I have been working as an academic advisor for pre-health students for the past year. These students are undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students interested in attending graduate/professional programs in areas such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, etc. In the past year I have definitely learned a lot about higher education, but also a lot about pre-health student culture. When I was an undergraduate student I was pre-health, so it has been very intriguing to observe the culture through the eyes of a pre-health academic advisor.
The following are four major elements of pre-health student culture I have observed in the last year, as well as conversation topics I recommend that I have found helpful with students when these elements present themselves as issues.:
I have observed this influence of parents/family on my students as a result of cultural traditions, as well as students’ familiarity with the field due to a family member being employed as a health care professional. This can be a great influence, especially if students have family members who work in health care and may be able to provide them easier access to experiential learning opportunities (which can be difficult to find).
One example of this influence being difficult for pre-health students is when they feel pressured to study math and sciences, which are major academic subject areas required of pre-health students, but do not perform well in those subject areas. In this latter situation, academic advisors may want to help students understand their academic strengths and weaknesses. Then, if possible, either educate the students and families together, or educate the students about the success they can have with an educational and career path that differs from what their family wants, but is better for the student.
Unfamiliarity with the diversity in the health professions
I have observed this more with my new pre-health students (e.g. freshmen). Many times they are so set on a specific track in pre-health when they begin college, whether it is all they ever wanted to do or it was influenced by parents/family; they do not think to explore all of their pre-health options. Some of my students do not understand that the health care team is more than just physicians, nurses, and dentists. They all want to “help people” but are often unfamiliar with the fact that there are various professions in health care where they can help people.
When this element becomes an issue to students, academic advisors may want to encourage students to explore health care through:
- volunteer/shadowing opportunities;
- print and online health care career resources to help students see success in various health professions;
- and/or if it is more appropriate depending on the institution, refer students to a career counselor who specializes in the health professions.
Entering the workforce sooner than later
When I tell my students they may need to take a year off after graduation before they enter their graduate/professional program, or they may need to apply during a future application cycle instead of the current one, it raises many eyebrows and causes frustration in them. Students today are so eager to achieve their career goals and begin to make money that hearing it may take longer than expected to enter the workforce is sometimes pretty foreign to them.
When this element becomes an issue to students, academic advisors may want to:
- have a conversation about career goals and “trusting the process”;
- and/or encourage them to learn and grown during their extra time through campus involvement, internships, part-time work, service opportunities, etc.
Pre-health students tend to talk to each other to learn information about their specific track. Sometimes they learn accurate information from each other and sometimes they do not. The latter is often something I have to work through with my students.
When this element becomes an issue to students, academic advisors definitely need to have a conversation with students and compare what they have learning from their peers to actual policies and procedures. Academic advisors, when time permits, may also want to speak at student organization meetings or conduct workshops to help reduce the amount of inaccurate information being shared.