Pre-Health Studies

Pre-health studies are a roadmap through the liberal arts that begins with your admission to college, and ends with your admission to a health professional school (such as a medical school). At St. Olaf College, this route intersects with our commitment (as stated in the Mission Statement) to an education that fosters critical thinking, heightens moral sensitivity, promotes lives of unselfish service to others and challenges you to become responsible, knowledgeable citizens of the world. Pre-health studies are supported by the dedication and efforts of the faculty of the Health Professions Committee (HPC) and the staff of The Piper Center for Vocation and Career; the Chair of the HPC, Professor Kevin Crisp, serves as the academic advisor for all pre-health students while coaches at the Piper Center support pre-health student professional development and experiential learning.

Overview of Pre-Health Studies

The following information is intended for St. Olaf students who are in the process of deciding what path their future career will take in the health professions. There are many health careers in addition to human and veterinary medicine, dentistry, and nursing. Some of these areas are listed below, along with the advising specialist in that area:

Health Careers Advising Specialist
Audiology Jeremy Loebach
Genetic Counseling Laura Listenberger
Health Administration Ashley Hodgson
Mental Health Donna McMillan
Nursing Susan Huehn (nursing majors), Kevin Crisp (non-nursing majors)
Occupational Therapy Cindy Book
Optometry Jay Demas
Pharmacy Doug Beussman
Physical Therapy Cindy Book
Physician Assistant Kevin Crisp
Podiatry Kevin Crisp
Public Health Anne Walter
Speech Language Pathology Jeremy Loebach
Veterinary Medicine Diane Angell

Preparing for any health science profession requires careful planning, as prerequisites vary by field and even by school or program. More information concerning professional preparation for these areas can be found on the Piper Center website. Students should seek advice from their academic advisor, the Piper Center staff, and the HPC as they plan and prepare for health science professions.

Pre-Nursing Students Not Majoring in Nursing

For specific details about the undergraduate nursing program at St. Olaf, please see the nursing major catalog page. Students who are not nursing majors interested in pursuing a Nurse Practitioner degree or a Masters of Science in nursing most often will need to complete the following pre-requisites:

Two semesters of anatomy and physiology:2.00
Human Anatomy and Physiology: Cells and Tissues (Not Recommended for Biology Majors)
Human Anatomy and Physiology: Organs and Organ Systems
Animal Physiology
Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
BIO 231Microbiology1.00
NURS 110Nutrition and Wellness1.00
PSYCH 125Principles of Psychology1.00
PSYCH 241Developmental Psychology1.00
STAT 212Statistics for the Sciences1.00

Prerequisites for Pre-Medical, Pre-Dental, Pre-Physician Assistant, and Pre-Podiatry Students

Each medical school (whether MD or DO), dental school, and physician assistant program differs somewhat in their exact list of courses required for admission. However, St. Olaf's OLE Core curriculum provides you with most of the non-science prerequisites typical of these programs. The following courses are recommended for all students planning on entering medical schools (either MD or DO) or dental schools.

Recommended Coursework (for MCAT preparation and medical school admissions)
MATH 119Calculus I with Review1.00
or MATH 120 Calculus I
Two semesters of general biology (typically BIO 150 and BIO 227) 2.00
Select one of the following:2.00-3.00
General Chemistry
and Atomic and Molecular Structure
and Energies and Rates of Chemical Reactions
Introductory Chemistry
and Energies and Rates of Chemical Reactions 1
Structural Chemistry and Equilibrium
and Energies and Rates of Chemical Reactions 1
Integrated Chem/Bio I: Chemical Concepts with Biological Applications
and Integrated Chem/Bio II: Thermodynamics and Kinetics with Bio Relevance 1
CHEM 247
CHEM 248
Organic Chemistry I
and Organic Chemistry II
CHEM 379Biochemistry I (organic chemistry is a prerequisite; required at some medical schools)1.00
PHYS 124
PHYS 125
Principles of Physics I
and Principles of Physics II
BIO 243Human Anatomy and Physiology: Organs and Organ Systems (one semester of physiology, human or animal)1.00
or BIO 247 Animal Physiology
PSYCH 125Principles of Psychology1.00
One sociology course (SOAN 121 is open to first-year students only)1.00
One statistics course (typically STAT 212)1.00

