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Haverford College
Departments of Physics and Astronomy
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Academic Programs: Pre-Health Studies

With the growth of techniques such as medical imaging, laser surgery and radiation therapy, physics now plays a role in medicine that transcends its traditional importance as a foundation for further scientific training. Specialties such as radiology, radiation oncology, ophthalmology and obstetrics make intensive use of these tools.  Haverford students interested in careers in medicine should consider, in addition to medical school, careers in areas such as medical physics, nursing and medical technology.


More Information

The PreHealth Advising office is here to help Haverford students and alumni interested in becoming physicians or in other health related careers.

PreHealth Advising Office


Students wishing to complete the requirements for medical school should meet with the Prehealth advisor by contacting the Prehealth Advising Office (X1148 or email, and discuss their physics courses with the physics department (email the physics chair).  Students should verify that their planned course schedule meets the requirements and review their extracurricular pre-health activities. The pre-health science requirements of a year of physics (with lab), two years of chemistry (one year of inorganic (general chemistry) and one of organic, both with lab), and a year of biology (with lab) can be met readily from a variety of majors with advance planning.  Many medical schools now also require or strongly recommend biochemistry, which students can satisfy by taking Bio/Chem 300 a or b (Bio "Superlab").  The math required by medical schools will be covered by a standard physics major curriculum. Most medical schools also require a year of English, which can be fulfilled at many schools with writing and humanities courses.  If you think you will apply for medical school right after Haverford, you should finish these requirements before your senior year.


Answers to the FAQs

What courses do I take for a Prehealth Physics Major?

Many of our majors have gone on to study medicine in MD or MD/PhD programs after completing their physics degrees. The pre-health science requirements of a year of physics (with lab), two years of chemistry (one year of inorganic and one of organic, both with lab), and a year of biology (with lab) can be met readily within the context of a physics major with advance planning. Many medical schools now also require or strongly recommend biochemistry, which students can satisfy by taking Bio/Chem 300 a or b (Bio "Superlab"). This course can count toward one of the required six 300-level courses for the physics major.  (We do recommend that students wishing to complete the requirements for medical school while majoring in physics contact the Prehealth Advising Office (X1148 or email to verify that their planned course schedule meets the requirements and to take advantage of the other services offered by that office.) The math requirements for medical school are readily met by the standard math requirements for the physics major. 

A one possible program for the pre-health physics major is shown below. While there is nothing unique about the timing of the chemistry and biology courses shown here, this does keep the number of natural science courses with labs to a minimum each semester, while allowing students to take the math they need early on. An alternative for the student with advanced preparation is to take Physics 105: Advanced General Chemistry in the first year and Bio/Chem 300a or b (Super Lab--counts as two lab credits on transcript!!) in the junior or senior year. (These three courses may replace two of the required upper-level physics courses for a pre-health major.)  Students should consult the physics major catalog description for more specifics on which courses fulfill the major requirements.


Possible Program of Study for Prehealth Physics Major





First year
  • Physics 105:  Mechanics
  • Math 115/116:  Calculus Applications
  • Chem 100a:  General Chemistry I
  • Elective
  • Physics 106: Electricity & Magnetism
  • Math 121:  Calculus III
  • Chem 101b:  General Chemistry II (OR the one semester Chem 105:  Advanced General Chemistry)
  • Elective
  • Physics 213:  Waves & Optics
  • Chemistry 220a:  Organic Chemistry I
  • Bio 200a:  Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Elective
  • Physics 214:  Intro Quantum
  • Chemistry 221b:  Organic Chemistry I
  • Bio 200b:  Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Elective
  • Physics 3XX: upper level physics
  • Physics 211: Electronics & Waves Lab (1/2 credit)
  • Math 204
  • Elective
  • Elective
  • Physics 3XX:upper level physics
  • Physics 212: Modern Physics Lab (1/2 credit)
  • Bio/Chem 300 (Bio Superlab--counts as an upper level physics course)
  • Elective
  • Elective

At least three upper level physics courses, which may include a semester of research.

Physics 399:  Senior Seminar




How does the Biophysics Concentration for Physics Majors relate to a Prehealth program?

