How to Prepare For Your Career in a Health Profession
Your first year (freshman, returning or transfer year) at ASU really is the beginning of your medical, dental, optometry, podiatry, chiropractic or physician assistant career. To be as competitive as possible, follow the advice outlined here and start preparing for your health career right now. Ask anyone on the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC) for help at any time.
Study and earn good grades
Read that again. YES, it really is that important and YES, you actually do need to study every day.
A good rule of thumb is to study for two to three hours outside of class for every class hour you are enrolled in. This may be dramatically different from your experience in high school or junior/community college.
You should strive to earn an A in each of your courses, but especially those in the sciences. Grades of C and D will not do you any favors with admissions committees because medical, allied health and professional schools rarely accept students who earn consistently poor grades. If you do get an interview, you may be asked about grade deficiencies on your transcript.
Take 15-17 hours every semester
In medical school, you will take the equivalent of 20-25 hours each semester, so it is very important to establish that you can do well at the typical undergraduate level.
Taking less than 15 hours a semester means you: 1) will not graduate in four years, 2) will not have your prerequisites completed in time to apply for a health profession school during your junior year, and 3) could make schools skeptical of your abilities to handle a full load. There are exceptions, so be sure to ask.
Take at least two lab science courses each semester
Again, because you will be taking nothing but sciences in medical, allied health or professional school, you need to establish that you can successfully do this at the undergraduate level.
Students who take only one lab science course each semester can influence schools to question their ability to do science course work within a normal academic load.
In addition, you need to have most of your prerequisite science courses completed by your junior year, so that you can apply for and take any required entrance exams at that time.
Choose a major based on “Plan B”
There is no such thing as a major in pre-med, pre-dentistry, etc. Since it is possible that a career in health care may not work out for you, it is essential to choose a “Plan B” academic field, which can be any major offered by ASU.
Choose a biology degree if your alternative is to become a biologist or to earn master’s and/or doctorate degrees and become a researcher and/or college professor. If your back-up plan is to become a certified public accountant, major in accounting with minors in biology and chemistry.
Get the idea? We want to visit with you early in your career about majors and how to make an intelligent choice.
Start “helping people” now
Many people want to be physicians, dentists, etc., because they want to help people. That is great, but schools will want to see long-term evidence of this, and high school does not count.
Find a volunteer organization that you like and participate regularly. Good examples are Meals for the Elderly drivers, YMCA or Little League coaches, tutors and church group volunteers. Some schools prefer medical volunteerism, but just make sure you are consistently helping people in some way.
Participate in extracurricular activities
Health professions schools are usually not interested in someone who just studies all the time.
You also need to demonstrate that you can interact well with others as well as develop organizational, time management and leadership skills. This means getting involved in on- or off-campus activities, organizations or sports and helping people (see above) while maintaining a great GPA. Tri-Beta (biology), the American Chemical Society and the Society of Physics Students are great examples of organizations that can benefit you.
If you can do well in your studies, help people and manage your time, schools will know that you have what it takes to be successful.
Start writing a personal statement
This is a one- to three-page essay that describes why you want to go into the health professions. It should be an accurate description of your motivation for entering health care and it should be well-written and without errors.
Start by writing down a few ideas and revisit them often. You should also carefully consider what your personal strengths and weaknesses are and how these would help or hinder you in your field. We also strongly suggest journaling your thoughts and experiences concerning all aspects of health care.
Know the pros and cons of your field
Health professions schools really want you to know what you are getting into, so take some time to explore all the positives and negatives of whatever health field you are interested in.
ASU will help you set up “shadowing” experiences during your junior year to facilitate this. (We have certain GPA and credit hour requirements, so please ask.) Again, we strongly suggest journaling all of your medical shadowing and volunteering experiences.
Learn about managed care
This is extremely important. You should understand how insurance, HMOs, PPOs, POS, Medicare and Medicaid impact health care. You should also know what they are, when and why they were started and whether you think they are doing what they were designed to do.
Health professions schools are likely to ask you about these during interviews.
