What it's like to pursue a double degree: 'It's the best decision I ever took'

As much as he loved studying Medicine, something was missing – something creative, something more than facts. So Nizar El Manouzi (21) decided to take a double degree in Medicine and Philosophy. The best decision he ever made, he says: ‘Philosophy has helped me realize that everyone comes from a certain context, a certain background. I no longer judge people.’

You were studying Medicine in ‘15/’16 when, one year in, you decided to pursue a degree in Philosophy as well. Why did you make that choice?

‘Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to study Medicine. And while I really like it, I was missing something. Medicine entails a lot of studying and science. I was missing the creative part, thinking, associating freely. Philosophy, to me, seemed to promote free thought and I figured it wouldn’t be about learning protocols and rows of definitions by heart.’

Did turn out to be what you expected?

‘Yes, absolutely. This is really it, it’s the best decision I ever made. Not only does Philosophy help me structure my thoughts starting from concepts, it has taught me to communicate. I now try to understand people with whom I thought I would never agree: why do you think like this, where does it come from? It has helped me realize that everyone comes from a certain context, a certain background. I no longer judge people, everything is relative. I only exist in relation to the other, and I’m looking for that connection.’

Did Philosophy change the way you experience your other bachelor, Medicine?

‘Definitely. For example, we’re taught how to do consults – how to talk to patients, how to arrive at a diagnosis. My conversational skills have improved drastically because of Philosophy. Take, for example, a ‘bad news talk’. We get all these models to deal with delivering bad news to patients – like ‘tell them, then wait a while to let the news sink in’. But now I have the ability to put death in a completely different perspective. It’s not just the ‘bad’ in that bad news conversation. Despite how difficult it is, death is a part of life.’

Philosophy has helped me realize that everyone comes from a certain context, a certain background.

Nizar El Manouzi (21) decided to take a double degree in Medicine and Philosophy.

And how does this double degree affect other aspects of your life?

‘Injustice always bothered me. I found the stigma around Moroccans, for example, very unfair. Now, I have decided to actively change it. I started this initiative called Explorocco with a friend. I ask people I don’t know to visit Morocco with me. Our motto is: judge without prejudice.

I’ve taken Medicine students, IBA students, all kinds of people – and it is absolutely awesome. Some are amazed, some surprised, some realize it’s not really for them – but every person adds something to the trip and learns something about others and themselves. Philosophy didn’t just change my way of thinking, it also made me decide to take action.’

‘Additionally, Philosophy made me rediscover other things I love, like theatre. Using my body, putting myself in another person’s shoes. Last year, I auditioned for a role in a movie, and I got the part. The movie’s called Catacombe, about match-fixing in football, it will be in theatres in September.’

You could have chosen a nice hobby to complement your Medicine studies. Why did you decide to obtain a double degree?

‘I like learning. There’s this ocean of knowledge around me and it seems a waste not to use it. I was missing the ‘why’ to all the facts I was learning, and Philosophy has given me that. A double degree gives me more of a steady base and a broader education, which I think is the purpose of taking a bachelor.’

Isn’t it a lot of work?

‘Medicine is a lot of learning by heart. Following another programme that would require me to do that as well, would have been hard. But Philosophy is more about interacting, taking notes and reflecting while you’re listening and reading. Because the studying methods are so different, they’re easy to combine for me. Plus there are fewer classes to take in Philosophy.’

What does a typical weekday look like for you?

‘I get up at 6 and get some studying done before I go to class or work – I’m a student assistant as well as an actor. In the afternoon, I study again – I plan my school work well, make sure I start well ahead of exams. In the evening I play football – oh, and I’m also running a marathon in April, trying to collect some money for lonely seniors in the Netherlands.’

Do you ever just sit on the couch and binge a Netflix series?

‘No, not really. I get my energy from interacting with people. That’s my only problem, I want to do too much, but there are only 24 hours in a day. But I do ask myself what’s really important to me. And I make sure that my weekends are reserved for that – friends, family. No studies during the weekend.’

What would you recommend others who are considering a double degree as well?

‘Ask yourself what your interests are outside your current studies. If you’re interested in the why, I would absolutely recommend this double degree. It’s also recommendable if you want to build your resume, but even if you just take it for that purpose, I’m sure you will learn something.

‘For anyone who thinks Philosophy is too abstract or flaky, I recommend talking to students, going to an open day or visiting a class. Believe me, it’s only abstract and flaky if that’s what you choose to see.’

What are your plans for the future?

‘I’m currently writing my Philosophy thesis and I’m wrapping up my Medicine bachelor. When I’m done, I will put Medicine on hold while I’m taking a Master in Philosophy and join the University council, because I would like some governance experience as well. Afterwards, I intend to focus on my master in Medicine.’

‘I think I’ll become a paediatrician. And I do think that Philosophy is helping me to prepare for that. Kids are the basis. Childhood experiences influence everything. Using what I’ve learned in Philosophy can help me get closer to the experience of children and their parents, and not just from a medical

point of view. If you ignore other aspects, like how an illness impacts the way people look at life, that will all come back later.’

Do you think there’s a chance you won’t become a doctor?

‘I’ve always wanted to become a doctor and help people. I do realize now that I can help people in many ways, but obtaining my degree in Medicine will open a lot of avenues for me to accomplish that; on an organizational level; a societal, international, medical level… So even though I certainly will become a doctor, I don’t think that’s the only thing I will be doing in the future.’

More information

Interested in pursuing a double degree yourself? Visit the information session: Double your degree with Philosophy on Thursday, 5 Apr 2018, 17:00. More info can be found here.