Cell and Molecular Biology and Pre-med Students

Choosing a Major? Advantages and Opportunities for the Pre-medical Student Majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB)


The Missouri State Pre-medical Student Handbook outlines the course requirements for several majors at Missouri State. Before you select your specific academic major as a pre-medical student, please explore your opportunities and advantages as a major in Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB). The CMB major was developed for students planning to go into medicine, dentistry, and optometry. The CMB major includes all required and suggested science course work recommended by medical schools. The Cell and Molecular Biology major is a comprehensive major and does not require an academic minor. This science program is housed in the Biomedical Sciences Department in the College of Health and Human Services. The CMB major is human-focused and all courses relate to the application of biomedical science knowledge to understanding the "biological human." The cell and molecular courses explore the mechanisms of life in health and disease in a progression of required core courses that build on a biological knowledge in a progressive manner.

  • The academic program for pre-medical students in this section is based on selecting an academic major in Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB). The Cell and Molecular Biology major is offered out the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Health and Human Services at Missouri State. The primary advantage of the major in CMB is that the CMB curriculum focuses on the identical knowledge that a physician will use "to diagnose and treat disease and trauma." For this reason, the CMB major is ideal for the pre-medical student who is pursuing an interest in how human living systems work and a preparation for medicine. Students in cell and molecular biology will complete all of the required and most of the recommended pre-medical science course work within a single comprehensive major. The CMB major is a rigorous science major for students committing to biomedical sciences, human, and health-focused careers. Even if you decide later not to pursue medicine, the door to all of the abundant careers in and out of the health field remain open to you. If your interests remain in health care, your alliance with the Department of Biomedical Sciences allows you to interact closely with faculty, other students, and agencies involved in human health and service. By choice, students interested in medicine and health care careers are interested in the major themes in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. We feel that students should choose an academic major appropriate to their interests and needs and we focus on a curriculum to satisfy those interests and needs.
  • The major in Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) gives many students a competitive edge for success in medical school. The broad science requirements for the CMB major are the same as those recommended for pre-medical students. The Biomedical Science Department and the CMB curriculum offer undergraduate versions of biomedical sciences courses, subjects, and topics that will be encountered in medical school, such as Human Anatomy (BMS 307), Human Physiology (BMS 308), Histology (BMS 585), Neurobiology (BMS 569), and Embryology (BMS 582). Other valuable electives reported by CMB majors who have entered medical schools include Pharmacology, (BMS 570), Pathophysiology (BMS 561) and Cardiopulmonary Physiology (BMS 565). The human anatomy course (BMS 307) is the only course in the region that provides substantial work with human cadavers. The strong human focus within the department and CMB major help bridge the relationships between the student's science knowledge and future applications of that knowledge to medicine. Exposure to the cell and molecular sciences promises to better prepare future medical practitioners to understand and utilize the new biotechnologies of medicine. These technologies, based on cell and molecular biology, are revolutionizing the medical sciences and initiating the new age of "molecular medicine".
  • Medicine is defined as "the clinical applications of the biomedical sciences"; however, medical school is not all science and science information. This does not mean to imply that applicants need not understand the biomedical and scientific basis of medicine. Although all science courses tend to be information-laden, the cell and molecular biology core curriculum identifies, addresses, and promotes other elements that are important in the preparation of a physician. This begins with BMS 110, Concepts in the Biomedical Sciences. BMS 110 has a heavy emphasis on the organization and role of science in our modern world, understanding the scientific method, introducing critical thinking skills, and understanding the bases of bioethical decisions. In the BMS 110 laboratory (BMS 111 is the course