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Should STEM Include the Medical Field?

Science Under the Microscope

Should STEM Include the Medical Field?Thanks to new initiatives by President Obama, the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (collectively called the “STEM” fields) have been in the news more than ever for the past few months.

Most of the relevant parties--including funding agencies, policy agencies, administrators, and teachers--agree that the key to America’s educational system competing globally is to advance these subject areas. We will no longer be the nation of factory workers or farmers, but we can continue to be the inventors and gadget designers.


One of my favorite science bloggers, Abel Pharmboy, who writes Terra Sigillata, recently commented on the strangeness of the official definition of STEM as used by the National Science Foundation and others: “As described in our strategic plan, NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences.” [Emphasis mine]


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While it had never really occurred to me, it seems clear that STEM does not include medical fields. I know that there are several reasons for this dichotomy, including separate funding agencies for medical research, but it does seem strange. Medicine has always been one of America’s strengths, and physicians and researchers are among the most respected professionals in our society. Yet, we don’t see this field as needing the “full court press” afforded to other science fields. Why is this? Should we be working to improve STEMM education in this country?


I don’t know the answer, but I have one small piece of evidence to add to the discussion. In a recent poll of my seventh grade science students, I asked “Which is more difficult: brain surgery or rocket science?” The responses were overwhelming one-sided.


Teenagers, it would seem, respect surgeons more than physicists.

What professions related to your field do your students respect and have interest in? Share in the comments section!

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