musicians turned doctors

January 2, 2007 at 12:19 AM · After reading about 2/3 of musicians applying to medical school and getting accepted, I was curious as to how this was done. What about MCATS? Do musicians not take them? What if conservatory students applied to medical school? How would they get in, or rather, how DO they get in?

Replies (30)

January 2, 2007 at 12:31 AM · have to be pretty smart to be a good musician (emphasis on "good":)). still 2/3 musicians getting into med school if applied is a tough stat.

some schools do not need MCATs, such as Johns Hopskins and U of Rochester, where you are.

still, you need to have completed all your pre-med requirement (bio, chem, biochem, etc). and DO EXCEEDINGLY WELL. if your GPA is less than 3.3 (B+/A-), you need a very compelling story.

if a college has 700 pre-meds in the freshman class, by senior year about 30 or so get into med schools.

musicians or not, you will be competing against those 30.

the fact that a musician can do well in pre-med as well as in music suggests to the admission office that the person can multitask and manage time and stress.

call the admission offices. cheers.

January 2, 2007 at 01:44 AM · Standardized tests:

(1) SAT: for college

(2) LSAT: for law school

(3) GRE: for graduate school

(4) GMAT: for business school (post-bac.)

(5) TOFL: test for students whose native language is not English.

(6) MCAT: for medical school

GPA: at least over 3.75/4.0 to be competitive. 3.3/4.0 unless you have other "means", you may not apply. It's expensive.


Extracurricula: The more whatever, the better.

Music falls in the extracurricula category, nothing special. A decorated sportsperson will be highly desirable as well.

If you are a musician with GPA 2.9 or 3.1/4.0, the chance to get into medical school will be greatly reduced like anyone else. Because professional schools (medical, law or business school) have not shortage of top-notch students (don't forget foreign students can join the game), these schools are not looking for musician physicians. In addition, medical schools long ago accept "older" students, and those "older" students most likely have a lot of experience or accomplishment. That's also an edge.

If you are an in-state student, you might have a little advantage over out-of-state/country students.

January 2, 2007 at 03:14 PM · It isn't just med school. You will find that the members of the university orchestra will have significantly higher GPAs than the student body as a whole. The same goes for high school. A disproportionately large number of high school orchestra members will go to prestigious colleges, not because they are musicians but because they are smart and hard working.

If you are smart enough and hard working enough to play a concerto from memory you can also play history or biology from memory.

January 2, 2007 at 03:28 PM · There is a lot of research available and ongoing about music study and brain use. It seems that certain instruments, including strings, require unusual amounts of lateral transference in the brain, sometimes called "crossing the midline", which strengthens how we learn, store and retrieve. Think, too, about what is actually going on when we read music. We see something static on a page, but hear it internally as pitch, tone, time and space. String players are making themselves smarter when they practice. :) Sue

January 2, 2007 at 07:55 PM · Well, that's what the western world wants people to believe. Most East Asian (if not all Asian) students don't have the opportunities for music education outside school. That said, stats show that most Asian students are formidable competitors when it comes to education.

I think it is important to comment on this statement:

"If you are smart enough and hard working enough to play a concerto from memory you can also play history or biology from memory."

Believe it or not! Medical schools haven no longer been looking for students, who can only "play xxxx from memory" more than a decade ago. The ability to demonstrate ones understanding to the highest level of knowledge will lead the pack of the applicants.

January 2, 2007 at 09:08 PM · Let me just quote an email fro Tania Gabrielle French: " Look at history. So many successful innovators, geniuses and entrepreneurs are fans and followers of Classical Music and played instruments. A shortlist includes:

U.S. Presidents and Statesmen John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and President Woodrow Wilson. British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Indian luminary Mahatma Gandhi.

Actors Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Bob Hope, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Andy Griffith, Jennifer Garner, Dudley Moore, George Segal, James Stewart, and Bruce Willis.

World Famous Scientists Thomas Edison, Albert Schweitzer, Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Galilei, and Louis Braille.

Artists Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Carl Sandburg, Mark Twain, Ansel Adams, and Frank Lloyd Wright."

