How will you prepare for your healthcare career?
Preparing for a career in health can (and in some cases should) start as early as your first year in college. Programs want to see that you have been thoughtful in your decision to pursue your health career of choice and that you have taken the appropriate steps to get there. In order to be a competitive applicant, these are some things that you should consider:
*These descriptions include links to more information and resources.
The UW's Pre-Health Prepare site is a great resource that provides information on course planning with career-specific planning guides, a frequently asked questions space, and information on what health professional schools look for.
The National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions also provides this at-a-glance chart for viewing health professions schools' application services. The document includes links and is a fantastic resource for comparing application requirements and processes.
Course Planning - Prerequisites
This involves knowing the appropriate coursework required (prerequisites) for your intended health program and balancing it with major and graduation requirements. Create a spreadsheet of the programs you're applying to so that you can track each one's specific prerequisites. Select the right sequence in collaboration with your academic advisor. Visit the Coursework page to learn more about the courses generally required for professional health programs.
Gaining Exposure & Experience in Healthcare Settings
Experience in healthcare is the best way to demonstrate your alignment with the field. Some programs require a set amount of hours. It is always in your best interest, no matter the requirements, to get some experience in a health care setting. Journal about your experiences to provide yourself an invaluable resource at application time. Think about experiences that will shape the kind of healthcare professional you want to be. Visit Getting Experience to learn about opportunities to engage in the healthcare field as early as possible.
Almost every health program requires students to complete an entry exam and the specific exam varies based on the health field. For example, students interested in medical school take the MCAT while students interested in pharmacy take the PCAT. Create a column in your spreadsheet where you're tracking programs of interest, and view those programs' websites to learn which entry exam is required. Typically, these are taken a full year prior to your intended start date in the program; however, you will have to check with the specific school for their recommendation on when to take your entry exam. Students usually need a certain amount of coursework completed in order to be successful on the exam. It is highly recommended that you study for these entry exams and take practice tests to gauge your readiness. Study guides and other resources can be found on the Pre-Health Advising Exams page.
Professional health programs like to see well-rounded individuals and compassionate citizens. This doesn’t mean signing up for every club and/or leadership opportunity on campus or in your community. Choose to be involved in things that are meaningful to you. Are you passionate about music? Or maybe you care about children and want to get involved in a community youth program? Or perhaps there is a club on campus that promotes social justice awareness that interests you? Whatever it is that you decide to be involved in, make sure there is a meaningful connection and engage with it in depth.
This may or may not be a requirement for professional health programs. You’ll have to research the individual programs to know for sure. Ultimately, it is up to you and your professional interests. If research is a passion of yours, then it will only help your application if you get some research experience. Connect with your advisors and faculty members to see what research opportunities may be available to you. Contact UWB’s Undergraduate Research program at http://www.uwb.edu/research/undergraduate-research.
The most important thing to keep in mind when approaching people for letters of recommendation, shadowing opportunities, or even the admissions staff at the school you are applying to, is to always be professional, respectful, and grateful. People tend to be more responsive to this approach, and it speaks to your character as a future health professional.
Letters of Recommendation
Every school will require letters of recommendation. Make lasting connections with your faculty members, advisors, supervisors in professional settings, health care professionals that you’ve worked with, etc. Everyone has had to ask for a letter of recommendation at some point and most people are happy to provide good recommendations if approached the right way. Approach individuals who can speak to your interest in and capacity for the program to which you are applying.
Here are some things to consider to ensure that your letters are effective:
- Every program will have slightly different requirements, so be sure to do your research. Not only will it vary in the quantity required, but they might be very specific about who they want the letters from.
- Start thinking about who you will approach to write your letters of recommendation. It is important that you've made connections with faculty on your campus and have good relationships with professionals in your chosen field, especially those that you've shadowed. These relationships will serve you well when it's time to ask for letters of recommendation. Also, make sure that you are identifying people that really know you and can speak to who you are as a student, a person, and a future healthcare professional.
- Once you've identified who you want to ask, be sure to ask them with enough lead time. Do not make any last minute requests! You will normally gather letters of recommendation during your third year in order to meet application deadlines early in your fourth/final year. It is okay to identify these people even earlier in the process, even if you're 2-3 years away from applying.
- Try to set up meetings with the people that you are asking to write letters for you. Treat it like a job interview and bring a cover letter and a resume. Give the potential writer as much information about you as possible. Also, be specific with them about your goals and why you are pursuing this particular field.
- If you are feeling intimidated or uncomfortable by this process, feel free to meet with the Natural Science & Pre Health Professional Pathways Advisor about how to approach potential letter writers. Always remember, the people that you are approaching to write letters of recommendation have been in your shoes! We have all had to ask for letters of recommendation. Just be sure that your approach is respectful (both in timeliness and manner), professional, and appreciative. And always send a thank you note for their support.
Almost every graduate program you apply to will require a personal statement or a series of short essays. Not only does this serve as a writing sample but it is also an opportunity to convince the admissions committee that they want to meet with you in person. It is an opportunity to showcase your strengths, personal stories, and your passion and commitment to your chosen field. Because it is such an important aspect of your application, you must devote the appropriate amount of time and thought to your statement.
This document provides an overview of Health Professions Personal Statement Prompts with links to the resources for the various standardized applications.
Here are some tips for a successful personal statement:
- Your personal statement could take a full month to write so give yourself enough time. Create a schedule for yourself that includes several drafts and edits.
- Utilize your resources! At UWB there are many people on campus that can help you shape your personal statement. The Writing and Communication Center, the office of Merit Scholarships, Career Services, the Natural Science & Pre Health Professional Pathways Advisor, and some of your faculty will be willing to read your essay and give you suggestions for improvement.
- The first draft is the "down draft," which means, just get everything down on paper. Try not to overthink it - just write. Once you have something on paper, then you can start to shape it into the personal statement that you will ultimately submit.
- Do your research! Look at the institution's website, read the school's mission statement, and get to know the program you are applying to.
- The reader needs to feel enthusiastic about you as an applicant. Reflect on the ways in which you will bring value to this program and this field. Getting admitted into your program of choice needs to be mutually beneficial to you and the program admitting you.
- Think about showing versus telling. Anyone can say that they want to be a health professional, but your essay needs to show the reader your alignment with the field.
image: physician burnout; source: medicaleconomics.com
Physician Burnout is Real. How can premeds prepare?
There are a lot of efforts being made to support and reduce the realities of physician burnout. One being, good leadership. AMA offers this article on four compassionate leader behaviors. [click.convertkit-mail2.com]
Here are 7 tips for premed and current medical students on how to avoid "the burn." Read them on the MSHQ blog, here [click.convertkit-mail2.com]. And a related episode from the Premed Years Podcast on how to avoid burnout as a premed student, med student, and physician [click.convertkit-mail2.com].
As you prepare yourself for applying to professional health programs, use this Self-Assessment Tool to determine your next steps. Apply when you are really ready for the process - it's a lengthy one!