he is leading the government's efforts to combat the AIDS virus. For his efforts he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Lasker Award. Many more have distinguished themselves as deans of medical schools, as researchers, or dedicated and talented practitioners.

How successful are Holy Cross students who apply to medical and dental school?

Holy Cross applicants have done exceptionally well in gaining admission to medical school. Over the last ten years, at least 80% of Holy Cross applicants were accepted into at least one medical school each year. (Keep in mind applicants were reviewed by the Health Professions Advisory Committee and told of their level of recommendation and the tone and content of the letter to be written.) During this period, Holy Cross has ranged between 35 and 57 applications to medical school per year and more than 75 students per year have gone on to health professional schools (medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy, nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, etc.). In the past several years, we have had at least one student accepted at each of the following list of medical schools.