Op-eds

Swartz ’14 MD’19: PLME seniors, don’t enroll in biochemistry

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Friday, October 16, 2015

PLME seniors are strongly encouraged to take BIOL 0280: “Introductory Biochemistry” in their last semester as a way to better prepare themselves for the challenges of the first year of medical school. Having just completed the biochemistry block at Alpert Medical School myself last week, I feel strongly that this recommendation is misguided and, in some cases, does more harm than good for students.

Biochemistry is a component of just one of the six exams taken by first-semester med students, and it constitutes approximately 45 percent of one of these. The exams taken by first-years at Alpert are spaced three weeks apart, so the amount of time spent on biochemistry is limited to that acute timeframe.

Enrolling in a rigorous course like biochemistry, strictly to better prepare oneself for medical school, counters the vision of the PLME program and comes at a steep opportunity cost because of its time intensity, especially for those students who are not interested in the subject material.

Being a PLME student is a tremendous privilege. It affords a small number of students the opportunity to take risks that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. It is somewhat ironic that the program has eliminated requirements for medical school and yet compels students to take such an unnecessary course — talk about mixed messages, right?

If particular PLME students have so much time to commit to a rigorous course like biochemistry but have no interest in the subject, they should instead take advantage of the security blanket they’ve been gifted and travel to Europe, as long as they can manage given their other coursework.

During my final semester as an undergraduate, I traveled through Europe for a total of 24 days, and I was still able to complete all of my requirements for graduation. I began medical school with everyone else this past August and carried with me some of the best memories of my life.

There are multiple points throughout the spring semester when seniors can travel, assuming they are managing their academic responsibilities appropriately while abroad (especially for essay-based courses and those with recorded lectures.) In February, there is a four-day weekend that can be used for a mini-escape. There is also spring break, as well as times in every student’s individual schedule when midterms are spaced far apart enough to warrant skipping a day or two of classes. Those times are particularly cheap. But if a student is enrolled in a time-intensive course like biochemistry for no other reason than to incur unnecessary anxiety, those times won’t present themselves easily.

Now, touching on the sensitive topic of privilege, I will be so bold as to argue that the majority of students at Brown can finagle their way to pay for at least one Eurotrip, if not two or three. Flying to Europe does not have to be prohibitively expensive if planned far in advance and with prudence. Here’s how:

Low-cost airlines like Wowair, which flies from Boston with layovers in Iceland, are surprisingly affordable and can get you to Copenhagen for a price comparable to an Amtrak ticket to New York City. Hostels are an incredibly cheap alternative to hotels and can be as cheap as $20 a night. An even cheaper option is to find some junior friends studying abroad and crash on their couches.

So why do I recommend this plan specifically to PLME seniors? Because PLME seniors have the least at stake by going to Europe and the most at stake by staying in Providence. PLME seniors will have completed all of their requirements for medical school by their eighth semester. And because they will be in Providence for an additional four years, they will not be losing out on all that Providence has to offer during the final months of their undergraduate careers. That should resonate even more with those PLMEs who elect not to study abroad.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating overindulgence or academic negligence. Schoolwork is important, and it is the core of our experience at Brown. But seniors deserve some time for self-exploration. Traveling is the ideal way to achieve that end.

So, PLME seniors, skip biochemistry and any other unnecessary classes and fly to Europe. Build happy memories, maximize your undergraduate experience and take a second to breathe. There will always be more work to do, and there will never be as much time as there is next semester. You won’t remember enough biochemistry by this time next year for it to make any difference, but you will remember the adventures you allow yourself to have for the rest of your life.

Solomon Swartz MD ’19 can be reached at solomon_swartz@brown.edu.

  • EditorsNeedToGetItTogether

    “studentz” opinions editors what have you been doing?

    Also this is the most privileged piece of garbage that I have ever read. Is this satire?

  • RG

    This resonates. The premise of the PLME is individual growth, and quite frankly, it a waste of the opportunity given to us if we don’t take advantage of that, in whatever way we choose to be fitting for ourselves (could be traveling to europe, taking 5 bio classes b/c we find them THAT interesting, graduating a semester early to work on clinical research, or taking 5 humanities/english classes in our 8th semester.)

    It is such an immense privilege to be here and have this freedom. I planned on taking biochem senior spring, but alas, no more! I will find what invigorates me and take advantage of the opportunities I have. Personal growth is important and it’s why I came here.
    Thank you for the reminder, Solomon.

  • Embarrassing

    This is the most ridiculous and privileged article I have ever read. Your one-dimensional view of a Brown student is so far removed from what the community is like, so please go do some “self-exploring” yourself. I’m not even going to go into talking about your suggestions for going to Europe specifically. Is that the only place you can find enlightment? Shame on you. Do you even go here?

  • Guest

    Could not agree more! Glad you made the most of your undergrad experience and i hope you’re enjoying med school, Mr. Swartz.

  • Hell yeah!

    Wow I actually really appreciate your writing this. I’ve been in the fence about taking biochem and it’s nice to hear a perspective from a current med student. Great insight!

  • Student ’17

    This is selfish elitist garbage. The BDH has no editorial integrity.