Advisor Corner: The Value of Working with a Pre-health Advisor

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As the new school year begins, it’s important to remember the valuable resources already available to you on your campus. One of those resources is your pre-health advisor. We asked three pre-health advisors to share their perspective on the value they can bring as you prepare for and apply to medical school, and how you can maximize your engagement with them.

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Kirsten Kirby, MSEd, Director of Health Professions Advising, Franklin & Marshall College

The top three roles of a pre-health advisor are to be:

  1. Guides who can help you navigate the journey of becoming a competitive applicant and then applying to medical school. The road to medical school is a long one that involves a lot of choices ranging from what courses to take, to what experiences to engage in, to when or where to apply, and others. Pre-health advisors provide you with guidance about your different options so you are able to make informed decisions each step of the way.
  2. Resource experts who can identify credible sources and information. If you Google “applying to medical school,” over six million links come up. How do you distinguish which ones are valid and reliable resources? Pre-health advisors are able to share good sources and dispel myths or rumors you may have read online or heard from your peers.
  3. Connectors who can help you network. Pre-health advisors collaborate with faculty and staff across the campus community, as well as work with alumni. If you need help and aren’t sure where to turn, we can suggest people you can contact. For example, if you want to reach out to alumni physicians, we can connect you with them or with the alumni relations office who can facilitate those introductions.

To start working with your pre-health advisor, see what appointment and/or drop-in options there are for one-on-one conversations and consider attending on-campus events. Each school has their own approach and often has a website outlining options and resources. Pre-health advisors are here to help you!

Quo Vadis M. Webster, MA, LPC, Director of Premedical Program, Xavier University of Louisiana

It’s the beginning of the academic year. Do you know where your pre-health advisor’s office is? Even with the extensive resources made available to premeds through the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs and Pre-Med Navigator, and the well-intentioned advice of physicians, family members, and peers, the value of working with your pre-health advisor should not be underestimated.

Pre-health advisors are gatekeepers to a treasure trove of information; they are purveyors of what prospective medical students should do (and when) to maximize competitiveness and readiness for medical school. While external resources certainly can provide useful general information, pre-health advisors can offer advice that is informed by acceptance trends and applicant experiences that are unique to students at your school. Coursework planning, academic and MCAT exam performance, engagement in meaningful experiences, and deciding which schools to apply to are elements of the medical school application that your pre-health advisor is equipped to provide guidance on. Moreover, pre-health advisors often have many contacts who can enrich your journey, such as physicians, representatives from medical schools, summer program administrators, and medical student alumni. Often, only students who are actively engaged with pre-health advisors are privy to such resources that may open doors to a variety of educational and experiential opportunities.

Unfortunately, pre-health advisors are often mischaracterized as “crushers-of-dreams.” In my role, however, I see myself as more of an “encourager-of-realistic-assessment.” The reality of what makes an academically competitive medical school applicant is documented on medical school websites, and by the AAMC via The Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) and MCAT Score and GPA data tables.  Partnering with your pre-health advisor well in advance of applying to medical school (ideally, beginning freshman year) affords you the opportunity to better understand the type of applicant that medical schools are looking for and to develop a proactive plan of action to cultivate the attributes that will best position you for acceptance. 

Think of it this way: If you want to qualify for a spot on a sports team or a seat in an orchestra, training occurs under the tutelage of a knowledgeable and supportive coach. Similarly, advisors are there to coach you along your journey. You should begin preparing yourself for the application process years in advance of presenting yourself to admissions committees, making sure to rely on your pre-health advisor as an ally rather than adversary. Your pre-health advisor is on your side and believes you are well worth the investment--and so should you.

Jason M. D'Antonio, PhD, Director, Health Professions Program, Assistant Teaching Professor, Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

From the start of freshman year, students should meet with their pre-health advisor to:

  1. Establish a connection with the pre-health advisor,
  2. Sign up to receive email announcements of events,
  3. Ensure that their long term academic plan includes the necessary pre-req courses to create a timeline for applying to medical school,
  4. Ask any questions they have about pursuing a pre-health career. From here, we encourage our students to meet at least once a semester with an advisor to stay on track with course selection, learn about and discuss volunteer and shadowing opportunities, discuss potential research projects, get insight into the best courses to take, and to prevent students from becoming overwhelmed. As an advisor and faculty member, I can offer insight into courses and life on campus, and perspective on applying to graduate schools versus professional schools. Importantly, as someone who recently became trained in mental health first aid, I can serve as a voice or resource to those who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. 

Working with an advisor can be a very valuable resource as you navigate your journey to medical school. If you don’t have an advisor, visit the National Association of Advisors to the Health Professions (NAAHP) website for their Find An Advisor tool. For more information, check out this fact sheet on partnering with your advisor.

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