written by
Katie Chiou

Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education: An Overview

Advisor Tips 6 min read

The Program in Liberal Medical Education is an 8-year combined degree program intended for students interested in exploring a nontraditional medical degree. PLME focuses on fostering students that have a wide variety of interests, and gives them the free rein to explore these interests outside of the typical pre-med focus.

The PLME is not an accelerated program: it’s meant for students who want to take full advantage of their undergraduate years at Brown in addition to their commitment to a medical degree.

Kenneth C. Zirkel | CC BY-SA 4.0

Why study humanities and medicine?

The freedom to take classes that broaden your understanding of the world.

Understanding social justice and systemic inequities is essential knowledge to have as a human and as a doctor whose primary goal is to serve others equitably.

I started by taking classes that expanded on my understanding of what science means - how is science done, and what, historically, has it been wrong? There are a multitude of stories and complexities within every research paper, and Brown taught me the beginnings of that with my First Year Seminar, “Pride and Prejudice in the Development of Scientific Theories.” This was class composed entirely of first-years and capped at under 20 students, so it was discussion-based and gave me the opportunity to meet other PMLE freshmen.

This informational essay was written by Katie Chiou, Brown ‘20. If you want to get help writing your Brown application essays from Katie or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

Two more courses stood out to me during my education: “Locked Up,” a course focusing on the history of prisons and captivity, taught parallel to the professor’s course at the ACI, a RI medium-security prison; and “Health Inequality,” a class in the Africana department focusing on the history of race-based medicine and its issues in contemporary medicine. The lessons I took from these classes will undoubtedly follow me into my future, medicine-related or not.

Brown inspires its students to pursue social justice, and seeing it in my classmates and future doctors is encouraging. At Brown, my classmates aren’t just engaged with the curriculum; they’re changing the curriculum as we speak.

Like I said before I LOVE taking photos during church!
Sincerely Media | Unsplash

The freedom to take classes that challenge you.

As a student who chose to always take the maximum amount of AP courses in high school, I was perplexed that PLME did not have a GPA minimum for matriculation into medical school. In fact, Brown doesn’t calculate GPA at all. So I was surprised to find how much I valued the grade option of pass/fail, or “S/NC” as it is affectionately called at Brown.

I chose to take a class pass/fail every semester, sometimes because the courses themselves are mandatory S/NC. This is the case for almost every writing workshop I’ve taken, a course I’ve fallen in love with at Brown. Writing courses at Brown are geared towards improvement, freedom to explore your literary skills and senses, and most importantly, developing your own internal motivation.

If I were a traditional premed student, I would’ve been hesitant to take these courses. Creative writing doesn’t traditionally fill an English requirement, and the class would’ve confused my all-important GPA, since the best I could do is still a “pass.”

But at PLME, I didn’t have a preoccupation with my numbers and my GPA. I was able to follow my interests wherever they’ve led me these past three years— including an art workshop, where I was almost certainly the worst artist in the class.

PLME Competencies

PLME Competencies are pre-med courses that are required for matriculation into Alpert Medical School. They’re typically seen as preparation for Alpert's rigorous curriculum, and they’re unique from other BS/MD pre-professional programs.

In your years as an undergraduate, you’ll have to fulfill fairly standard preclinical requirements: biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. PLME, in line with its name, also advises students to take humanities classes, and provides a list of recommended courses with reviews from previous students.

If you do matriculate into Alpert Medical school, there are standard competence requirements in basic medical sciences and the behavioral aspects of medicine. Core clinical areas are internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, family medicine and community health. Students are still encouraged to develop their interests and experiences with elective classes in areas like epidemiology, public health, ethics, and human values.

Female scientist using laminar flow hood in sterile laboratory.
Bret Kavanaugh | Unsplash

PLME-Specific Extracurriculars

The PLME program also provides students with unique opportunities to gain some clinical experience during their undergraduate years.

Medicine in Action

This program pairs students with local Providence doctors, sometimes Brown alumni, who are willing to let PLMEs shadow on a shift. This can provide real-world experience of clinical medicine, and additionally, help a student begin to understand the inner workings of different specialties.

I've personally shadowed shifts with an ER doctor and neurologist. During these shifts I witnessed the real-life practicing of what I had been studying—not just my medical courses, but also the sociocultural practices of medicine.

Summer Research Assistantship (SRA)

The SRA is a research position much like the Undergraduate Teaching Research Awards (UTRA) available to the general undergraduate population. It offers a stipend for a 10-week summer research position. The main difference between an SRA and UTRA is that with a SRA, project proposals from professors and medical faculty who are interested in working with PLME students who are already available. This saves much of the work of dry emailing professors to ask if they will consider taking you onto their research project!

Photo captured during office hours of a company in Brazil.
Lucas Vasques | Unsplash

Programs Abroad

There are several international PLME-only programs that offer students a chance to learn about medicine abroad during the summer. These can be found on the PLME website, and are usually offered in China, Taiwan, and Germany.

I was able to study abroad in both China and Taiwan. My entire travel cost was covered by the Luke Foundation (a scholarship within the PLME program), and my housing was sponsored by the respective universities I was studying at. Briefly speaking, these trips gave me a window into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and they were the opportunity of a lifetime.

As a student of medicine and culture, I was able to learn firsthand about how Western medicine is practiced alongside TCM and experience the benefits of both as a student and as a patient (due to an unfortunate allergic reaction!) We practiced acupuncture amongst ourselves as students, as well as several other TCM methods of cupping and massage. It felt especially meaningful to me as this was a part of my culture that I hadn’t explored as a second-generation immigrant, and brought home to several of the lessons of my anthropology courses: that history and experience is an important part of healing.

Kenneth C. Zirkel | CC BY-SA 4.0

Why did I choose PLME?

In interviewing for other BS/MD programs, particularly with accelerated programs, I noticed that there is a natural emphasis on completion of pre-medical courses within a shorter timespan. With Brown PLME, since the emphasis is on a liberal arts undergraduate education at an Ivy League, there is a genuine interest in having undergraduate students explore beyond the typical premed curriculum – that's why the competencies exist!

I could not have found a program that was better suited for my interests and learning style. As a high school student, I always found myself straddling humanities and medicine. Now I’ve gotten the best of both worlds: I've taken undergraduate classes in a variety of disciplines from religious studies and philosophy, and I’ve been able to create my own focus of study - medical anthropology and mental health.

By Inning Club | CC BY 2.0

This informational essay was written by Katie Chiou, Brown ‘20. If you want to get help writing your Brown application essays from Katie or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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