Explore the issues
You need to know what issues health care practitioners are concerned about in their professions, especially those that are controversial (i.e., stem cells, abortion, euthanasia, etc.). To start learning, you need to explore the issues in relevant journals and web pages. Keep up-to-date on current events, research findings, politics, etc., and how they impact health care in your field of interest.
Know your current events
Lately, this has been a sticking point with health professions schools. Many students have been asked current events questions during interviews only to be embarrassed because they were not aware.
The message is to not exist in isolation from the world around you. You need to be able to speak knowledgeably and in detail about current events, politics and local, state and federal government policies, especially if they concern health care, and be able to discuss both sides of any issue.
You might consider subscribing to a news magazine, such as Time, Newsweek or the Wall Street Journal. It is also helpful to watch the news daily.
Consider breadth and depth in your coursework
Science courses are very important, of course, but many professional schools suggest that students diversify their studies to have a more balanced world view or perspective.
In the eyes of health professions schools, courses in foreign languages, philosophy, fine arts, ethnic and cultural diversity, etc., will help you broaden your horizons and gain valuable thought processes and problem-solving skills. These are tools every health care provider needs.
Consider studying abroad or doing research
While each of these alone will not guarantee admission to health professions school, they are good experiences to have. Schools like students who are grounded in empiricism (science) and have a broad world view.
ASU has many study abroad opportunities, so please ask. Most faculty are available to oversee and partner with you on research projects, usually starting your sophomore or junior year. ASU is widely known for it success in both these areas.
Start preparing for your entrance exam now
Do not underestimate its importance! Low or non-competitive scores on entrance exams are the primary reason students are not admitted. Whether you are taking the MCAT (medicine, podiatry), DAT (dentistry), OAT (optometry) or GRE (physician assistant, podiatry and some chiropractic colleges), we recommend becoming very familiar with these exams now and maybe even studying for them.
Most students take these exams in their junior year and most study a lot (entire semesters or all summer) before taking them. The take-home message is to focus seriously and prepare well, just like you would any major college exam.
Again, please remember that you will be judged on your score, and it will make or break your career in the health professions. It is also a good idea to start researching schools, examining their curricula and learning their mission statements.
Visit your health care advisors regularly
The application process is stringent and, in many cases, very particular and detailed. To ensure that you are on the right path, you must contact your advisor as soon as possible to discuss selecting your major. This is so we can develop an academic program that will satisfy the requirements of both your major and the professional schools that you are interested in.
Information concerning majors and admission requirements of health professions schools (including many subtleties specific to your health care field and certain schools) is available from your advisor. Regular student conferences are required. At the minimum, you will need to visit with us two to three times a year to register for classes. We are here to help, so drop by any time.
How and when do I apply?
We will work closely with you throughout the applications process, which usually begins in your junior year. This is so we can provide you with the latest updates from health professions schools, check on your progress and give you the necessary guidance in the application process.
At ASU, you must apply through the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC). The HPAC is made up of biology and chemistry faculty, who compile what is called your Health Professions Evaluation (HPE). This document is what most schools require or prefer when you apply via the online application service known as the Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS).
Summary of Admissions Requirements
- A well-rounded, rigorous curriculum or course of study.
- Regular visits with your pre-health advisors and advisors of your particular major.
- A Health Professions Evaluation (HPE) compiled by members of the HPAC.
- Evidence of strong academic performance and communication skills (3.5-3.8 GPA in 15-17 credit hour semesters). A 3.25 GPA is the minimum for most professional schools.
- Excellent entrance exam scores. (Do NOT take these lightly!)
- Strong evidence of “helping people.”
- Strong evidence of time-management skills (extracurricular activities on and off campus and/or employment along with a full academic load).
- The ability to get along with people and a strong motivation for medicine, dentistry, etc.
- A realistic idea of how medicine is practiced by staying abreast of current events AND shadowing doctors, dentists or podiatrists or volunteering in a hospital. ASU can help arrange your shadowing (clinical) experience in your junior year.
- Required courses for most health care fields include 16-21 hours of chemistry, 16-21 hours of biology, eight hours of physics and six to 15 hours of math.
- All of your science courses should be taken at Angelo State. We do not recommend taking your sciences outside of ASU.