Resources for advising Pre-Health Care students
Congratulations – you’re the new pre-health advisor! Now what?
Ruth O. Bingham and Beverley Childress
is no degree for this job, no prescribed training, not even a
“how-to” manual. People come to pre-health advising from many
paths – instructional faculty, professional academic advisors,
health practitioners, administrators, graduate assistants, or
staff hired specifically for the job. Most pre-health advisors
learn on-the-job from fellow advisors, building their expertise
based on the experiences and perspectives they bring with them.
are as many different ways to do this job as there are people
doing it. Some pre-health advisors are instructional faculty in
the natural sciences, offering guidance to students who choose
to come in for advice. Others are professional advisors who work
in a large department that includes full-time advisors, clerical
staff, and student assistants; they offer comprehensive pre-health
advising, present workshops, conduct mandatory advising sessions,
provide committee letters, track students, and compile statistics.
New pre-health advisors need to understand how pre-health advising
fits into the institution, the models and options available, and
the basic components in building a program that will suit the
institution, its population and resources.
following is a brief overview designed to make learning the new
job easier. A more in-depth article is slated for publication
in late 2008.
1: Finding Your Bearings
advising can be located almost anywhere within an institution:
in a specific college or department, in a campus-wide office,
in an academic unit or in a student affairs office. It can also
be an independent advising program or integrated into the institution’s
Pre-health advising can be located almost anywhere within an institution: in a specific college or department, in a campus-wide office, in an academic unit or in a student affairs office. It can also be an independent advising program or integrated into the institution’s advising system.
Wherever pre-health advising is housed, its location will impact its mission, values, and goals; funding; structure and administration of the program;what the pre-health advisor(s) can and cannot do about problems that affect students; and, most importantly,which students receive pre-health advising and whether some pre-health students slip through the cracks and receive none.
Diagramming the location of pre-health advising within the institution can help answer the following questions: How does pre-health advising fit into the institution? Does the institution use a centralized, decentralized, or shared system for pre-health advising?Do the pre-health advisors serve all pre-health students, or a specific college or population? What is the hierarchy for resolving problems? How is pre-health advising funded, and who controls the budget? Is pre-health advising located where it can do the most good for students?
- See more at: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Pre-Health-Advising.aspx#sthash.d0qI2asf.dpuf
Advisors often have to work with whatever structure and model they inherit; however, if the location or structure of pre-health advising is negatively impacting students and their success, advisors can facilitate change by working with their supervisors and other administrators.
Step 2: The Health Professions
There are literally hundreds of health fields. Students will ask about everything under the sun, including familiar fields, such as physician, nurse, or pharmacist, but also alternative medicine and fields such as radiologic technician, nurse anesthetist, medical educator, health administrator, nurse’s aide, or dental hygienist. It is easy to become overwhelmed: how can anyone possibly learn about all of them?
The short answer is that advisors cannot know everything but can learn how to find answers by using reference books, online resources, and colleagues’ expertise. In fact, knowing how to find answers is more useful than knowing the answers for two reasons: first, part of advising is teaching students how to find answers for themselves; second, the field of pre-health advising changes rapidly, so it is crucial to check current sources frequently for new information.
Pre-health advisors may find it helpful to learn about health fields in terms of the following basic categories. Each field will differ in details, but fields within a category will share similar educational paths, degrees of competitiveness, amounts of direct patient care, and levels of science/mathematics required. These categories do not represent a hierarchy, and it is imperative that they not be presented to students as such. It is also important to remember that there are significant exceptions in each category.
Diagnosing/Treating fields entail direct patient care from exceptionally well-educated practitioners. These fields are usually highly selective/competitive, require significant levels of science/mathematics, require or prefer a completed bachelor’s degree, and require a post-baccalaureate degree.
- Examples: dentists, optometrists,
physicians, podiatrists, and veterinarians.
Allied/Associated fields either are allied with or carry out prescribed
treatments from diagnosing/treating professionals. These fields
require well-educated practitioners and entail direct patient
care, usually more hands-on work than in diagnosing/treating fields,
and consequently require strong interpersonal skills. These fields
are moderately to highly selective/competitive, require moderate
to high levels of science/mathematics, and usually begin at the
undergraduate level, but can extend to the doctoral level.
- Examples: nurses, dieticians,
pharmacists, genetic counselors.
Rehabilitating fields also entail direct, hands-on patient care from
well-educated practitioners. They are usually moderately selective/competitive,
but can be highly selective/competitive if the number of applicants
far exceeds the number of available seats. Some require a completed
bachelor’s degree; others begin at the undergraduate level. Most
require moderate levels of science/mathematics and strong interpersonal
- Examples: audiologists, occupational
therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists,
Assisting/Adjunct fields support other health professionals and usually
entail primarily either direct patient care or hands-on applications.