Therefore, those in the high school orchestra or playing musical instruments when they are young are gifted people. One of my nice and a nephew completed violin performance degrees before entering medical school. They took pre-med courses while in the school of music.

January 3, 2007 at 06:29 AM · First of all, what was their family background in the cited list? If that's all we have in the history, we should feel sorry. I met two people in IT, who actually had a college degree in music: one was a salesman and the other a manager. So, they were just as unsuccessful as I was, who was totally ignorant of music?

Secondly, was it a tradition to play an instrument?

How about kids in Asia? They were more that never played an instrument than not. The research physicians I used to work with never played in a band.

How many kids who started music lessons at young age, but never made it anywhere?

If people are truly talented and gifted, they will be successful regardless.

By the way:

(1) It doesn't follow that one, who doesn't play an instrument can not appreciate music. I am one.

(2) Courses (some require lab) necessary to satisfy medical school in the past are:

Biology 1 year

Chemistry 2 years

Physics 1 year (without calculus is fine)

Caluculs 1 year

Pre-med can be any major. As long as you complete the above-mentioned courses, you are qualified to take MCAT and apply for medical schools.

January 3, 2007 at 06:28 PM · We have several high quality MD's in our TCSO. Our previous concertmaster is an E-Room specialist and one heck of a violinist. Members of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra told him he was good enough to play in any major orchestra in the country. Our Assistant Principal Violist is a Cardiologist and is a superb player who, I think, outplays a few professionals I know.

I played quartets in High School and when I was home from college with two doctors and a Physicist. It was the Physicists hopuse we played in and he had five old Italian violins and a viola. One day I would play on his Strad, then an Amati, then a Bergonzi, etc. YeHaa.

January 3, 2007 at 07:33 PM · Exactly! A true talent will shine when he gives his heart to his endeavour. I know people, who played sports, not music, in (inter-state) competitions, were also very successful academically.

January 4, 2007 at 01:21 AM · I actually talked to a relative who is in the medical profession. Musicians are often high on their list because of:

1)extracurricular activities

2)we're hardworking

3)music has been proven to improve things like SAT scores and open up the mind to problem solving and mathematical issues.

Even in a music school, where you don't neccessarily take a lot of academics, you get a great education because our minds are working on many different levels all the time (artistic, technical, endurance) and that translates into things like interviews and testing situations.

January 4, 2007 at 06:00 AM · On another forum, music education in the US was discussed. The concensus was that it differs a great from a district to another. Some schools have excellent music program, and some may have nothing. Public schools in the US are funded by property tax (please correct me if I am wrong). If one put two and two together, what does it tell?

No argument that if one can master two things at the same time, that person is certainly talented.

Now let's there are two candidate for one seat in a medical school. One student played in an orchestra in high school, and the other was an Olympic gold metalist in figure skating with everything else being the same. Which one do you think a medical school would likely to pick?

A friend of mine told me that he could play Mendelssohn violin concert in college, but he failed (or almost failed) his Chemistry class. He graduated from a prestigeous music school in New York. Music does not necessarily endow excellence in everything--You still have to work hard like anyone else to get good grades in any class you attend, I am afraid to say.

Don't tell me that medical schools will accept most students, who played in high school orchestra with a GPA of low 3.0 out of 4.0.

January 4, 2007 at 01:40 PM · vivian, good points in stating that music does not necessarily lead to excellence in other disciplines and that med schools are very picky.

grades in school are the most basic requirement, the most fundamental intellectual barrier since medicine is about learning new concepts on the go, on a second to second basis. literally a do or die situation.

med schools are interested to assess if the story of you interested in medicine is one of going for prestige, money, curiosity, lost in space, etc, or genuine compassion for the sick. often, this is not easy to judge since everyone gets helpful recommendation letters and that you can write whatever you wish in your assay. but, it is very clear some candidates are standouts because of their conviction, their past experiences. being an olympic level sport person, or a solo level violinst means absolutely nothing if the admission office cannot picture you wearing a white gown and doing a good job in medicine.

