Q&A with Drexel’s Pre-Health Advisor
November 15, 2019
Considering a career in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or other health-related fields? Drexel’s Pre-Health Advisor, Mary Beth Davis, PhD, is here to help! Davis shares answers to commonly asked questions and how to leverage Drexel’s resources to prepare for a health-related career.
Can you tell us a bit about your background before becoming Drexel’s Pre-Health Advisor?
In a sense I have had two careers — first as a genetics researcher and educator, and then as a pre-health advisor. My bachelor’s degree is in biology from Bryn Mawr College. My PhD is in genetics and developmental biology from Cornell University, and following my graduate studies, I was a research associate for several years studying the genetic regulation of muscle development in Drosophila melanogaster.
I then spent three years teaching genetics and biology courses at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges. My pre-health advising career began in 2000 at Bryn Mawr, where I was an Assistant Dean in Health Professions Advising, working with both the undergraduate pre-health and postbaccalaureate premedical programs.
What types of students do you generally work with, and what types of support do you provide?
As the Pre-Health Advisor at Drexel, I meet with undergraduates, alumni and graduate students from all colleges and programs to discuss exploring careers in the health professions, the course and experience requirements for admission to health professional schools, and the application processes. Most of the students are interested in becoming physicians; however, students interested in dentistry, physician assistant, pharmacy and optometry school, among other programs, also schedule appointments with me.
In addition to individual student appointments, I hold workshops throughout the year on the application process for medical and dental schools, interview preparation, financing medical and dental school, and writing personal statements. For students and alumni in the application process, I conduct mock interviews, and have run mock-MMI (multiple mini interview) events with assistance from Steinbright staff. Medical school admissions representatives have done info sessions, and there are separate sessions for students/alumni considering careers in military medicine.
Students considering a career in the health professions should subscribe to my email listserv to get announcements of my pre-health programs.
Any common misconceptions about preparing for medical or dental school?
Many students (and their parents!) feel that they need to rush to complete all the prerequisites, take the MCAT or DAT, and get clinical and community service experience in order to apply to medical or dental school by the end of junior year in order to go to professional school directly from college.
In the past 15 or so years, however, there has been a marked trend for students to take gap years between receiving their undergraduate degree and matriculating in medical or dental school. In fact, recent information from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicates that more than 60% of medical students took a gap year(s) before starting medical school. Taking a gap year gives students more time for preparation and enables them to present to admissions committees a complete undergraduate academic record.
Any questions or concerns that you hear again and again?
Students have many questions about course requirements and how to fit them into their plans of study. Following the changes to the MCAT in 2015, medical schools nationally have been making changes to their admissions requirements; for example, there is no standard list of prerequisite courses for admission to all schools. Most Philadelphia-area medical schools have a competency-based approach to admissions whereby there is no longer a formal course list; instead, there is list of scientific concepts and scientific competencies that medical school applicants need to demonstrate. (See admissions recommendations from Drexel’s College of Medicine for an example.) With students applying on average to 17 medical schools, many of my meetings focus on managing academic planning during this period of change in pre-med requirements.
Students are also concerned about the difficulty of admission to medical school, because they know that medical schools receive thousands of applications for often 250 or fewer places. These concerns are well-founded, because the national average science and math GPA for admission to allopathic medical schools is 3.66 and the national average acceptance rate is 41%. For these reasons, it is important for students to meet with me by early in their sophomore year so that we can discuss long term academic plans, a timeline for studying for and taking the MCAT, and the overall medical school application process.
How can students figure out if a health career is right for them?
Through shadowing, volunteering in a clinical setting, and doing informational interviews, students can gain exposure to a wide range of professions in the health care field. Many students with a strong interest in science and community service initially consider becoming a physician as an ideal career path. Yet, medicine is an interdisciplinary “team-sport” with many opportunities to work directly with patients, communities, health care policy, and health services administration. One great web site to learn more about careers in the health care sector is ExploreHealthCareers.org.