Starting year 11 and year 12, aspiring medical students often wonder, “what is a good ATAR score for medicine?”
This is a very important consideration, but not the only point to consider. Many Australian universities have prerequisite ATAR subjects that are required for entry into undergraduate or postgraduate medical courses. Another question to deliberate is, what are the “best” subjects for medicine? In other words, what preparation can you undertake in high school to make you a more competent medical applicant, medical student, and a better doctor.
Finally, it’s critical to walk the tightrope between intellectual satisfaction and professional development. It would be a mistake to undertake needlessly difficult subjects if they do not contribute to your medical education. It is a similar misstep to choose to study irrelevant subjects exclusively to improve average grades.
Selecting the subjects needed to study medicine is all about finding the ‘goldilocks zone’ - in other words, finding the combination that is just right for your medical and professional aspirations.
In this article, we will break down the areas of focus that are part of the medical degree syllabus. We will also discuss the key topics that are relevant to medical education after graduation. After comparing these to the list of prerequisites, this article will aim to help you make a decision about the best year 12 subjects for medicine.
Doctor Of Medicine Subjects
The doctor of medicine course is not a traditional university degree, and is certainly very different to high school study. Consider this comparison between first year subjects in a science degree, and first year subjects for medicine.
Science/Arts Degree Subjects:
In a science degree, students select or are allocated to a breadth of self-contained subjects. What this means is that studying is very similar to high school because each subject has its own learning objectives, and unique assessments. In high school, the biology exam never asks questions that cover topics in the chemistry exam. This is also the case in a science or arts course.
The reason for this is that unlike courses offered in the medical field, degrees such as Science and Arts are not ‘trade-based’. In other words, they teach theoretical knowledge not designed for real-world application. If a comparison is to be made between a medical degree and the majority of other degrees, it’s that medicine is more like an apprenticeship focused on practical knowledge, and is therefore less segmented.
Medical Degree Subjects:
Unlike Arts and Science degrees, medical coursework does not have strong distinctions between subjects. Rather, students study themes that incorporate many disciplines. For example, you may spend a month studying the cardiovascular system - this would involve the physics of blood flow, the chemistry of oxygen exchange, as well as anatomy.
Similarly, you may be required to attend tutorials on histology, which involves studying diseased tissue under a microscope. These tutorials would incorporate the chemistry of staining, the biology of disease progression, and physics of microscopy.
This is the basic challenge of studying medicine - because you are learning a trade that you will have to apply to real patients, all of the disciplines are intertwined and continuous.
How to balance high school study with your UCAT prep? Here’s a detailed article that can guide you through your studies.
Courses Offered In The Medical Field
Another concept to explore when discussing training in medicine, is the concept of “Continuous Medical Education”. Regardless of your medical speciality choice, you will be required to continue attending courses and sitting training exams for up to 15 years following graduation.
This is a requirement to become a medical specialist. Beyond this basic mandatory training, you will also have to keep up with the advances in medical technology and understanding for the rest of your life.
An example of “Continuous Medical Education” is learning ultrasound scanning. This technology was extremely restricted and under-utilised 20 years ago, when most modern doctors were finishing medical school. Today however, it is an extremely routine procedure that is used daily by hospital staff. To properly use ultrasound, you need a good understanding of anatomy, as well as the physics of sound, and the doppler effect.
But ultrasound is just one example - there are hundreds of innovations in many fields of science and communication that you will have to tackle in order to continue working as a medical practitioner.
Medicine Degree Entry Requirements
Now that we have briefly discussed the structures and themes of medical education, let’s get down to brass tacks. In the table below, you will see a list of the prerequisite subjects required to achieve admission to the relevant list of courses under medicine and surgery.
What Subjects To Take For Medicine?
Reflecting on our discussion of medical training, as well as university prerequisites, it is now time to answer the major question; what are the best year 12 subjects for medicine. Many subjects have their merits, and no matter what you select, you will be rewarded for your diligent work. Nevertheless, we have compiled a shortlist of the best subjects for medicine.
Biology For Medicine
Biology is effectively the bread and butter of medical studies. This subject involves a significant amount of memory work, and requires students to evaluate the principles of biological systems. In other words, biology teaches you how to piece together the components that keep the human body running.