physicians need to multitask constantly, imo, more so than musicians and under greater stress. physicians are bombarded with new info for processing constantly. musicians rarely are asked to perform on stage unheard pieces. having a string popped during performance may prepare you when you are on call and several patients drop in front of you simultaneously because of heart attack symptoms, but it is not the same thing. the first scenario is about others' well being in your hands, the latter is simply about you, a very insignificant figure in the whole scheme of things, imo. as a physician, you are often expected to perform unthinkable selfless acts, such as operating on HIV/ hepatitis patients knowing full well it takes one nick in the glove to change your own life forever. if you have to go to work as a physician taking instead of giving beta blockers, it could be too much.

if someone tells me that he loves and is good at playing violin, i will say that is not enough to be a good musician because being a good musician is also about accountability, responsibility, going through less than stimulating routines and not to whine at the sight of the slightest hint of difficulty. on that level, there is some similarity between music and medicine. cheers.

January 4, 2007 at 04:23 PM · A recent research revealed that the good effects of music on the brain can be explained by the discipline that music making requires and not by the music itself. And being a good athlete also requires discipline.

In Berlin I met a medical student who used to play first oboe in a German orchestra. He told me that studying medicine was very relaxing. "It had to be hundred percent every night in the orchestra. Now sixty percent is enough to pass my exams!"

Of course, being a good doctor means more than sixty percent, but I reckon, he found that out by now.

January 4, 2007 at 04:01 PM · As a physician I tend to agree with the statement that more musicians make it in medicine, than not. I am not much of a musician myself- I used to play piano as a child- but I LOVE music and have been involved with my kids' struggles with playing an instrument( my daughter plays the violin and piano, my son plays the violin). I know from working with them how hard one has to work to get anywhere, how dedicated you need to be, also the focus, the control and general dexterity involved. I think these are skills needed for the mechanics of playing an instrument, but a good musician needs emotions, a superior inteligence to be able to make music, beyond just playing some notes. I think that anybody who can do that well can basically succed in ANY profession. Tme medical scools are looking for well rounded individuals, not just academically acomplished, people that have diverse interests and passions will have outlets to decompress under stress better than people who are just good students. I also think that medicine, as much as beeing a science is an art and it takes an artist to understand the intricacies of dealing with human emotions all day long.

January 5, 2007 at 04:11 AM · tijn vellekoop,

I lived in Germany, and one of closest friends was from a family of physicians. The education systems in Germany and in the US are quite different as I understood. So I don't know whether one can use examples in Germany and apply them to the US.

It is not difficult to understand that medical schools prefer students with music background over those who don't. But that preference also applies to people who excel in other fields--It all comes down to how much you can stand out. Medical schools don't only look for good students? Wrong. Being a good student (that usually means with high GPA) is the fundamental requirement. As I questioned, if you played in a high school orchestra with a GPA of low 3.0 out of 4.0, how much do you think you stand out in the application pool?

Only music and sports require discipline? That view is certainly too narrow I must say. Those students, who play in an archestra and are interested in going to apply for medical school (or other professional school), make sure that your GPA is taken care of first of all. If you are only competing against people, who have good grades only, you can be assured that your chance of getting in is very good. But in reality, you aren't.

I remember there was a discussion about a new genius kid composer on this site. He could compose just like that, but how good was he in sports?

If your kids are having hard time learning music, it might be because music is not their cup of tea. It might be more beneficial for the parents to find something else for the children to learn. Or yeah, the parents can force the kids to learn to play the instrument for the sake of being disciplined.

Note: When I mentioned medical school, I had world-class medical schools in mind. For less competitive med schools, the criteria might be lower, logically.

January 4, 2007 at 11:04 PM · Speaking as a physician I think there is a fairly easy explanation as to why physicians and musicians are so easily related to each other. Both have a logic which is not necessarily linear at the intuitive level. Medicine is a very inexact science which is based on some very exact sciences but the confluence of all of that information functions a lot as an art form.