The course requirements for a Biophysics Concentration cover all of the Prehealth requirements except for the full year of organic chemistry with laboratory.  Students considering the concentration in Biophysics should consult that program's websites at: Biochemistry and Biophysics Concentration and speak with both a Biophysics Concentration advisor and the Prehealth advisor about how that program's courses will satisfy the pre-health requirements.

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What is Medical Physics, and how do I prepare for this field?

Students interested in both physics and medicine might wish to consider a career in medical physics. Medical physicists work in clinical and research settings in areas such as radiation therapy, nuclear medicine, and diagnostic radiology (medical imaging). To follow this career path, you should start by getting an undergraduate degree in physics or a closely related field while pursuing additional relevant coursework and research opportunities. You would also need to get a graduate degree in medical physics (a Masters in Medical Physics or a PhD) from an accredited program, then do a residency in a medical physics specialty at an accredited institution. Finally, you get certified in a medical physics specialty by taking board exams.

Visit the American Association of Medical Physicists website for more specific information and for summer research fellowship opportunities. Nearby medical centers can also provide opportunities to visit with local medical physicists to learn more about this career in person or to visit local facilities. You can consult with members of our department and the Prehealth advisor for more information.

The AAPM also sponsors two summer student intern programs: the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) Summer Undergraduate Fellowship Program and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) Minority Undergraduate Summer Experience Program.


Which physics courses should I take if I am not sure of my major? (101/102 or 105/106)

Either of Haverford's year-long introductory physics courses (the sequences 101/102 and 105/106) can satisfy the Prehealthical requirement for a year of college-level physics with laboratory. Students should decide between these two sequences based on their interests and potential majors. Physics 101-102 : Classical and Modern Physics I and II were designed for students who are likely to take just this one sequence in the physical sciences, without further study in chemistry, physics or astronomy. The sequence 105-106, which is intended to serve students interested in the physical sciences, including astronomy, chemistry and physics, as well as mathematics, is offered in parallel. Both courses of study are challenging and both use calculus, which is a pre-requisite for 105 and a co-requisite for 101.  We have done careful analyses of the grade distributions and the physical sciences MCAT scores of Prehealth who take each sequence.  Prehealths who take the MCATs have the same average grade and distribution, regardless of whether they took 105/106 or 101/102.  (The average for both is 3.31, standard devation 0.55) and the physical sciences MCAT scores are 10.5 +/- 0.6 for Physics 105/106 and 9.8 +/- 0.2 for Physics 101/102.  (The lower error bars for 101/102 are due to the larger number of students in that sequence.)

I am a Prehealth who will not major in physics.  When should I take physics?  How does it fit into my overall schedule of courses?

Unfortunately the typical program for pre-healthical students places physics in the junior year because students take chemistry first year and sophomore year, then take biology in the sophomore year. However, many students would benefit from studying physics in their freshman year, since much of introductory physics is fundamental to chemistry and in turn to biology. Our biology and chemistry faculty agree that for well prepared students who have been placed into Chem 105 and whose mathematics placement is Math 114 or higher, it is quite feasible to include physics in the 1st year as shown in the table below . This program allows the natural science disciplines to be encountered in their natural order.

Prehealthical students and potential chemistry and biology majors who are placed into the second year chemistry of the chemistry sequence (Chem 220) should also consider enrolling in Physics 101/102 or 105/106 in the first year, especially if placed into Math 121.






Physics 101 or 105

Math 114/115

Physics 102 or 106

Chem 105


Chem 220a and/or

Bio 200a

Chem 221 and/or

Bio 200b




How do these courses prepare me for the MCAT?

We note that while students can satisfy the Prehealthical requirements by taking a year of physics at either Haverford or elsewhere, we have found that students who take physics at Haverford score higher (9.8 on average) on the physical science MCAT than do students who take it elsewhere (8.9 on average.)  About 63% of the students taking physics at Haverford score 10 or higher, compared to 45% taking it elsewhere. This is a stronger correlation than that between the course grade and the MCAT score.

Click here for our complete MCAT study results.

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Additional useful information about MCAT preparation and performance:

Helpful materials about the MCAT's (including study materials and sample exams--one free):

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