MATH 119 or MATH 120 is a prerequisite for CHEM 126 and CH/BI 126

Pre-medical students should note that there is much more to being a competitive candidate for medical school than course planning. A competitive candidate to medical school might have a GPA of 3.6 or above, an MCAT score of greater than 510, significant experience with patients in a medical setting, and long-term volunteer experience (especially working with the underserved).

Pre-dental students should note that many dental schools recommend that students take a semester of introductory psychology, a semester of statistics, and coursework in studio art and English (e.g., composition) in addition to the recommended natural science and mathematics coursework above.

Prerequisites for podiatry programs are similar to those for medical school, and some podiatry schools may accept the MCAT, DAT, or GRE. A student who will use the MCAT when applying to podiatry school should take courses in psychology, sociology, and statistics in addition to the natural science and mathematics courses recommended for pre-medical students.

Prerequisites for physician assistant programs are similar, but students should note that these programs may not require organic chemistry, biochemistry, or physics. However, these students are also recommended to take:

Principles of Psychology
and Developmental Psychology
Medical terminology (typically as BIO 291)0.25
One course emphasizing speech and communication1.00
BIO 143
BIO 243
Human Anatomy and Physiology: Cells and Tissues
and Human Anatomy and Physiology: Organs and Organ Systems
One statistics course1.00

Recommendations for Graduate Study

Health professions graduate schools (such as medical schools) are looking for well-rounded individuals who are interested in a wide variety of areas and have demonstrated their interest in both medicine and people. Students should take advantage of the many opportunities to obtain patient contact and observe practitioners at work in their field of expertise. Medically related experience is essential to successful application to many health profession programs; medical schools strongly recommend potential applicants obtain medically related work or other contact with patients, and successful candidates to physician assistant programs often have as many as 1500-2000 hours of paid, hands-on work with patients before the student submits an application. The Piper Center's coaches and peer advisors can assist students in finding shadowing opportunities with physicians in their hometown, with alumni, or with healthcare professionals in the Twin Cities. Internships during the Interim and summer of the student's sophomore or junior year work well. Students may also shadow healthcare professionals during the summer, or work in a hospital, clinic, or nursing home (e.g., as a CNA); note that formal registration for credit is not required.

Some medical schools highly value research experience, whether in the laboratory, the field, or internships (such as the Mayo or Norway Innovation Scholars Program, or the Rockswold or Mayo Health Scholars Program). Students should also maintain a high level of involvement in extra-curricular activities. They should select and involve themselves in activities of genuine interest. Extensive involvement in a few activities ranging from music to athletics to clubs (such as the pre-health professionals club, AMSA, Alpha Epsilon Delta, etc.) can demonstrate and develop valued traits such as dedication, commitment, leadership, perseverance, and professionalism. However, extracurricular commitments should not be permitted to negatively influence academic performance.

Health professions schools are also interested in students who have demonstrated compassion and empathy through volunteer activities. Examples of volunteer activity include hospice programs, home health aid, crisis-line counseling, working with individuals with physical disabilities or individuals with developmental delays, working with survivors of abuse, or with disadvantaged youth. Long periods of service involvement are preferred to brief stints in many activities. Note that some medical schools require non-medical volunteer experience, and some physician assistant programs specify that volunteer activity should be unpaid and emphasize working with the underserved.

