TV Version of Pre-med Versus Real Life

This is my first post where use a scene in an episode to springboard into talking about the scene’s relevance to what goes on in reality–specifically biomedical education. So here goes.

Borrowed from

I watched the Warehouse 13 episode “No Pain, No Gain,” and there was this scene where a character (Myka) interpreted someone’s x-rays, then justified that knowledge by saying that she used to be pre-med before she was pre-law.

Now, I love Warehouse 13, but I’ve never heard of a pre-med education teaching someone to interpret x-rays. Maybe she took a really out there elective, or joined an intense interest club, or had a seriously awesome shadowing experience. Maybe, though I’m still doubtful. But it definitely shouldn’t be a given that she learned this as a pre-med student. Especially since she had plenty of time to switch to pre-law before she graduated.

Borrowed from

So what does pre-med actually mean?

Technically, it doesn’t mean anything too specific in terms of education. Pre-med students can major in anything, though it’s usually some kind of biology, so long as they do the prerequisites for getting into med school. Pretty much, “pre-med” means undergraduate with the intention of going to medical school.

The prerequisites for medical school are usually things like biology, chemistry, physics. Maybe some other stuff. I don’t know, I didn’t apply to med school. The schools usually have their requirements listed somewhere on the admissions sites.

That said, if you’re thinking of applying to medical school, having a related major, especially a more challenging one, is probably going to make you look like a better candidate. Since medical school is very competitive, you probably want that.

There are usually prospective medical students in various majors for the life sciences. My major, molecular biology, had a bunch, even though it was a more research focused major. (Research is never detrimental for pre-meds, and I’ve heard it can be beneficial, but I’m not sure it’s required.) Some people who’ve gone to medical school move on to research (as in non-clinical lab work), but I really don’t think it’s common. After all, if you want to do research, you’re probably in grad school like me.

So what does a pre-medical education, by itself, usually get you? A basic understanding of biology. You might get further in one area of biology or another, depending on what in particular your major is and how that major is structured in your university.

As for applications of medical techniques or whatever else? Not so much.

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4 Responses to TV Version of Pre-med Versus Real Life

  1. I enjoyed seeing this post after my ongoing recent X-Files binge. It’s slightly improbably that Agent Scully- who has a medical background- would be capable for surgeries, autopsies, infectious diseases, and just about anything else the plot requires. I wonder if part of it might be that people with a background in medicine or science or anything of the sort wouldn’t typically find their way to Hollywood. Though really, how hard could it be to find a consultant?

    • Marie Erving says:

      Maybe they don’t know enough about the field to realize they need a consultant, even for the large general stuff, instead of specifics. Of course, it’s probably also easy storywise to combine several expertises into one character, and have much fewer characters to deal with. With ‘easy’ not necessarily being better.

  2. Psycho Gecko says:

    Trust me, any knowledge of biology is a good thing. Not to get you too caught up in my personal gripes, but what stands out to me lately is a stupid article by a guy named Eric Hovind, a creationist, who has the answer as to why men have nipples. Some of my knowledge on that subject actually came from a course on the psychology of gender and sexuality. I’m nowhere near an expert, but I learned enough to know how little we actually know on the subject of sexuality. However, a little basic information about gender development was part of it.

    And with TV in general you’re going to have problems with medical knowledge. I’ve read a little that trying to use the TV versions of procedures has led students to do them wrong. They have an entire trope at (stay away, TV Tropes will ruin your life) about how CPR is performed in fiction.

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