Adults changing careers get prescription for medical school

Premed programs for graduates are selective and expensive

April 22, 2001|By Nancy Knisley | Nancy Knisley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For some individuals, the decision to pursue a medical career is made after they have earned a degree and established a career in another field. Others realize that medicine is their calling when they are nearing college graduation - when it's too late to take the courses that would prepare them for medical school.

For such individuals, post-baccalaureate premed programs, offered by more than 100 schools nationwide, might be the answer.

The programs are for college graduates who majored in something other than science or who majored in science but did not take courses required for admission to medical school. They are intensive, one- to two-year, nondegree programs in which students can take calculus, lecture and laboratory science courses, such as organic chemistry, physics, cellular biology and genetics, and anatomy and physiology.

Towson University and Goucher College have long-standing post-baccalaureate premed programs - each boasting medical school admissions rates of at least 90 percent - and the Johns Hopkins University will offer a program beginning in the summer or fall.

The programs are not cheap: Goucher's tuition is $18,720; Hopkins plans to charge at least $19,665; and Towson's program has an in-state tuition of $6,528 and an out-of-state tuition of $15,238.

Admission is highly selective. The heads of the three programs say they are looking for students likely to meet the admission requirements of medical school.

Fierce competition

"Competition is very fierce. We reject far more applicants than we accept. We screen heavily at the front end," says Elizabeth Thompson, director of Goucher's program, which averages about 25 students, with a maximum of 30.

Frank Milio, director of pre-professional programs at Towson, explains that standards are high because the school tries to be realistic and does not admit students likely to have difficulty earning a spot at a medical school. "We have a cap of 15 students, but generally our enrollment is in the single digits," he said.

The program at Hopkins also will be highly selective, with an initial class of a dozen students, said Dave Trabilsy, director of the program and former assistant dean of admissions for the Hopkins School of Medicine.

More than MCAT scores

Trabilsy says that post-bac students are attractive candidates for admission at a time when medical schools look at more than a student's academic record and MCAT scores.

"Medical schools look for interesting and talented individuals. Post-bac students are people who have broader experiences. They are people who are accomplished. They have learned discipline, they have excelled, they have made long-term commitments."

Towson post-baccalaureate premed students Tara Cook, Amelia Randall, Trish Carlson and Dave Miller are examples.

Army captain

Cook, 30, who is considering a career in emergency medicine, is a graduate of West Point with a major in math.

"During my junior year, I started thinking about medical school - but you can't change majors at West Point," she said.

She spent five years as a captain in the Army Signal Corps. "My work in the Army was intellectually challenging and stimulating, but I learned I didn't like working with inanimate objects. I liked working with people."

Volunteer work at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore "really piqued my interest in medicine," she says.

Career crossroads

Randall, 32, the mother of two young sons, said she considered a medical career while in high school but discovered how much she liked computers during a Yale summer program.She decided to pursue a degree in business administration with a computer science core at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala.

However, the idea of attending medical school stayed with her during the eight years she moved up the ladder at a large corporation in Washington. When she reached a career crossroad, she decided it was time to pursue her goal of becoming a pediatrician.

"It was meant to happen," she said of her new career path.

`Social impact'

Carlson, 30, started college as a dance major before switching to business administration.

"I was immature. I didn't know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

After graduating from James Madison University, she earned her master's degree in business and worked for seven years in the information technology industry.

"I kept thinking about med school. I liked working with people. I wanted to do something with social impact. The idea of helping companies make money for the rest of my life was depressing."

Miller, 24, started as a premed major at University of Maryland, College Park.

"But during the first semester of my junior year, I took a business finance course that I really liked, so I switched majors." After graduation, he entered a financial management training program for a major national corporation. "I found I was doing lots of corporate accounting. I decided, `This isn't what I wanted to do.'"

Carlson says she regrets not having pursued a medical career earlier.

`I'd already be there'

"If I had done this before, I'd already be there," she says. "I might have done this sooner if I had been aware of the programs."

Miller, who wants to be a pediatrician, says, "One of the reasons I got back into medicine was my experience in the business world. I have no regrets. Experiencing what else was out there solidified my direction."

Information about post-baccalaureate premedical programs:

Goucher College, Elizabeth Thompson, director, Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, 410- 337-6559.

The Johns Hopkins University, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Dave Trabilsy, director, Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, 410-516-7748.

Towson University, Frank Milio, director, Pre-Professional Programs, 410-704-3111.

Programs nationwide: Association of American Medical Colleges, ering/postbac.htm.

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