People tell me that music is very mathematical but while I understand that concept intellectually music is anything but mathematical to me, which is a good thing otherwise I would be unable to function musically. The logic of music is frequently nonlinear. Music and medicine both operate in similar confluences of dissimilar informations.

January 4, 2007 at 11:45 PM · Being married to an ophthalmic surgeon I had the pleasure of watching a doctor at work - and before and after work - for decades on a daily basis. I see plenty of similarities with musicians, be it preparation, nerve control, training of manual skills, the mental skill to handle unexpected complications. On the other hand I believe that to do any job well it takes about the same amount of concentration. Bruno Walter once said to my teacher who was just a kid at that time: "You are good, but to be a very good violinist is something like a triple PhD". I think this applies to almost any profession well done.

January 5, 2007 at 01:08 AM · I don't think anyone is doubting that a GPA and a good score on your MCATS isn't going to be the two most important things for getting into med school (for those schools that require MCATS that is). However, in any applicant pool of say about 1,000, at least a good 100 of those are going to have a decent GPA. How do you find the ones that you accept? Things like recommendations definitely count into effect, probably first and foremost, as well as interviews, classes that you've taken, and other things that go into an application. Extracurriculars of course are a bonus.

When I was in a freshman orientation-like class three years ago, we had a career counselor talk to us. All of us are performance oriented but there is a precedent of many graduates going on to medical or law school. The guest speaker noted that they look at a music degree (albeit one with a VERY high GPA and academic standing) and do do not consider our ensembles and our playing as an "extracurricular". When you're in music school, music can't be considered "outside the general education". While a lot of fields will do this, including sports, musicians, particularly classical, have been proven to be good choices for medical school and for doctors. It does help, depending on the situation, because they know that most musicians they've taken before have proven they're dependability, problem-solving skills, communication skills, and motivation so therefore they see, "Oh, a music major, we've had good luck before...", yada yada yada. It does help sometimes to stand out from a bunch of english and history majors, but again it does depend on a huge amount of factors.

Being a musician doesn't mean you have an easy time getting in to med school. However, it can help you stand out, if you ALREADY have the good GPA to get you into a pool of people who they are willing to look further into. If you don't have a good GPA, they'll throw out your application before they even really look at what your major is. However, it's after that you start to see some advantages to being a musician.

January 5, 2007 at 01:09 AM · No offense to english or history majors- I salute anyone who can pull off those majors without their eyes going cross-eyed from all the reading. :)

January 5, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Christina,

Well said! You've sum up my points better than I could. Maybe that's the benefit of being a music major? Just kidding partially. :-)

By the way, is there any medical school in the US, which doesn't require MCAT? I don't recall I've encountered that at the time I was in pre-mded.

January 5, 2007 at 04:51 AM · I thought I saw people saying earlier that they didn't require them, but I imagine they meant for pre-med school, not med school. My cousin is in pre-med and fine arts and did not have to take the test. I don't know, I try to stay away from tests!

January 6, 2007 at 12:34 AM · Thank you, Christina.

Pre-med is really an unnecessary nonemclature, which has no affliation of any medical school in general. The reason for it is, like pre-law, for students who want to know what requirements are needed for medical school, and most colleges provide such easy info access under such term. I was in pre-med PROGRAM, but had to declare a major.

You don't need to be a pre-med to apply for medical school as long as you complete the required courses listed by the medical schools of your choice. However, MCAT is almost mandatory for all medical schools in the US (also works in Canada too).

January 6, 2007 at 06:58 AM · I think it is because when you seriously practice music, you learn how to problem solve in a very simple way and that in essence helps med students and prospective med students think better, process better, and understand better. Music teaches you at an early age that there is a note, there is a neighboring note, there is a phrase, series of phrases, overarching structures, chordal arrangements, patternistic sets, and then forms, then movements. It is exactly how an understanding of science itself develops in a student. Forget about law school though... lol!

