Pre-med student column recommends taking philosophy course to prepare for medical school

Carina Fourie
Carina Fourie

Philosophy course PHIL 242: Introduction to Medical Ethics was featured in the week "Penicillin For Your Thoughts" column in The Daily. The column, written by UW pre-med student Theresa Li, explores the day-to-day of students pursuing medical school. In this most recent column, Li recommends humanities courses that "have proven unexpectedly insightful and inspiring to pre-med students at the UW."

Li interviewed Professor Carina Fourie, who frequently teaches Introduction to Medical Ethics, as well as a former student. Below is an excerpt from Li's column.

Medical controversies divide people more than almost any other subject. Physicians spend their lives learning to navigate the minefield of personal and religious beliefs with tremendous finesse. Many medical schools, the UW School of Medicine (UWSOM) included, have begun requiring applicants to take the Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer), an online test that gauges an individual’s personality and instincts. 

Although the UWSOM does not consider the results of the test in their decision, having the requirement at all reflects the desire for applicants to be aware of their natural tendencies and biases, speaking volumes about the importance of studying ethics and philosophy on the journey to becoming a physician.

“Students don't need to have any background in ethics or even in philosophy to take the course,” assistant professor Carina Fourie, who teaches the course twice a year, said in an email. “It is designed to teach students how to do medical ethics from a philosophical perspective.”

The class is structured around case studies such as euthanasia, abortion, and genetic engineering. According to Fourie, students are also taught to write philosophical essays, “a significant skill … that students can use to improve their writing and argumentation in any field.”

Audrey Huang took the class as part of the bioethics minor and recommended the course for its objective, unbiased analysis of polarizing topics.

“Learning about both sides of everything was really powerful,” Huang said.

Fourie also emphasized this broadened scope on ethics students attain from the course and can be important for future doctors to navigate tough interactions. 

“To be a good doctor or nurse requires an understanding of how inequities, such as the stigma and discrimination faced by people with disabilities, can negatively impact the quality of healthcare and how that impact can be avoided,” Fourie said.

For the full list of recommended humanities courses, see "Non-weed-out classes every pre-med should take to get excited about medicine."