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Why Physics Matters

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I apologize for not having a new post or any new content in a while. I’ve had a great experience answering a lot of questions from prospective medical students about my experiences at St. George’s University and the exciting journey I’ve had through medicine thus far.

I’m going to field a “softball” question that is of interest to both high school and undergraduate pre-medical students.

“Why do I need to take Physics? I’m not an Engineer”

There are a few different ways of approaching this question. I’m of the belief that physics matters in medicine because the applications of it become evident later on. Modern medicine is a delicate balance between social interaction and the interface with technology (you can save that line kiddos for your medical school essays). Immersed in the multiple diagnostic modalities available to a clinician is physics. The patient has abdominal pain and is getting a CT Scan? Roll out your nuclear physics. Want to get an ultrasound to view the fetus? Time for a small lesson in wave theory. Any discussion of biomechanics has at its core a discussion of physics. Granted, unless you’re in a specialty that uses that technology daily (radiology, radiation oncology, orthopedic surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, etc) it is more than sufficient to have a cursory knowledge of physics – which is exactly why only a first year and not a second year of physics is usually required.

I think physics gives you more than just mathematical explanations for how the world works. I think physics can give you clarity in analysis and thought. I was always taught to approach physics problems from the perspective of:

  1. What do I already know about this situation?
  2. What am I given?
  3. What do I need to solve?
  4. What is unknown that I need for my solution?

When trying to formulate where two trains that start at different coasts will meet – this practice works. It also works when trying to figure out a diagnosis.

Whether trying to diagnose a hip fracture, appendicitis or the common cold, physicians subconsciously ask themselves these same questions. This includes considering what symptoms the patient has presented with and how it corresponds to existing knowledge of a disease. This is followed by what additional tests are required to arrive at the diagnosis.

I appreciate that physics is a pain for most pre-medical students. On the road to being a physician you will have courses that you love and hate. Even if this resides in your hate category – suck it up and accept that it’s a prerequisite for many schools (international and the US) and a component of the MCAT. You therefore have no choice but to do well. If it’s something that you struggle with- I suggest going to office hours, make the most of your tutorials and if necessary, get a private tutor. Again, it’s a component of your application that isn’t going to go away – hoping that it “wont be so bad”, doesn’t solve your problems. Recognize where you have difficulties and work to fix it. If you’re fortunate enough to be in high school and reading this blog – this is precisely why you should take physics all throughout secondary school and maximize your time in the sanctity of your high school physics class before you head out into the real world. It’s much easier to have an established foundation to work from than to try and figure it out on your own, while still getting acclimatized to being a university student.

 

Disclosure: I’m neither a physicist nor an engineer; I don’t have a deep love of physics – I think it’s interesting in the way that 1 year olds love everything that sparkles. I am fortunate to have a father who is an engineer and high school physics taught by two engineers – this more than anything allowed me to stay enthusiastic when I would have rather been dissecting something. Yet, the adherence to organize what I know and don’t know has been one of the most valuable tools throughout my education.

 

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