This subject is the “umbrella” for most components of medicine. This is because the physics and chemistry concepts that a medical student studies ultimately support a deeper understanding of biology.
The scope of biology study covers everything from the concept of a biological ‘cell’ through to anatomy and disease processes. It is also a large component of the GAMSAT exam, and therefore should always be prioritised in medical studies.
Physics For Medicine
Despite popular opinion, physics is without any doubt the second most important medical subject. Physics uses the language of basic mathematics, to explain the basic phenomenon of the world around us. To put it in straightforward terms, when biology requires you to rote learn that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, this is simply an abstract fact. Physics will go a step further and demonstrate how and why the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
Without learning physics, you have no basis for understanding the majority of reasoning in medicine. To give another, more medical example, biology can teach you that the normal blood pressure of an average person is 120/80 mmHg. But to understand what these numbers mean, where they came from, and the implication of a different blood pressure is the domain of physics. Without physics, a doctor is reduced to a collection of memorised facts.
Finally physics is a subject required for medicine, as it is examined in the GAMSAT, and is therefore necessary for postgraduate admission.
Chemistry For Medicine
Chemistry is the science of how chemicals combine and separate. It can be seen as a middle ground discipline that incorporates the memory work of biology, but also leans heavily into the mathematics and equations of physics.
Chemistry described the fundamental building blocks of biology. It gives students a ‘zoomed-in’ perspective on the content that is described by biological sciences. From a medical perspective chemistry is relevant to pharmacology.
In other words - all doctors prescribe pharmacological therapy (drugs). In order to understand the impact of drugs on the body, as well as how they treat the disease, you first need a steady grasp of the basic laws governing these chemicals.
As is the case with biology, and physics, chemistry is a major component of the GAMSAT exam, and is therefore necessary for postgraduate medical studies.
Mathematics For Medicine
Another subject to be discussed in this article is mathematics.
Maths is the language of science. All phenomena that occur in the world, be they biological, chemical or physical can only be studied and described through the use of mathematics. Furthermore, the statistics which are required to analyse evidence in scientific papers also represent high level maths.
Ultimately, if you do not have a strong mathematical basis, you will not be able to interpret meaningful evidence, nor will it be possible to have a strong understanding of any of the aforementioned scientific disciplines. To create an analogy, attempting science without understanding basic maths, is like attempting to read Lord of the Rings in a foreign language, without learning its alphabet.
As always, many of the GAMSAT questions encountered in Section 3 combined mathematics with other disciplines. For example, you may encounter a question which requires biology AND maths in order to arrive at the correct answer. This is why we strongly advocate including maths in your ATAR studies.
Language And Communication For Medicine
Finally, we have to mention the role of language and communication in medicine.
Discussing the matter with doctors and senior medical students, it quickly becomes clear that for the first five years of your medical work, your communication will save many more lives than your knowledge. Medicine is a team sport, and in order to work together, everyone has to be effectively informed. This begins on the bedside, with your capacity to have a clear conversation with your patient. It continues in the multidisciplinary meeting where you attempt to express your impression of the case. Finally, language also plays a key role in documentation, as well as publication of medical data.
The implication of the above means that it is critically important to work hard in your language and communication classes. You will certainly benefit from optimising your language skills during your compulsory ATAR english study. To build upon this foundation, there is always opportunity to undertake additional philosophy, history, and foreign language subjects. All of these aforementioned subjects will improve your linguistic skills, and teach you how to effectively organise your thoughts.
While your medical career may never require you to recall a historic event or debate a complex thesis on morality, it is the underlying “soft-skills” of communication which are key to medical success.
Another point to remember is that both Section 1 and Section 2 of the GAMSAT exam require excellent knowledge of humanities and written communication, in order to achieve a competitive score for a postgraduate medical position.
Where To Next?
We hope that we could satisfactorily answer your question as to, ‘What subjects do you need to do to become a doctor?’
Remember that, the course you undertake majorly influences your career prospects and personal development to becoming a doctor. Hence, conduct immense research prior to choosing your high school subjects.
Moreover, your high school subjects can also come handy when you undertake medical entrance exams like the UCAT and particularly more, in the case of GAMSAT.
Alternatively, check out our Free Resources and Tools that are readily available to all students from different educational backgrounds and institutions. Each article and tool is intricately designed to boost your confidence and refine your skills to begin medicine.