Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Mid-Career Professionals Find Pathway to Enter Medicine

Published in the August 2004 AAMC Reporter

After teaching displaced families in Guatemala, home tutoring teenage mothers in upstate New York and educating Navajo Indians on a reservation in New Mexico, Summer Chapin was overwhelmed by the rampant health problems she encountered. Despite having years of teaching experience and an undergraduate degree in history and literature, she decided she could contribute more by becoming a doctor.

“I felt frustrated that I didn’t have the skills to address all those health problems,” Chapin said, describing why she applied to the Bryn Mawr post-baccalaureate  premedical program. “I decided I had to go back to school even though I’d been out for a few years.”

Not long ago, choosing to be a doctor was a decision students had to make within the first few semesters of their undergraduate education. But over the past 2o years, selecting medicine as a second career or applying to medical school after earing a liberal arts degree has become more common. Whatever the circumstances, students can now enter an accelerated curriculum, called a post-baccalaureate program, to pack required science courses into one year.

Bryn Mawr, Johns Hopkins University and Wake Forest University, along with other institutions, choose a select number of students each year to enter their 12- to 14-month programs, designed to put individuals changing careers or non-premed students on the fast track to medical school. Their programs range from seven to 75 students.

Growing Trend

“Post-baccalaureate students weren’t that prevalent 20 to 25 years ago, and the ones who applied to medical school were subject to questions concerning their motivation for entering the field,” said David Trabilsy, Ed.S., director of the Johns Hopkins program. “But when the applicant pool dropped in the 1980s, medical schools realized these students could be valuable contributors, and their previous careers could add diversity to the school.”

Post-baccalaureate programs release students from the intense demands of premedical curricula during their  undergraduate years, Dr. Trabilsy said. They have the opportunity to focus on and develop other areas of interest before settling into the rigors of medical training.

Applicants selected for most post-baccalaureate programs must exhibit outstanding undergraduate work or accomplishments in their previous profession. But Wake Forest’s program, the smallest of the three, focuses on minority and disadvantaged students who cannot compete with typical applicants  for a medical school slot, said Brenda Latham-Sadler, M.D., the school’s associate dean of minority affairs.

“These students are average so they’re not good enough to get into medical school right out of undergraduate,” she said. “They’re right at the edge, so they might want to use the program to reinforce what skills they already have.”

Wake Forest post-baccalaureate students typically have a 2.5 grade point average and a 21 on the MCAT. The national average MCAT score is 24. Maintaining a post-baccalaureate program designed for nontraditional medical students helps create a more diversified face for academic medicine, Dr. Latham-Sadler said.

Once enrolled, students complete courses in four basic sciences that medical schools require: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. In addition, accepted students should already have completed calculus.

Relaxed Environment

According to Jodi Domsky, assistant dean of health professions at Bryn Mawr, post-baccalaureate  programs provide a less stressful, less competitive environment for students aspiring to be physicians. They find encouragement from both faculty and their classmates.

“The students work together, they study together and they get involved in special interest groups together,” Domsky said. “I think the students feel like there is a lot of individual support here.”

Each post-baccalaureate program works on a semester schedule with students with enrolling in the summer months and taking courses for the full year. In addition to class work, students have the option to gain hands-on experience by working in various clinics, often treating underserved populations.

Advisors also work with students throughout the year, monitoring their progress, reminding them of application deadlines and congratulating them on successes. Having advisors pay individual attention to students makes the rigorous program a bit more manageable, said Sasha Waring, a recent Bryn Mawr post-baccalaureate graduate.

“I feel like someone has taken a genuine interest in me,” he said. “It’s nice to have someone who cares about us and wants us to do well.”

After completing the program, students have the option to take a “glide year.” This time can be used for additional volunteer activities in medical clinics, as well as researching and applying to medical school. However, both Johns Hopkins and Bryn Mawr have linkage programs with various institutions that allow students to apply and commit to a particular medical school before completing the program, thus bypassing the glide year. Wake Forest does not have a linkage program or a glide year. Instead, the university strives to enroll its post-baccalaureate students in its own medical school as soon as they have completed the program.

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April 8, 2010 - Posted by | Healthcare | , , , , ,

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