In terms of all pre-med class requirements, math is one that seems to strike the most fear in the hearts and minds of students. But while statistics seems to be highly relevant and arguably easier, calculus can be a worrisome boundary.
But do medical schools even require calculus?
No. Most allopathic medical schools (at least in the U.S.) do not require calculus as a prerequisite subject. Although a few schools do (more on this later), math is mainly just a preference. To be 100% certain, as criteria frequently change, you’ll need to check individual school requirements.
I’ll get into examples of schools that do and don’t later in this article.
Here’s what else you’ll learn:
- If med schools require calculus based physics
- What the most common pre med math requirements are
- If you need calculus for med school abroad
- If doctors need calculus
As a med student myself, and one who’s particularly terrified of math, I understand the worry!
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
Why some med schools want calculus
Although the majority of med schools don’t require calculus, some do. Although we can’t be completely certain of their reasons why, here are a few theories:
- Calculus is vital for high level statistics (you’ll do some statistics in med school)
- Understanding calculus can help aid high level medical research (helping secure funding)
- It’s important for a deeper understanding of physics and chemistry
- It can help with stats-based questions on the MCAT
But while having mastery of calculus can certainly help with the above motivations, it’s definitely not necessary when it comes to becoming a practicing physician.
Statistics is of far greater importance in the field of medicine.
Having the chance to study that, over a potentially GPA shattering calculus course, is by far the better idea for most pre-meds.
List of med schools that require calculus in 2021
Out of 133 medical schools in the U.S., only a select few of them explicitly ask for calculus as a prerequisite class for students applying to med school.
Major examples of schools asking for it as either a necessity or preference include:
Mathematics: 2 terms (1 term Calculus and 1 term Statistics)(Source)
Quantitative Reasoning: One course in calculus or statistics (biostatistics preferred)(Source)
Pathways- Encouraged to complete one year of coursework in mathematics, including one semester each of calculus and statistics (preferably biostatistics)(Source)
Related: How Hard Is It To Get Into Harvard Medical School? (Explained!)
4. John Hopkins
Calculus and/or statistics Minimum of 6 semester hours.(Source)
MATH and STATISTICS – complete one course in Calculus I and one Statistics class.(Source)
Before 2021 this list used to be more extensive but a lot of med schools appear to have relaxed their stance on calculus.
Princeton published a list of these schools back in 2017 but most of these have since changed their criteria.
As admissions criteria change year on year, it’s important you check directly to see if the school you’re interested in asks for calculus.
And while most ask for it as a preference, note that having it can definitely help give you a competitive edge!
Most medical schools do not require calculus or math, but a calculus course will strengthen your record if you do well in it.(Source)
So do most med students have a calculus background?
While some med students matriculating in the early 2020s have taken calculus prerequisites during undergrad, numbers are declining.
This is evidenced by the dwindling list of med schools above that no longer ask for calculus as a pre-med requirement.
A couple of decades back this was not the case, however. According to AAMC data, 90% of med students admitted to medical school in 1997 had taken calculus (Source).
Do med schools require calculus based physics?
Again, the answer here is that very few medical schools ask for calculus-based physics.
One exception to this, however, is Harvard Medical School (HMS). Here’s what they say (as preference)…
Physics: One year of physics must be taken at the college level. Candidates are strongly encouraged to meet this prerequisite with at least one year in calculus-based physics*(Source)
So while physics and calculus-based physics is sometimes preferred, it’s not usually required by the vast majority of med schools.
For a broader discussion on the place of physics in med school (especially for pre-meds), check out the following article…
Related: Do You Need Physics To Be A Doctor?
Pre med math requirements
While we’ve already outlined that most med schools don’t ask for calculus, their stance on math is a lot more variable.
As a general rule of thumb; it is a good idea to take a college-level math course (and aim to get good grades) if you’re planning to apply for med school.
Statistics is an excellent choice for two reasons:
- The MCAT (has a small percentage of stats-based questions)
- Biostatistics (makes up a small part of USMLE Step 1)
So as you can see taking a math class has certain advantages for both making it to med school and then scoring well as a medical student.
As for the AAMC, their general admissions advice prioritizes hard sciences more than math (it doesn’t even explicitly mention math as a common pre-med requirement).
Here’s what they actually state…
In general, students will likely complete the following types of courses:
One year of Biology
One year of English
Two years of Chemistry (through Organic Chemistry)(Source)
While they don’t mention math explicitly, most pre-meds understand the advantage a background in it can have to aim for top grades in classes like chemistry.
But again (as the AAMC also suggests), to be sure of the exact math requirements, you’ll want to check their admissions criteria or speak with a school’s individual admissions office.
For a general discussion of how much math you may need as a doctor (and as a medical student), I go into that in a lot more detail in the following article…
Do you need calculus for med school in other countries?
Something interesting worth considering is the role of calculus in med schools around the world.
Just like the U.S., it’s not a necessary requirement for the most part.
None of the 17 medical schools in Canada ask for calculus from any of their potential candidates.
Although many med school applicants in the UK will take math at A-level, it’s certainly not required by any med schools in the country.
British medical schools look at biology, chemistry, and sometimes physics as the main subjects required from aspiring physicians.
Very few med schools ask for calculus in mainland Europe. Just like the UK, their criteria are very open. While you’ll almost always need biochemistry or chemistry, almost nowhere will ever demand math (either calculus or statistics).
Do doctors require calculus?
Unless you’re an interventional radiologist interested in the computational algorithms of the machines you use, the answer is no.
Calculus isn’t used by 99% of doctors practicing modern medicine. Not in any everyday sense, where diagnosis and treatment plans take up the majority of a doctor’s working day.
If you’re worried about your lack of confidence in the subject however there’s always the chance to learn via books!
But it most probably won’t advance your career in any meaningful way.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.