number for the lab connected to BMS 110), you begin "hands-on laboratory work", designed to develop "eye-to-brain-to-hand" coordination. By the time you are in the final class of our CMB core (BMS 525), you are applying your knowledge to decide on the best sequence to reach a specific goal and with communication, cooperation and delegation of specific activities among the members of your laboratory team. Our pre-med advisors recommend coursework outside the sciences to build a stronger foundation in the art of medicine. We want our cell and molecular biology pre-meds to be able to think and communicate, and we challenge them with activities designed to require these qualities. We also want our CMB pre-meds to be well-rounded and well-educated physicians, not just science nerds.
  • Pre-medical students choose a major in cell and molecular biology because they are aware of the different course requirements of the medical school preparation process.
    • The first set of course requirements are those set by the medical schools themselves. Usually minimum course requirements in the major areas of science, mathematics, and the humanities are given, but medical schools will often look beyond those minimum course requirements and your performance in those courses. Your advisor may be aware of the preferences that regional medical schools have for seeing certain courses on your transcript. Standard pre-medical courses such as Histology (BMS 585), Embryology (BMS 582), Biochemistry, (CHM 350/450), Neurobiology (BMS 569), and Advanced Human Physiology (BMS 561) are often on these preference lists.
    • The second set of course requirements are those necessary to prepare for the MCAT. Generally, these match the minimum coursework required by medical schools in each of the areas of science. One major mistake made by many pre-meds is thinking that more advanced coursework in a particular area will help them do better on the MCAT. Although advanced coursework may reinforce basic knowledge in an science area, it does not replace it. Coverage of all of the material in introductory coursework is much more important. If your physics class or any other science introductory class only covered half of the chapters in the textbook you have not been exposed to the range of the subject addressed in the MCAT. Pay particular attention to concepts requiring problem solving and analysis. Look carefully at graphs and tables presented to reinforce concepts. Make sure you understand the different forms in which mathematical relationships can be expressed. The MCAT tests for your analytical skills as well as the information content of your introductory courses.
    • The third set of course requirements is the least understood of them all -- how well has the student demonstrated an interest in the biomedical knowledge base that is necessary to diagnose and treat human patients? Here the advisement philosophies of different advisor groups often differ or their advice is often misinterpreted by students. Some advisors believe that it is the function of medical schools to prepare students with this knowledge base. Other advisors doubt how much of this basic knowledge can be learned efficiently in the limited time-frame available to both the medical educator and the medical student in the first two years of medical education. This latter group believes that students who plan to go into medicine should have demonstrated and developed an interest in how the body and life's mechanisms work before beginning medical school. That interest then becomes reinforced with a medical school education. Second year medical school students universally recommend an undergraduate curriculum that has as many biological sciences courses as possible. Specific biological science courses are mostly rated as "essential", whereas nearly all of those undergraduate courses required for the MCAT are not rated as "helpful" in medical school by this group (see undergraduate course recommendations).
  • The pre-medical student entering college today needs to understand that medicine and medical education are undergoing many changes from just a few years ago. It may no longer be wise for the pre-med to rely on some types of advice from physicians who graduated more than just a few years ago when the admission process and medical school curriculum were different. Recently, a medical school admissions officer said that communicating information about these changes to pre-meds has been difficult because physicians do not realize the changes that have occurred and are occurring in medical education. Even the youngest physicians today went through the system before many of these changes were implemented. As a result, physicians are often mis-advising pre-meds who seek their advice in these areas of change. Several of the pre-medical advisors in the CMB major have experiences in medical school education and keep track of the curricular, philosophical, and teaching changes taking place in medical school programs.

