Do you consider medicine and the allied health professions within the STEM disciplines?

I posed this question earlier today on Twitter and have already garnered a good number of responses.
STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – is the acronym used by educators, researchers, and funding agencies focused on fundamental science. The US National Science Foundation, the primarily US STEM funding agency, states:

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.

My reason for asking is that I was going to write a post that would include the statement, “STEM, medicine, and the allied health professions,” but didn’t want it to seem redundant if some of our readership considers medical sciences to fall under STEM.
I’m also trying to figure how to classify myself as a pharmacologist. Departments of pharmacology are most commonly in colleges of medicine and, to a lesser extent, in colleges of pharmacy – certainly not in colleges of arts & sciences.
However, pharmacology is really the classical incarnation of what today is called “chemical biology” by the people who’ve discovered that chemists are essential to translating genomic biology into drugs. (Regular readers will recall that my nymsake, pharmacologist Dr John Jacob Abel, was co-founder of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.). So, while many of my compatriots would consider themselves chemists and biologists, we would conceivable fall outside the STEM disciplines. Correct?
Among Twitter responders this morning, Dr Joanne Manaster at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (@sciencegoddess), notes that 75% of her students are pre-med. Particularly in departments of biology, a large proportion of students are preparing for medical school.
So, is biology a STEM discipline if so many biology students clearly do not plan to be biologists at the BS, MS, or PhD level?
How about a survey?:

Do you consider medicine and/or the allied health professions to fall under the term STEM?(polling)

Please register your comments below as well, especially if you have links to sources that more precisely define STEM. And have a great Sunday (for readers on this side of the International Date Line).

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Do you consider medicine and the allied health professions within the STEM disciplines?

  1. I’m a medical technologist (allied health professional) How does using my BS in microbiology/chemistry in a hospital lab differ from using it in an industry lab? Do I become second-rate the moment I enter the health care arena?
    For funding, the NIH does medical funding, which I suppose keeps the neurosurgeons and the rocket scientists from coming to blows over grant money.

  2. “Is biology a STEM discipline if so many biology students clearly do not plan to be biologists at the BS, MS, or PhD level?”
    Yes. A discipline is defined by its professional practitioners, not its students. Students, by definition, are not professionals.

  3. It depends who I’m talking to. When I’m talking to the general public about the scientific literacy, advocacy, etc. STEM means any person who is a science professional whihc does include medicine and allied health professions. But when I’m talking to professionals, there is a clear distinction in the disciplines of medical practitioners and science professionals. This would go along the lines the funding agencies declare, e.g. NIH/NIMH gives money to medical/health science people and NSF gives money non-health researchers (always some exceptions for both, of course)

  4. To clarify: Research with medical implications might full under “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” but when people think of hear “medicine” or “health professions,” they think of treatment, not research. Treatment is not STEM.

  5. It depends on what the medics and allied health professionals do. Physiotherapists who work on biomechanics are definitely STEM, likewise pharmacologists or pathologists who work on biochemistry.
    As always, interdisciplinary boundaries are fluid.

  6. I am affiliated with both a Cell Biology department and a Bioengineering department. Both have a large number of students who choose med school over grad school or industry.
    I took a look at lists of organizations supporting STEM programs and nowhere on these lists could I easily find the AMA or other related health professions fields. That is an interesting bit of information.
    When I think of science, I think of the empirical aspect: searching for/examining something to further our knowledge about the world (yeah, that’s simplified). My experience with engineers is that they use discovered science to solve problems and usually end up creating a new technology (in bioengineering, much of this is used for medicine).
    So, if we apply that definition of an engineer to those in the medical fields as APPLYING science, then sure, I think those in medicine can fit this category because the very foundation of medicine is science (and practical applications of engineering and technology).
    Now, if being a part of STEM means you can interpret a scientific paper and think through a problem scientifically, then unfortunately there is a proportion of the medical establishment and engineers for that matter, who couldn’t read a scientific paper properly or design an experiment to save their lives. But now that’s a additional subject.

  7. Given that engineering is considered part of STEM, and that engineers use knowledge from physics/chemistry/biology/geology in very applied ways, I think the definition could be broad enough to include the medical fields. (Also, the practice of mathematics is worlds apart from the ways that the science and engineering disciplines use math!)

  8. A STEM discipline is reasonably clearly defined, and allied health/medicine is not properly included. One reason is that a major aspect of both of these is patient care – the other reason is that there is already a giant govt agency devoted to funding research in Med/Allied Health (NIH). On the third hand, there is also a whole cabinet dept (HHS) that more or less is concerned with health related program activities, and NSF is not part of this, so probably for turf reasons they cannot include med/allied health. As others have said, more or less, the fact that students from Bio (or chem, or whatever)go into med/allied health means nothing, in this context. As to your own self definition, that’s up to you. I don’t think there is anything wrong with interdisciplinary studies, or disciplines that cross these somewhat artificial boundaries. I also don’t think the sentence you wrote is at all redundant.

