As a physics instructor I am frequently asked questions like, “When are we ever going to use this in real life?” Often, this question comes from students majoring in fields that are not considered “techy” such as biology and pre-medicine. Physics lends itself naturally to degrees in engineering and mathematics, so it is usually easy for students in those majors to understand why they are enrolled in a physics class, but more often than not, pre-health professional biology majors (pre-medical professional, pre-physical therapy, pre-physician assistant, etc.) are left scratching their heads and wondering how physics is applicable to them.
In the midst of a rigorous physics curriculum such as the one offered at Grand Canyon University, pre-health professional biology students have an especially difficult time understanding why they are in the class and how it is relevant for them and their future goals. Rest assured, pre-health professional biology majors– you are not wasting your time by learning basic physics!
Here are five reasons why:
Physics is the most fundamental of all the sciences, and as such, a firm knowledge of physics will only help students attain deeper insight in the areas of chemistry and biology. Physics ranges from the extremely small nano-scale to the extremely large Giga-scale and beyond. Physics is the root system for all other branches of science that derive their information from the central facets of motion, forces, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and atomic and nuclear physics just to name a few.
General Physics I and General Physics II provide valuable preparation for graduate school entrance exams such as the MCAT, PCAT, OAT, DAT, and GRE exams. These courses build a solid conceptual scientific foundation for medical school in general.
Physics requires a very precise, detail-oriented and astute way of thinking. Physics forces you to think critically and problem solve, and it uses the scientific method to do so. Physics challenges you to think beyond simply memorizing facts and instead forces you to apply your knowledge within a real-world context. The scientific method itself is foundational to modern medicine, and physics is a great science to expose students to this way of thinking. Physics conditions the mind towards logical deduction. People will share their symptoms with you someday as a medical professional and it is critical for you to be able to mentally sift through innumerable symptoms and diagnose that patient from the information provided. Physics, along with the scientific method, conditions you to be able to perform in the real world effectively.
Physics begets many of medicine’s current practices and technologies, including, but not limited to X-rays, medical imaging procedures such as Doppler ultrasound, echocardiography, MRI and the operation of ventilator machines. The Institute of Physics stated in 2012, “Medicine is likely to become an information science, where a vast amount of complex data are analyzed by techniques such as machines learning to discover patterns and principles; this is the physicist’s forte.”
While sitting in a general physics class learning about speed, acceleration, and forces, a pre-health professional biology student may not realize at the moment how basic physics is beneficial to future doctors. Nevertheless, we want our future medical professionals to have a firm understanding of the physics involved in the medical technology they are equipped to use.
Here are some specific ways physics applies to medical professionals:
- Mechanics is applicable to the motion of joints.
- Forces apply in the use of braces to move teeth.
- Fluid dynamics, pressure-volume relationships and resistance in a closed circuit apply to the circulatory system.
- Heat transfer comes in handy for dealing with frostbite, hypothermia and fevers.
- Vectors and electric circuits apply to electrocardiography and the electrical activity of the heart.
- Pressure-volume curves apply to lung function.
- Optics applies to the working of the human eye and all the procedures of ophthalmology and optometry.
- Nuclear physics applies to nuclear medicine (SPECT and PET scans and radiation therapy technologies).
- Lasers are widely applied in dermatology-scar removal, hair removal, etc.
These are just a few examples of how physics is applicable to medical professionals, but the applications of physics in medicine are much more extensive. Physics is an essential requirement for the undergraduate and graduate-level coursework that pre-health professional students complete. Physics is fundamental. Physics teaches critical thinking. Physics is the basis upon which medical technologies have been discovered and invented. Without physics, medical professionals would not have a career. Therefore, rest assured pre-health professional students, you are wise to be taking physics!
To learn more about other fundamental and widely-applicable courses offered through Grand Canyon University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, visit our website or use the Request More Information button on this page.
- Institute of Physics (2012, April 18). Medical Students Need an Understanding of Physics. Retrieved from iop.org/news/12/apr/page_55092.html
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.