The Humanist Premeds

November/December 2002

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Tonyanna Borkovi is having a ball her senior year. She hopes to try out for some plays in the drama department and plans to write her honors thesis on therapeutic and pathological aspects of drama in a play and two films.

So she’d like to study at the Royal Academy in London next? Go on to graduate school? Do performance art?

Yes and no. Borkovi has already taken the Medical College Admission Test and wants to become a primary care physician. She is one of a handful of undergraduates who are majoring in the premed option of the program in interdisciplinary studies in humanities and who will graduate with a transcript packed with required chemistry, biology, physics and math courses—and a bachelor of arts in humanities.

Why not major in biology? “Because the whole process of being in premed is extremely trying, and you’re in constant competition with your classmates,” Borkovi says. “Instead, I like the discussion and listening to other people’s ideas that I’ve found in humanities classes, and the bonds between people that are essential in theater.”

“It’s not that the specific study of Nietzsche is something students need in medicine, but rather how he writes and how he engages thought,” explains Helen Brooks, PhD ’80, acting director of interdisciplinary studies in humanities. “But I think it takes a while for premed students to be confident that medical schools are behind a major like this.”

Bring ’em on, says Phyllis Gardner, associate professor of medicine and a former senior associate dean at the Medical School. “I would love a student who has a broad humanistic perspective because a lot of being a physician is an art,” she adds. “You can’t just stand outside the door and throw your stethoscope around. You’ve got to listen and put it together, and that’s what the arts and humanities help one do.”

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