  9. clinical practice is to basic biology as mechanical engineering is to newtonian physics.
    Some aspects of medical practice are “science” – those involved in the testing of hypothesis via the scientific method. Some aspects of medical practice are not – for instance, following treatment guidelines. But even those which are not “science” are “applied science,” or human engineering.

  10. Science = empirical model of reality
    Mathematics = the language of science
    Technology = practical application of knowledge (some of which may be science)
    Engineering = practical application of science and technology to solve problems
    Pharmacology, at its root, is science. Understanding drug interactions is science. Dispensing a pill is not STEM any more than the Verizon guy selling a phone is.
    Pharmacology, biology, medicine, etc., as fields, are STEM. Not every practitioner or student of these fields would fall under STEM though. Sometimes a job is only part STEM.

  11. I agree, it depends on the audience and outgroup. Very few working in the field identify as STEM or STEM (including medicine) professionals. The term originated in the Education & Human Resources Directorate at NSF and is almost always used in the K-14 educational context, particularly as an adjective for education, pipeline, preparation, workforce development, etc. In this sense, STEM references the basic literacies for entry and a common set of best practices across disciplines such as early participation in research, progressive mentoring/apprenticeship, and interdisciplinary teamwork.

  12. Abel wrote:

    I’m also trying to figure how to classify myself as a pharmacologist. Departments of pharmacology are most commonly in colleges of medicine and, to a lesser extent, in colleges of pharmacy – certainly not in colleges of arts & sciences.
    Here in Australia we are all over the place. In my uni, we are in the Faculty of Medicine, but within the School of Medical Sciences, and we spend most of our time teaching science students for the Faculty of Sciences (note the liberal use of “science” in the titles, in the Faculty of Sciences, the School of Molecular Life Sciences teaches a lot of what would be recognised as medical stuff).
    Since the Faculty of Medicine moved to a Problem Based Learning approach, we don’t actually teach Medical students much at all. We still get to warp the minds of Nurses and Dentists though.
    Pharmacology is science, it can be clinical science or basic science or somewhere in between (as there is no hard and fast demarkation between clinical and basic), but it is science.
    Medicine, as practised now, is defined by scientific principles and our best practise is determined by scientific approaches. There may be some “touchy feely” aspects which would puzzle particle physicists (but not primatologists, who last i looked were still scientists), but the very essence of medicine is its science-based approach.
    A GP handing someone a blood pressure pill my not be acting as a scientist, any more than a biotechnology operator adding a nutrient mix to a bioreactor is acting as a scientists, but both actions are based on a long line of scientific enquiry and evidence.

  13. Thank you for writing this article. It really opened up my eyes to your point of view. I was looking for more advice for my own medical needs and found this. Allthough it was not what I was looking for I did find it easy to read and captivating. I was looking for advice on a new medicine. I am using this Mexican pharmacy for my needs as they are owned and run by Americans whom I have grown to trust but I find it hard to get advice unless I see the doctor. Anyway I have gone a bit off topic and want to just thank you for your article.

  14. Abel asks “So, is biology a STEM discipline if so many biology students clearly do not plan to be biologists at the BS, MS, or PhD level?”
    It is clear that biology is a science, regardless what undergraduate students do after studying it.

  15. And yet…some of the loonier anti-science people you come across these days are MDs and allied health professionals.
    You apparently can get a license to practice medicine without actually learning anything about science. And you can be a successful practitioner while firmly believing the universe and everything in it was popped into existence whole and one giant flood away from looking exactly as we see it today 6000 years ago.
    You rarely see this brand of nuttiness in the other (I almost said “real”) sciences.

  16. Yes.
    You use the example that you’re in a medical school, but I don’t think that that’s relevant. Paleontologists are usually in anatomy departments, which are in med schools, and paleontology/evolutionary biology are def. STEM

  17. “My reason for asking is that I was going to write a post that would include the statement, “STEM, medicine, and the allied health professions,” but didn’t want it to seem redundant if some of our readership considers medical sciences to fall under STEM.”
    I do for researchers, but probably would not count clinicians as being part of STEM.

  18. “And yet…some of the loonier anti-science people you come across these days are MDs and allied health professionals.”
    Not true: we Engineers are your prime source for Creationist rants and AGW deniers! We supply prime quality loons to the internets!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s