How to Become a Doctor (in 1949)

By Allison Piazza, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

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How to Become a Doctor (1949) by George R. Moon.

While shelving books, I had the great pleasure of discovering a small book entitled How to Become a Doctor. Published in 1949, How to Become a Doctor is, at just 131 pages, “a complete guide to the study of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, occupational therapy, chiropody and foot surgery, optometry, hospital administration, medical illustration, and the sciences.”

The author of the book, George R. Moon, was the Examiner and Recorder at University of Illinois Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy.  As for Mr. Moon’s qualifications, the writer of the forward states: “it is probable that no one person in the world has met more students seeking advice regarding entrance to schools of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.”

As intended, I learned quite a bit about the medical school admissions process while reading this guide. I was surprised to learn that, in 1949, not many medical schools required a bachelor’s degree for admission, with only 4 schools requiring the degree, 58 asking for three college years, and 7 indicating they would consider 2 years of college work.  This is basically unheard of today in the U.S.

Medical School by the numbers: 1948-1949 and 2016-2017

1948-1949 2016-2017
Approved U.S. 4-year medical schools 71 147
Applicants At least 20,000 53,042 [1]
Application fee $5-$10 per school $160 first school; $38 per additional school [2]
Enrollment 6,559 21,0301 [1]
Tuition at Harvard Medical School $830* $58,050 [3]
Female matriculates 11% (1947) 49.8% [1]
Medical school graduates 5,543 18,938 [4]

*The highest annual fee at any medical school in 1948-1949.

Further into the guide, Mr. Moon discusses the application process, offering a sample application from the University of Illinois.  One question from this four page application is: How and where do you spend your summer vacations?

After the application comes the interview.  Mr. Moon’s primary advice is on appearance, stating that “this is one place where the typical ‘Joe College’ attitude should be forgotten.” He goes on to say that the student should act natural and answer questions directly and fully but “avoid anything fancy.”

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Chapter images from How to Become a Doctor.

To conclude, just who was the ideal medical school applicant in 1949? Mr. Moon offers the following description:

“The ideal will, of course, have superior college grades, a broad, balanced liberal arts program, be not over 22 years of age, have high moral standards and professional ideals, be reasonably attractive personally, be poised and at ease in his interviews, speak clearly and correctly, be clean and fastidious as to dress and appearance, and have enough financial backing so that he will not be forced to work or be worried by money matters, and last but not least, be physically strong and healthy.”

References:
[1] “U.S. Medical School Applications and Matriculates by School, State of Legal Residence, and Sex, 2016-2017.” Association of American Medical Colleges, December 6, 2016.
[2] “Applying to Medical School.” Association of American Medical Colleges, n.d.
[3] “Tuition and Fees.” Harvard Medical School, November 29, 2016.
[4] “Total Graduates by U.S. Medical School and Sex, 2011-2012 through 2015-2016.” Association of American Medical Colleges, December 19, 2016.

Sample Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) questions from How to Become a Doctor:

Vocabulary:

1. AUDACIOUS: (A) splendid (B) loquacious (C) cautious (D) auspicious (E) presumptuous

Quantitative Ability:

2. It is known that every circle has an equation of the form Ax2 + Ay2 + Bx + Cy + D = 0. Which of the following is the equation of a circle?
A) 2x – 3y = 6
B) x2 – y2 + 4x – 2y + 3 = 0
C) 3x2 + 3y2 – 2x + 6y +1 = 0
D) 2x2 + 3y2 + 6x + 4y +1 = 0
E) None of the above

Understanding of Modern Society:

3. Japan today presents no immediate threat to peace in the Far East principally because:
(A) so much of the country has been devastated
(B) she has been stripped of her colonies and conquests
(C) the present Japanese constitution outlaws war
(D) the new Japanese government is much opposed to the military party
(E)there is now unity of purpose among the various interest in the Far East

Premedical Sciences:

4. Which one of the following is 75 percent carbon, by weight, and 25 percent hydrogen, by weight?
(A) 
C3H
(B) 
CH
(C) 
CH3
(D) C2H3
(E) CH4

Answers: 1. (E), 2. (C), 3. (B), 4. (E)