Special Internships and Opportunities

The Physician in Clinical and Hospital Health Care

This program occurs during the St. Olaf January term at the clinics and hospitals of the Fairview Health System in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Students at the Fairview locations are assigned to a physician in a given clinical setting who serves as their primary mentor. The students shadow their primary mentor or other designated physicians through their daily activities in pertinent clinical and hospital settings. The student experience involves exposure to primary and specialty care area settings involving patients from all age groups. Students may experience emergency care and will become acquainted with many providers in discussions about the field of medicine. If appropriate and possible, students will be invited to attend lectures and grand rounds that are held during the student observation period. Students are observers only; they will not participate in the delivery of medical care unless cleared to do so in an emergency. The Fairview Clinics involved may include but are not limited to: M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center - East Bank, M Health Fairview University of Minnesota - West Bank, Cedar Ridge, Eden Center, Hiawatha, and Lakes Regional Medical Center. Students are responsible for their own transportation to the assigned clinic site either from their home or from campus. Contact Professor Kevin Crisp ( or Dana Rechtzigel ( in the Piper Center for further information.

Mayo Innovation Scholars Program

Mayo Innovation Scholars Program offers an opportunity for selected undergraduate science and economics majors to evaluate projects submitted to the Mayo Clinic Ventures, the arm of Mayo responsible for evaluating potential business opportunities for discoveries and inventions created by Mayo Clinic physicians and researchers. This program is an initiative between a select group of Minnesota Private Colleges and the Mayo Clinic, with funding through the Medtronic Foundation. A team of four students will represent St. Olaf College each January and summer in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program. The project team will be composed of students representing a variety of science and economics backgrounds who demonstrate strong analytical and communication skills and success as an effective team member. Kevin Crisp, Biology and Neuroscience, will serve as the faculty advisor. The team will also be mentored by an MBA graduate student. Students apply through Handshake (Piper Center).

Norway Innovation Scholars Program

Norway Innovation Scholars Program offers an opportunity for selected undergraduate science, nursing, and business majors to complete research projects submitted by Norway Health Tech, a Norwegian Biotech cluster facilitating the country's growth of new and innovative healthcare solutions. A team of four students will represent St. Olaf College each January, and typically have the unique opportunity of spending four weeks in Norway in January performing market analysis, evaluating intellectual property issues, and creating a strategic plan. The project team will be composed of students representing a variety of science and business backgrounds who demonstrate strong analytical and communication skills and success as an effective team member. Kevin Crisp, Biology and Neuroscience, will serve as the faculty advisor. Students apply through Handshake (Piper Center).

Rockswold Health Scholars

This clinical and research internship program provides current St. Olaf students an unparalleled hands-on experience at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN. HCMC is known for its dedication to providing care to vulnerable, diverse, and underserved populations regardless of their ability to pay for medical services. Students will expand their professional network and improve their knowledge regarding potential paths within the healthcare field. Selected participants live in apartments together in the spirit of support and mutuality. Students apply through Handshake (Piper Center).

Health Scholars at Mayo Clinic

St. Olaf alumni at Mayo Clinic have established a research internship program that provides current St. Olaf students an unparalleled hands-on experience at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Healthcare is undergoing transformative changes. Understanding how the healthcare team interacts and collaborates to serve the needs of the patient is critical in order to provide the best quality of care. Students will be exposed to how Mayo Clinic provides comprehensive integrated care through weekly seminars and exposure to healthcare innovation/administration. In addition, students will conduct directed research projects. Selected participants live in a house together in the spirit of support and mutuality. Students apply through Handshake (Piper Center).

Human Gross Anatomy (Cadaver Dissection)

For the past 22 years, the Human Gross Anatomy Independent Study course offers a unique opportunity for eight undergraduate students to dissect two human cadavers. Dissection is completed during the fall with the expectation that dissectors will also participate as teaching assistants for the lab component of the Human Anatomy and Physiology II course. Students apply through the Biology Department.  Note that this course is now offered as a section of Biology 291.

Additional Courses of Interest

BIO 143: Human Anatomy and Physiology: Cells and Tissues

The study of the anatomy and physiology of the human body is founded on a thorough understanding of the structure and function of cells and tissues. Students attend lectures plus one three-hour laboratory per week. Nursing and kinesiology majors may pre-register for this course. This course may not be taken after completion of CH/BI 227 or BIO 227. Offered in the fall semester. Also counts toward the kinesiology major.

