Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 45–54 | Cite as

Chemistry courses as the turning point for premedical students

  • Donald A. BarrEmail author
  • John Matsui
  • Stanley F. Wanat
  • Maria Elena Gonzalez


Previous research has documented that negative experiences in chemistry courses are a major factor that discourages many students from continuing in premedical studies. This adverse impact affects women and students from under-represented minority (URM) groups disproportionately. To determine if chemistry courses have a similar effect at a large public university, we surveyed 1,036 students from three entering cohorts at the University of California, Berkeley. We surveyed students at the beginning of their first year at the university and again at the end of their second year. All subjects had indicated an interest in premedical studies at the time they entered the university. We conducted follow-up interviews with a stratified sub-set of 63 survey respondents to explore the factors that affected their level of interest in premedical studies. Using a 10-point scale, we found that the strength of interest in premedical studies declined for all racial/ethnic groups. In the follow-up interviews, students identified chemistry courses as the principal factor contributing to their reported loss of interest. URM students especially often stated that chemistry courses caused them to abandon their hopes of becoming a physician. Consistent with reports over more than 50 years, it appears that undergraduate courses in chemistry have the effect of discouraging otherwise qualified students, as reflected in their admission to one of the most highly selective public universities in the US, from continuing in premedical studies, especially in the case of URM students. Reassessment of this role for chemistry courses may be overdue.


Chemistry Diversity Ethnicity Medical education Minorities Premedical education Science education Race 



This research was funded by a grant from the California Wellness Foundation.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald A. Barr
    • 1
    Email author
  • John Matsui
    • 2
  • Stanley F. Wanat
    • 1
  • Maria Elena Gonzalez
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Biology Scholars ProgramUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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