So You’re Considering a Career in the Health Professions?
Ketan Yerneni is a junior pre-med student who is gearing up to take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) in the coming months.
The purpose of this column is to advise students on how to approach the various pre-health requirements, and stay on-track to become a competitive candidate in a timely fashion. This column is not meant to replace HPAC (Health Professions Advisory Committee) advising; any students seriously considering a career in the health professions should sign up for an HPAC advisor ASAP (please contact Tracy Broderson – firstname.lastname@example.org). This column will provide Skidmore students with a delivery of pre-health related advice, clarifications, and recommendations backed by both HPAC faculty and other credible sources, such as the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) or AAVMC (American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges).
I’d like to begin this column with a very general overview of how to begin your foray into the pre-health world, and in subsequent columns I will dive into specifics. If any of you would like specific questions answered, or have any criticisms, or suggestions, please email me at email@example.com.
1) I’ve thought about a career in one of the Health Professions, but I’m not really sure where to start.
A. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen students make is to merely read or listen to others detail the inner-workings of one of the health-professions. Reading about patient interaction, stressful surgeries, and split-second decision-making is astronomically different than the actual practice of it. I urge any of you who are potentially interested in a health profession to shadow a practitioner AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The earlier you decide to pursue - or completely abandon - the health professions path, the better. It would be a complete waste of time for you have taken the numerous class requirements, when in junior year you decide against becoming a medical professional. On the other hand, if you decide to begin pursuing the path during your junior year, it will be difficult to be on-track and complete the requirements in a timely fashion. In that case, you may have to take time off after you get your undergraduate degree to bolster your application and become a competitive applicant.
I will not lie to you; if you are looking to find money in the health professions, you will most definitely find it. Medical professionals are consistently ranked among the highest paid and most secure jobs in the United States. However, going into the health professions for money will be one of the biggest mistakes of your life. These jobs are not to be taken lightly; the sheer amount of schooling, rigorous training, and in many cases – uncompromising life styles – will undoubtedly burn out those who are not truly invested in their job. There are plenty of other jobs out there that offer great salaries along with great life-styles. Do not make the mistake of investing numerous years of your life into something you are not truly interested in.
2) I’m sure of it – I want to pursue one of the health profession careers. Where can I find the information I need to inform myself of what classes I need to take, what grades to maintain, and any other requirements?
If you have decided to pursue the health professions, then congratulations! You’ve decided to embark on a difficult, but incredibly rewarding journey. Depending on which sect of the health professions you are interested in, your course-work requirements may vary; in fact, different schools may also have different requirements, so please check for specific course requirements for each school you are interested in applying to.
The HPAC has done a fantastic job in compiling links to the various health professions’ “ruling body” of admission information. You can access the page here.
On the left column, hover over your desired health professions sect, and click on “Additional Information” that pops up as a sub menu. There should be a useful assortment of links that will take you to the most credible sources regarding applications for the health professions.
3) What do schools generally want from me? What can I do to become a successful applicant?
Without a doubt, the sure-fire way of increasing your chances of getting into the school of your choice is to maintain a high GPA. If you are a freshman reading this, START STRONGLY. The classes you take during your first year are likely to be some of the easier ones you will take in your college career. If you have a solid GPA from the get-go, it will be easier to take one or two hits from not doing so well in a few upper division classes. It is far harder to float a ship that has already sunk. Admissions committees know that college can be very difficult for students to adjust to. If you don’t do as well as you hoped during your freshman year, don’t be too scared. An upward trend is far better than one where your grades drop each successive year.
Bernard Possidente, Chair of the Biology Department, aptly described the admissions process: “There’s a generic formula, but there’s no generic student”. GPA, although arguably the most important aspect of your application, tells just one part of the story – and admissions committees realize this as well. If you are in a position where your grades don’t quite cut it for the health profession of your choice, you still have options. You may have to consider further schooling (such as a master’s program) and prove academically that you are capable of being a medical professional.
A whole slew of factors influences whether or not you get accepted to a school: GPA, extracurricular activities, research positions, and much more. More so now than ever, students need to prove that they are well-rounded and diverse people. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA without a single extracurricular activity or outside involvement does not look as good as you might think.
Recently, the AAMC ranked the importance of application data to admissions officers at 113 medical schools in their decisions to invite interviewees:
Besides your GPA and MCAT scores, letters of recommendation and community service have the greatest weight in swaying your application to medical school. In fact, recommendation letters jump to the #2 most important factor when interviewees are being considered for acceptance. What does this mean? Build relationships and interact with professors, as early as possible. If you provide a recommendation letter from a professor whom you’ve only taken one class with, during your junior year, admissions committees will not put much stock into it. As early as possible, be someone who makes an impression and is capable of working well with others. Participate in classes. Go to office hours. Be an active member of your department, and go above what is expected of you.
I hope this was at least slightly informative; much of this information may sound old by now, but I wanted to provide an introductory primer to get everyone on the same level. In subsequent columns I will go into detailed specifics as to what extracurricular activities stand out, whether research is important for admissions, potential schedules for professional schools’ admission tests, and much more. Once again, if you have any questions, criticisms, comments, or would like me to clarify anything, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions answered will be anonymous, so please don’t be shy!