These fields are minimally to moderately selective/competitive
and usually require minimal levels of science/mathematics. Some
can be completed with just a certificate; others require an associate’s
degree, a bachelor’s degree, or even a bachelor’s degree plus
- Examples: technologists, technicians,
assistants, or aides.
Educational fields assist patients and people with their health
and with the healthcare system. Selectivity depends upon the program
and degree sought, ranging from associate’s to bachelor’s degrees,
post-baccalaureate certificates, and graduate-level degrees. These
fields require little to no science/mathematics, but some science/mathematics
usually provides an advantage. Some require a background in education
or counseling, and a strong foundation in the humanities or social
sciences is helpful. Strong interpersonal skills are usually essential.
- Examples: dietary managers,
biomedical writers, mental health workers, health educators,
health science librarians.
Administrative fields assist or manage health organizations, not individual
patients. Selectivity depends upon the program and degree sought.
Degrees are offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
Courses in science are advantageous but not usually required.
Some degrees require a background in business, which includes
mathematics, and most require a strong foundation in the social
- Examples: nursing home directors,
geriatric care managers, health wellness coordinators, hospital
public relations officers, quality assurance directors, medical
secretaries, admitting officers.
Affiliated fields are independent but related to health care. These
fields vary widely: some require direct patient care while others
entail no patient care; some are science-based while others are
based more in the social sciences; some are highly selective,
others minimally selective. Most fields require a completed bachelor’s
degree plus a graduate-level degree, often a Ph.D.
- Examples: biomedical engineers,
biostatisticians, social workers, epidemiologists, athletic
trainers, environmental health scientists.
These categories provide a way of understanding the breadth of healthcare careers and can make it easier to advise students: as a first step, advisors can learn seven general pathways instead of scores of individual paths. More importantly, these categories can help advisors guide students in finding their best “fit” among healthcare careers – either in a related field within the same category, or in a different category altogether.
As examples, a pre-medical student may discover after a year or two that his or her strength does not lie in the sciences and changes to a better fit in an allied or educational field; a pre-nursing student who excels in science discovers while doing volunteer work that he or she does not enjoy nursing and switches to pharmacy; or a pre-medical student who excels in science and loves healthcare discovers he or she is uncomfortable working directly with patients and changes to an affiliated field such as biostatistics or epidemiology.
Step 3: Eight Essential Steps
Although there are scores of different health fields, the basic steps in preparing to enter the fields’ professional schools are often very similar. How well students manage these steps, with the assistance of their advisors, can significantly impact how competitive they will be when they apply.
Prerequisite courses must be completed in a timely manner in order for students to be eligible to graduate and/or apply to professional programs. These courses vary from school to school and program to program. Relevant issues include the acceptability of online, community college, and advanced placement courses; the need to take full-loads of the “science-major” courses with labs while earning above average grades; and whether requirements can be waived. To advise students well, advisors must be able to identify helpful resources, such as professional schools’ Websites, teach their students to use available resources, and determine which courses at their institutions are equivalent to the schools’ prerequisites.
Health-related experiences are essential in helping students confirm their desire to pursue a particular health profession. Most schools expect students to document their experiences in a variety of fields and in multiple settings. Advisors can establish shadowing programs but should expect students to make their own contacts and schedule their own shadowing visits.
Personal growth and development are integral
to the educational process for those pursuing careers in the health
professions. Professional programs assess the personal attributes
of applicants as well as their academic skills. Advisors should
encourage their students to engage in volunteer and leadership
activities that will help them learn about themselves and others.
Pre-health students must learn to assess honestly their strengths,
weaknesses, and suitability for a career of service.
Researching schools should begin as early as
possible. Advisors will need to have current and accurate resources
available so students can learn about a variety of schools/programs.
Students usually need assistance with narrowing their choices,
making reasonable decisions, and choosing an appropriate program.
Entrance exams are often a significant challenge
for many students. Required exams vary from school to school and
program to program, and students may need a variety of learning
strategies to perform well. Advisors can create a chart for the
major health professions that identifies the required exams, when
they should be taken, and effective preparation techniques.
The application process can sometimes be lengthy
and complicated. To assist their students, advisors can create
a Website with dates and deadlines, a “to do” checklist, links
to relevant sources of information, and links to the various professional
Preparing for interviews improves students’
chances of being accepted into professional schools but also prepares
students for life. Advisors can inform students about Websites
that provide interviewing tips and feedback about the interview
process at particular schools, set up mock interviews with representatives
from the local professional schools, and enlist their institution’s
career development office to videotape and critique applicants.