January 6, 2007 at 02:57 PM · for that matter, if you enjoy crossword puzzles, play high level chess, or simply love to engage your mind, as long as you are not averse to the sight of blood, love to help people, thrive under pressure, have good grades, you can make into med school, with or without any idea about music.

the fact that often medicine and music are associated is partly because the interests are nurtured under the same environment.

knowing 4 quarter notes add up to a whole note may help you divide the beta blocker into 4 smaller doses, but how about staying for 4 extra hours after work because 4 sick patients really need the you learn that or are you born with it?

once you get into the med training, you will see that those with great grades may not shine, but those with true dedication are the ones you can trust your life on.

on that, back to music, what you can do with your fingers on the violin may be impressive, but people long for sincerity and passion.

January 6, 2007 at 02:13 PM · Could it be something as simple as the extraordinary family support both music learning and going to medical school take?


January 6, 2007 at 07:29 PM · Ihnsouk,

Bingo! That was the reason why I asked David Tseng about the family background of the people he cited.

Al's got a great point there. [Re-read the post. Right on. Love it!]

Yes, music can provide all that, BUT:

(1) We cannot honestly say that kids who started learning music ALL acquired the the skills Vince described.

(2) All the skills described by Vince can be found in other form of learning, Chinese calligraphy for example.

Chinese calligraphy is the art of writing Chinese characters with a rabbit fur brush (could be wolf fur or other material such as bamboos). In order to learn Chinese calligraphy, not only must one learn to write Chinese characters, but one also has to have great control of ones writing hand. To be able to have beautiful hand-writing in Chinese, one has to have very good sense of spatial relation and a good aesthetic sense. With all that is accomplished, calligraphy will transport ones personality to paper through a fur. In addition, the content of the black ink is also important. Too thick or too thin, too much or too little in the fur will also affect the outcome a great deal. Knowing the kind of fur and paper to use is also important.

Now getting back to music education, my understanding is that the quality of pre-college education differs from district to district, and the funding for education comes from real estate tax. Therefore, if a child receives excellent eduction, there are two reasons I can think of:

(1) the child is from a well-off family (higher real estate tax bracket might imply higher income tax bracket)

(2) the child's parents are likely to have higher education or understanding/appreciating the value of better education. As such, these parents might be more attentive to their children's intellectual development. As a result, these children exhibit higher learning capability than their counterparts.

As far as problem-solving or analytical abilities go, I'd say "All roads lead to Rome" as long as you steer clear and are determined. Music is only one of the many roads I'm afraid to say.

January 6, 2007 at 08:33 PM ·

January 6, 2007 at 08:29 PM · It just occurred to me; Extraordinarily supportive families may also easily become overprotective if they don't know when to stop. If so, this may reflect parents' unwillingness to accept offsprings growing up on their own less successfully.

Sorry to turn everone's euphoria into somewhat unhealthy family dynamics. Sure hope this isn't the case.


January 7, 2007 at 02:01 AM · vivian, that mention and description of the brush work brings back memories. i hated it because i always felt as a kid the brushtip on paper so intangible and actually so heavy and tiresome on my arm...reminds me of violin bowing to some extent... both require whole body input and fluidity. indeed, looking at some fine calligraphy is as pleasurable as listening to good music.

ihnsouk, yes indeed, the family plays a big part in shaping many kids' interest in medicine, for better or worse:) i do not know enough of asian cultures outside the chinese, but if you go survey a chinese parent, anywhere in the world, and ask:

what do your kids do in their spare time besides computer and tv which you are not very happy about?

ans: VIOLIN or piano.

what do you want your kids grow up to be?

ans: doctors.

how about lawyers?

ans: oh no no, doctors!

(this is 100% true and no confirmation should be bothered:))

on the other hand, as you implied, there are definitely many kids in pre-med, or already in med schools that got there simply for being submissive and obedient. may be the parents know better, may be not:)

January 7, 2007 at 03:25 AM · "what do you want your kids grow up to be?

ans: doctors.

how about lawyers?

ans: oh no no, doctors!"

LOL! Typical Chinese!!!!!! No, no, no, no, no LAWYERS! :-)


Yeah! You got my hidden point. You must have been a real whimp when you were a kid. How could a fur brush be that heavy? Just kidding! :-)

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