Zero JC Biology background a big problem for studying Medicine?

This query comes from a student:

To whoever it may concern,

I am currently a J2 student offering 4H2s and H3 Pharmaceutical Chemistry. While I am cruising along pretty fine for my H2s, I can't say the same for my H3 subject. This is because I do not study Biology at all in JC, and some of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry content requires prior Biology knowledge, which really had me rather shaken to the core.

I am set on studying medicine in university, so my question is this: I have been told H2 Biology is not a prerequisite for Medicine undergrads, but then again how much of a disadvantage will I suffer compared to my peers who have grounding in the subject? My experience thus far with Biology related material isn't all too pleasant to say the least.

Thanks for reading, and please advise accordingly. :-)

Editor's Note: This student offers H2 PCME (Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Economics).

The Response:


It is heartening to hear that you are setting your sights on Medicine, a noble profession when practiced with the right intentions, as I'll briefly explain later after I help to address your queries.

Though there are students who are admitted into Medicine without an 'A' level Biology background, they may find it an uphill task to even appreciate the much elaborated biological processes in the curriculum, some of which are expansions of the H2 Bio learning outcomes. For example, H2 Biology students learn about the various hierarchical compaction of chromosomes, but at the undergraduate level they may be evaluated on the more complex interaction of proteins and other molecules involved in the condensation process.

Though Chemistry may be more frequently employed than Physics in your prospective course (unless you wish to specialize in bioengineering or prosthetics after your 4 years of service bond upon graduation), the Chemistry is closely taught in the context of biological processes, such as Biochemistry. You can try looking at the Krebs and Ornithine Cycles, and see honestly for yourself if that pathway (pun intended) is what you wish to involve yourself with in the 5 year Medicine course, and future career years to come.

If you therefore describe that your "experience thus far with Bio related material isn't all too pleasant to say the least", it is hard to imagine how you can enjoy and excel in the Medicine curriculum, when there is generally much more interdisciplinary concepts built on Biology than Chemistry e.g. the Immunology module, which is compulsory across all Medicine curricula worldwide.

Yes, a student in the Medicine curriculum without a H2 Biology background will certainly be highly disadvantaged compared to those with thorough knowledge of the said subject. Your H3 Chemistry in molecular analysis such as mass spectrometry, HPLC, and probably some proteomics may only give you a very slight edge over your counterparts should you be admitted into the research branch(which again, could happen years after your 4 years of service bond).

But nevertheless, I salute people who are committed to practicing Medicine as their career. They are the ones who have to endure 100 hours work-weeks on top of remaining mentally alert over 24-hour work shifts on a periodical basis, not to forget suffering complaints and pressures from both patients and higher management levels (medical officers, where most graduates move into, are deemed lowest amongst the rungs). Their material remuneration may not be able to match their counterparts in many other industries considering the effort and talent invested.

It is unfortunate that media and society has warped many students' minds in unrealistically romanticizing Medicine, and these unwitting participants only find out about the truth a tad too late.

Conversely, staff who persevere for a long while in the Medicine career are thus driven because they are motivated by (1) helping people, (2) are highly physically and emotionally robust and resilient, (3) and can reconcile the medical establishment's practices with their own ethical principles.

Having said all these, remember that the greatest regret can sometimes be the risk that we didn't dare to take; but we sincerely wish you would spend time to explore and learn more about your prospective courses in order to make a properly informed decision, which will affect not just your future but that of your family too.

Take care of your health. Cheers.

Duncan Ang

(Senior Councilor: May 2013 - December 2020)

Answered On 5 September 2014