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The role of Basic Science in medical education

The role of Basic Science in medical education

Discover how fundamental knowledge in basic science forms the base of a medical student’s understanding.

Are you interested in a career in medicine or just about to apply to medical school? If this sounds like you, how much do you understand about the importance of basic science in your medical education?

Basic science provide the foundation upon which clinical sciences can be built, making them a cornerstone of medical education. Tomorrow’s physician needs to be equipped with the tools and skills to make sense of the ongoing advancements in medical science and apply these to patient care. Read on to take a closer look at the role of basic sciences in your medical education and training before, during, and after medical school.

Basic Science in Medical Education

The basic science is a key component of most medical school curriculums. They underpin medical students’ knowledge and understanding of the human body, disease, and associated therapies.

It’s not enough for a physician to know how the human body works. They must also understand the sciences that will help them make sense of the patient’s approach to illness, impact the environment and make informed decisions. The complexities of modern medicine and patient care require medical students to develop a solid knowledge of a range of basic sciences.

Prerequisites for medical school

All medical schools aim to take bright and motivated students and transform them into tomorrow’s physicians prepared for residency training. However, this requires a certain skillset from first-year medical students, and most medical schools have some basic requirements for each new intake.

Students should be able to demonstrate a familiarity with the methods, terminology, and content of science. They should view science as a process of observation and hypothesis testing rather than simply a fixed body of knowledge.

While most medical schools require students to have completed a bachelor’s degree and received a Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score, other prerequisites include:

BiologyOne year biology with laboratory, preferably with some coverage of genetics, physiology, and cell biology.
ChemistyTwo to three years in general/ introductory chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry. Schools also require laboratory work with these, except biochemistry.
Humanities / Social SciencesTwo or more semesters of writing-intensive English or other humanities courses. The exact amount of credits in English courses vary from school to school, but students should show writing proficiency in English.
MathematicsOne or two semesters of either calculus, statistics, or both.
PhysicsOne or two semesters of general physics with laboratory.

Most medical schools will also expect incoming medical students to demonstrate a strong understanding of medicine and knowledge and skill in the natural sciences to solve problems relating to molecular and macro systems such as molecules, biomolecules, organs, and cells. They should also demonstrate a good understanding of human behavior and apply knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve sociocultural, psychological, and biological problems that affect health and wellbeing.

Additional Requirements

Students applying to medical school must also be able to demonstrate that they have strong:

  • Communication skills: Most medical schools require evidence of two writing-intensive courses in humanities or social/behavioral sciences that demonstrate the student’s precise and fluent communication skills in both spoken and written English.
  • Teamwork skills: Medicine requires strong collaborative skills, and the applicant must demonstrate the ability to work successfully with others towards a common goal.

What sciences are required for medical school?

Most medical schools share the same pre-med science requirements. These are:


Nearly all fields of medicine require a basic understanding of biology, making it a necessity for medical school. Knowledge of cells, genetics and the general framework for life form the building blocks of medical science and are crucial for a career in medicine.


Chemistry, particularly organic chemistry, provides a solid foundation for understanding biochemistry and building knowledge of acid-base imbalances within the body and how different drug treatments work.


Physics introduces key medical concepts to medicine, such as laws of volume and pressure, which are important for cardiology and understanding the forces that operate in the body. Students should understand the constants and units of physical measurement, the physical properties of various states of matter, Newtonian mechanics, the basic aspects of electricity, magnetism, optics, and their applications to living systems.


While biochemistry has got much more attention since it received more focus on the MCAT, some medical schools now make it a prerequisite. Others, however, assume that as an incoming medical student who has studied for the MCAT, you will already have sufficient knowledge of it. Students should have good knowledge of chemical equilibrium and thermodynamics, the structure of molecules, acid/base chemistry, reaction rates, and reaction mechanisms involved in enzyme kinetics and other applications underpinning the understanding of living systems.

Psychology and sociology

Psychology and sociology have also increased in popularity since their inclusion in the MCAT and both have become a medical school prerequisite.

Basic Science Curriculum Structure

Medical school curriculums typically last four years, after which you will become a Doctor of Medicine (MD). The different stages of medical school are divided into core science classes, including lectures and laboratory work, followed by two years of clinical rotations.

While the quality of education may vary across medical schools, the curriculum structure is generally the same. At MUA, for example, an integrated systems-based basic sciences curriculum mirrors the training you would expect to receive at any of the top medical schools in the United States. So, what classes do you take in med school? From first-year medical school classes onwards, the basic science curriculum at MUA consists of:

First semesterHuman body structure and function
Human histology and physiology
Clinical skills
Second semesterMetabolism and nutrition
Genetics and development
Infection/ Defense/ Response
Medical Ethics
Clinical Skills II
Research Curriculum: Evidence-based medicine
Third semesterNeuroscience and Neurology
Systems and Diseases I
Clinical Skills III
Behavioral Medicine
Fourth semesterSystems and Diseases II
Systems and Diseases III
Clinical Skills IV
Fifth semesterSystems and Diseases V
Clinical Skills V
Foundations of Clinical Medicine
Research Curriculum: Critical Appraisal

What is the role of sciences in medical education?

The role of sciences continues to play a key role in medical education. For medical students, basic science is more than just learning a list of subjects it is part of a structured experience that leads towards eventual independence. In addition to knowing scientific facts, studying basic sciences develops skepticism about studies and observations, effective thinking, accuracy, and honesty in interpreting data.

During medical school, as they gain more competence in their level of training, students gradually take on more responsibility in caring for real patients. This sees students move from a simple understanding of medical situations to putting what they have learned into action. Fact-based learning and theoretical studies are very different from actually being actively involved in real-world patient care. However, the rich knowledge an individual gains at medical school can help shape their decision-making, especially in complex or unexpected problems.

The progress students make from understanding to action is considerable. None more so than when it comes to gathering and explaining clinical findings to patients. For example, knowledge of the abdomen is essential for diagnosing right-upper quadrant pain. Meanwhile, knowledge of the normal physiology of water regulation is crucial for understanding polyuria and polydipsia. The knowledge a student attains supports the responsibilities they will eventually be given.

Basic Science in the Clinical Years

The basic sciences provide a crucial framework for understanding clinical medicine. Aspiring physicians can apply their basic science knowledge to the diagnosis and treatment of real patients and hopefully experience a seamless transition to the clinics. However, the basic sciences only provide predictions and hypotheses. Not all clinical phenomena fit the expectations of basic science and create a crucial challenge for medical students to tackle as they enter their clinical rotations.

When a medical student begins their clinical rotations, several transitions take place. Among them is a crucial shift in learning. This shift involves moving away from learning about pharmacology, physiology, and pathophysiology to learning evidence-based medicine. But without a basic science background, physicians would struggle to interpret the broad range of symptoms they see in patients.

Basic sciences help to provide an invaluable memory tool. For example, it’s much easier to remember asthma therapy by knowing the pathophysiology and pharmacology than by memorizing symptoms and various drug names. A physician’s medical knowledge and experience will guide them as they begin treatment.

Combining basic sciences with evidence-based guidelines and clinical experience will shape a physician’s practice during their rotations and beyond. If you believe a career as an MD is your true calling, apply to our MD program. If you have any questions about the program or how to apply, get in touch with us today, and you could one day be at the frontline of your community’s healthcare.

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