    A quote by Bruce Goldfarb, medical writer in the Michigan Alumnus Spring 2000 edition, Brave New World, summarizes the importance of the changes in medical education to future medical practitioners. "Scientists are on the brink of fully decoding the entire sequence of human DNA. It heralds a new era of medicine. Genomics -- the study of gene function -- is more significant than the development of surgery, more important than the germ theory of infectious disease, far more momentous than the discovery of antibiotics. It's the biggest thing in medicine ever." Molecular medicine, gene engineering and therapy, biomolecular therapeutics, and a host of other medical interventions are now becoming commonplace. The cell and molecular biology major in the human-focused Biomedical Sciences Department is ON TARGET for these new emphases in medicine. As medical education shifts, the integration of the biomolecular sciences is occurring within the courses of the medical curriculum, if not in their titles. The MCAT for spring of 2003 now places more emphases on topics covered in cell and molecular biology and less emphasis on non-biomolecular organic chemistry and verbal reasoning. In the future, applicants will see a new test of listening skills. Tests to measure the five domains of personal characteristics (see elsewhere) are also being planned.

  • The strong laboratory emphasis and opportunities for "hands on" and group work in the laboratory courses help prepare students for the manipulative and cooperative types of work encountered in medical school and in medical practice. Several of the Biomedical Sciences Department faculty have experiences in medical school environments, work in research areas related to medicine, or maintain close associations with the medical and health community. We encourage our undergraduate pre-meds to become involved in a research experience. In addition, a bioethical theme addressed in several courses of the major helps the pre-medical student prepare for the difficult decisions challenging the medical profession today and tomorrow.
  • According to our physician alumni, medical school admissions officers, and other pre-medical advisors, another major advantage of the CMB major relates to the curricular integration and several specific approaches that characterize the CMB curriculum and CMB courses. We use approaches in our human-focused courses, in a routine manner, what other pre-med programs have to provide additionally. In specific courses in CMB, students have exposures to common medical school approaches, such as evidence-based medicine, problem-based learning, group and team learning, case studies, and simulated clinical presentations. The five sequential courses of the core CMB curriculum are not treated as isolated exposures to individual subjects (cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry). Rather, as in medical school and the approach of problem-based learning, these themes are integrated into the sequence of courses of the core CMB curriculum. Our CMB sequence of courses serves to introduce, develop, and integrate core concepts that result in graduates with scientific and critical thinking skills which allow them to find, evaluate, and process information needed to make the best decisions. Cooperation and communication among the instructors in the CMB core curriculum permits the development of experiences across course lines which builds the student's competence in being able to "distill specific problem-solving information" from a variety of source materials.
  • Eight pre-medical advisors are available in the Department of Biomedical Sciences to serve the large portion of our CMB majors who are pre-medical students. Each pre-med advisor has the credentials, knowledge, and experience in medicine or pre-medical advisement to answer most of your questions. They want to work with you early in your experiences as a pre-medical student. Advisement resources extend beyond the University through professional contacts with other advisors and medical school admissions officers. No pre-med advisor can guarantee admission into medical school, but future applicants, beginning in their freshman year, should not be without a good advisor to guide them through the "rules of the game". Pre-meds who are not majors in cell and molecular biology are welcome to visit our facilities in the Professional Building, explore the advantages of cell and molecular biology as a preparation for medical school, and to meet with our pre-med advisors. Contact Dr. Albert R. Gordon to make arrangements for your visit. In the past, a number of pre-med students have entered the University, been funneled into more traditional pre-medical majors only to discover the cell and molecular biology major during their sophomore year. If you have interest and passion in exploring the mechanisms of human health and disease, we would like to meet with you and explore becoming a cell and molecular biology major. Do not let the cell and molecular biology major remain the best kept secret on the Missouri State campus. If you still have concerns about selecting a major in cell and molecular biology as a basis for your preparation for medical school, visit this link, tour the Biomedical Sciences Department, talk with current pre-medical students majoring in CMB, or meet with one of our eight pre-medical advisors. We will also provide contact information with graduate CMB majors in medical school or who are now practicing physicians.
  • Finally, future physicians must be aware of the "knowledge reality check". It has become impossible for any educational or professional program to empower students and practitioners with all of the knowledge required make the sound medical decisions. Too quickly, our scientific and medical knowledge expand. Medical school admissions committees are increasingly looking for applicants who have had undergraduate educational experiences that develop "information acquisition skills" needed to make those "best decisions" and the writing and communication skills needed to express those decisions. The cell and molecular biology curriculum stresses the tools and techniques on how to locate, evaluate, and express information into today's world. We specifically begin to address these skills in BMS 231 (Human Genetics with Laboratory), the second course of the CMB core. Since the core courses in the cell and molecular biology are sequential, it is possible to progressively develop these essential skills for the future physician and others as the student progresses through the core courses of the CMB major. Students who want to fine tune these skills can do so in BMS 593, a bioinformatics course. Developing the skills and attributes of a physician should not magically start when you enter medical school. Developing into a physician is a continuing personal development process that should be an important element of your undergraduate education. Beyond GPAs and MCAT scores, successful applicants to medical school tend to be those who, by their junior year in college, have shown development in knowledge, skills, and transferable personal attributes typical of an ideal physician. To understand and prepare oneself for becoming a medical doctor, the pre-medical student must experience medicine and the lives of physicians as much as possible before beginning the application process. Understanding the experiences in the lives of actual physicians whose experiences are provided in our suggested reading list for pre-meds is a part of that process.

Pre-medical curriculum with a major in cell and molecular biology

A suggested four year curriculum for the pre-med is available for those selecting a Cell and Molecular Biology Major. Make sure you meet with a pre-medical advisor in the cell and molecular biology major before embarking on your pre-med curriculum.

Primary web sites for pre-medical students


For more information

Contact one of the following Pre-medical Advisors:

Dr. Colette Witkowski* 417-836-5603, Professional Bldg., Room 404

Dr. Scott Zimmerman* 417-836-6123, Professional Bldg., Room 353

Dr. Richard Garrad* 417-836-5372, Professional Bldg., Room 345

Dr. Amanda Brodeur* 417-836-5478, Professional Bldg., Room 352

Dr. Joshua Smith 417-836-5321, Professional Bldg., Room 333

Dr. Lyon Hough 417-836-6485, Professional Bldg., Room 409

Dr. Jianjie Wang 417-836-6140, Professional Bldg., Room 339

Mr. Joseph Williams 417-836-6782, Professional Bldg., Room 347

* indicates current member of the Pre-medical Committee

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
901 South National Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65897
(417) 836-5603