Financial aid planning to pay the high costs
of matriculating at a professional school is essential, but frequently
overlooked by both applicants and advisors. Perhaps the application
process itself is so stressful that applicants are just relieved
when accepted and do not worry about this final step. However,
the predominance of loans as opposed to grants or scholarships
that do not have to be repaid makes this step important. Advisors
can offer resources on financial assistance (Websites and print
materials, for example) that students can review for guidance.
Financial aid directors can also provide help for students who
are completing the myriad financial aid forms.
Step 4: Essential Components of a Pre-Health Advising Program
Many of the challenges in pre-health advising come from aspects of the job that lie outside face-to-face advising with students. Part of the job is understanding those aspects and how they impact advising and, ultimately, the students. There is no normative pre-health program; each institution develops a unique structure that works for it.
When the structure is not working, however, or when it needs to be improved, assessing the following components may suggest a solution or at least a direction to explore. Understanding these components and how they are functioning can help advisors communicate a program’s strengths and weaknesses to administrators. These components can also guide advisors in creating a plan of action.
- Information Delivery
Step 5: Advocating for Your Program
Pre-health programs thrive only when committed advisors advocate for them on a regular basis. Advisors must find ways to inform administrators about their programs, whether through annual written reports, inviting administrators to visit, or regular meetings. Administrators usually understand the link between funding and accountability, which means that advisors need to maintain statistics on the students’ and the program’s successes, challenges, and needs.
Step 6: Professional Development
Participating in professional development activities requires both time and money, but advisors cannot advise well without the current information, innovative ideas, professional experiences, and collaborations that hone advising skills. A poorly prepared advisor is worse than no advisor at all. To remain abreast of this rapidly-changing field, pre-health advisors should participate actively in professional associations such as the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP). Both associations provide online and printed materials, conferences, and Webcasts on relevant trends and topics. A wealth of literature about pre-health advising is readily available, and in-state professional schools often sponsor training sessions and open houses. An additional and significant benefit of professional development is the many opportunities to form relationships with other advising colleagues.
Step 7: Pre-Health Advising Resources
Academic Advising Association (NACADA):
organizations: 11 regions, including international membership
Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP):
organizations: CAAHP, NEAAHP, SAAHP, WAAHP
Journal: The Advisor
Professions listserv: firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Health Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, edited by Carol Baffi-Dugan, 7th edition.
Text: Premedical Advisor’s Reference Manual, edited by Carol
Baffi-Dugan, 9th edition.
Health Professions References:
Health Professions Career and Education Directory, American Medical Association.
Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), http://www.bls.gov/oco
2009 Magee's Medical School Manual: A Practical Guide to Getting Into Medical School,
http://premed.uark.edu/admission/interview.html (Only accessible if you have an iCloud account.)
Top 100 Health-Care Careers, Dr. Saul & Edith Wischnitzer, 2nd edition.
Epsilon Delta National Health Preprofessional Honor Society ( AED )
American Dental Association ( ADA )
Dental Education Association ( ADEA )
American Medical Association ( AMA )
of American Medical Colleges ( AAMC )
Chiropractic: American Chiropractic Association ( ACA )
on Chiropractic Education ( CCE )
Naturopathic: Council on Naturopathic Medical Education ( CNME )
Osteopathic: Association of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
( AACOM )
American Nursing Association ( ANA )
League for Nursing ( NLN )
Therapy: American Occupational Therapy Association ( AOTA )
Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry ( ASCO )
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy ( AACP )
Therapy: American Physical Therapy Association ( APTA )
Assistant: American Academy of Physician Assistants ( AAPA )
Assistant Education Association ( PAEA )
Association of American Colleges of Podiatric Medicine ( AACPM )
Health: American Public Health Association ( APHA )
American Veterinary Medical Association ( AVMA )
of American Veterinary Medical Colleges ( AAVMC )
Schools and Colleges, Admission Requirements:
Medicine: Medical School Admission Requirements ( MSAR )
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, www.aacn.nche.edu
Optometry: Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements ( SCOAR )
Pharmacy: Pharmacy School Admission Requirements by AACP
Podiatry: Association of American Colleges of Podiatric Medicine Information
Booklet by AACPM
Health: Association of Schools of Public Health, www.asph.org
Dentistry: AADSAS https://portal.aadsasweb.org/
Pharmacy: PharmCAS www.pharmcas.org
Podiatry: AACPMAS www.e-aacpmas.org
Public Health: SOPHAS www.sophas.org
Veterinary: VMCAS www.aavmc.org
Graduate Record Exam (GRE): www.gre.org
Pharmacy (PCAT): www.pcatweb.info
Ruth O. Bingham
University of Hawaii-Manoa
Chair, Health Professions Advising Interest Group
Cite the resource using APA style as:Bingham, R. & Childress, B. (2008). Congratulations-you're the new pre-health advisor! Now what? Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of the Academic Advising Resources Web Site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Pre-Health-Advising.aspx