BIO 231: Microbiology

Microbiology examines the morphology, composition, metabolism, and genetics of micro organisms with emphasis on bacteria and viruses. Students examine the dynamic impact of microbes on humans, the immune response, and the role of microbes in the environment. Students attend lectures plus one three-hour laboratory per week. Offered annually. Also counts toward public health studies concentration.
Prerequisites: BIO 143 or BIO 150, and one chemistry course.

BIO 243: Human Anatomy and Physiology: Organs and Organ Systems

Students journey toward greater understanding of the human body through an integrated study of the structure of the body (anatomy) and how organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney perform their remarkable functions (physiology). The course is designed primarily for students intending careers in the health sciences. Students attend lectures plus one three-hour laboratory per week. Offered each semester. Also counts toward kinesiology major and neuroscience and public health studies concentrations.
Prerequisite: BIO 143, or BIO 150 and BIO 227 or CH/BI 227.

BIO 284: Peruvian Medical Experience (study abroad)

Students investigate community-based approaches to healthcare in Peru during this interim. Students spend one week on campus learning basic clinical techniques, examining emerging disease, and studying community public health issues. Students spend three weeks in Peru, assessing individual and public health issues in urban and rural communities. Activities include field trips and shadowing experiences to view service organizations, hospitals, clinics, shelters, and local healthcare workers who provide health services in Peru. Preparation for class requires reading from texts and primary literature concerning community public health issues specific to urban and rural populations and reflective writing on healthcare experiences during the month. Offered during Interim. Apply through Smith Center for Global Engagement. Also counts toward public health studies concentration.
Prerequisites: BIO 143 or BIO 150, and BIO 291.

BIO 382: Immunology

Immunology focuses on the structure, development, and function of the immune system. The course explores the molecular and cellular basis of the immune responses. The application of immunological principles to allergy, autoimmunity, AIDS, transplantation, and cancer are included. Students attend lectures plus one three-hour laboratory per week. Also counts toward biomolecular science and public health studies concentrations.
Prerequisites: BIO 227 or CH/BI 227, and BIO 233.

CHEM 360: Medicinal Chemistry

In this course students gain an appreciation for the drug development process, including how natural products are isolated and utilized as starting points for drug development, how molecular structure relates to biological activity, and how research into the mechanism of disease leads to the targeted development of drugs. Offered alternate years during Interim. Also counts toward biomolecular science concentration.
Prerequisite: CHEM 248.

ECON 245: Economics of Health Care

The health care sector in the U.S. is undergoing rapid change that affects patients, providers and payers. Managed care and managed competition are restructuring the delivery of health care services and reducing costs, while frustrating physicians and patients. The course examines the economic factors leading to the changes, current issues and controversies, and federal health policies. Students interested in nursing, medicine, and the sciences are encouraged to enroll. Offered annually. Also counts toward public health studies concentration.
Prerequisites: one of ECON 110-121 or permission of instructor.

PHIL 250: Biomedical Ethics

This course clarifies central concepts and distinctions developed in the literature of moral philosophy and applications of those concepts and distinctions to concrete moral problems that arise in the practice of medicine. Issues may include euthanasia, abortion, medical paternalism, allocation of scarce medical resources, culturally sensitive medical care, pandemics, and conflicts of loyalty in managed care. Readings are drawn from both philosophical and medical discussions. Offered annually. Also counts toward neuroscience and public health studies concentrations.

SOAN 267: Medical Anthropology

How do people understand illness and healing? How does social inequality shape health? These are among the questions explored by medical anthropology. In this course students examine the ways people in different societies experience their bodies, by looking at AIDS in Haiti, old age in India, and childbirth in the United States. Students investigate diverse understandings of health, different means of promoting healing, and the role of power in providing medical care. Offered annually. Also counts toward public health studies concentration.