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Forgotten health professions: Checking in with Rice’s pre-health students

Lily Remington / Thresher

By Allison He     9/20/22 11:48pm

Rice has scores of undergraduates interested in pursuing a health profession. Roughly 40% of advising cases at the Office of Academic Advising are for health professions, according to Director of Academic Advising Christine Martinez. But many pre-health students — such as those looking to pursue dentistry, physical therapy or physician assistant — said they experience a lack of advising and resources compared to those offered to pre-meds. 

Martinez said that Office of Academic Advising advisors are trained to have a breadth of knowledge across health professions. 

“All of our advisors are registered as official health professions advisors with the Association of American Medical Colleges,” Martinez said. “We regularly attend info sessions for various programs and annually attend conferences for our professional organizations including the National Academic Advising Association, National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions and Texas Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, to name a few.”

But despite the OAA advisors’ qualifications, some students said that their advisors did not seem very knowledgeable in pre-health professions other than pre-med.

Kofo Thomas, a Wiess College sophomore pursuing pre-physical therapy, said the OAA did not provide her advice specific to pre-physical therapy. 

“I met with the OAA who also didn’t really know about pre-PT and requirements,” Thomas said. “A lot of [advisors] tend to group it with pre-med because there are similar requirements, but they’re also different when you look at the specifics.” 

Elizabeth Quach, a Duncan College sophomore pursuing the pre-physician assistant track, said the OAA’s advice on pre-health professions lacked specificity.

“I used the Office of Academic Advising for specifically the pre-health professions, and [they weren’t] that useful,” Quach said. “They were very general and said ‘you should ask your Peer Academic Advisors,’ who I asked, and they said to go to the Office of Academic Advising.”

Ginny Qian, a Hanszen College senior, said that the lack of advising for pre-PA left her feeling isolated and propelled her to reach out to others for help. 

“Figuring everything out myself and finding [resources] was really frustrating because I felt really alone,” Qian said. “But I think what’s really important is to stress outreach. If you put your name out there … it’s guaranteed you’ll find a community.”

Not all pre-health students found little guidance from the OAA advisors. Pablo Alarcon, a Duncan College senior and co-president of the Rice Pre-Dental Society, said that OAA advisor Marcos Canales mentors members of the Rice Pre-Dental Society. 

“[Canales] is always involved in the Pre-Dental Society. You see him going to pretty much all our big meetings,” Alarcon said. “He always sends us a lot of opportunities like mock interviews [and] workshops. I did my meeting for Open File with him, and I think that was really helpful.” 

In addition to offering advising, the OAA facilitates of the Open File process for medical and dental school applicants, freshman and sophomore health profession sessions and a health professions newsletter, according to Martinez. The Open File process gives the Health Professions Advising Committee information to draft evaluations for health profession graduate school applicants, according to the Open File webpage. Such resources are posted to the OAA’s Pre-Health Professions webpage.

“This webpage includes our Pre-Medical and Pre-Dental guide, AP Credit List for Medical Schools, links to special programs and test preparation resources,” Martinez said. 

For McMurtry College senior Grace Waterman, the abundance of on-campus resources for pre-meds is one of the reasons she transitioned from pre-dental to pre-med. 

“I was always kind of on the cusp, like ‘Do I wanna go to medical or dental school?’ Waterman said. “But there were more resources at Rice and more opportunities for me to see the medical path rather than dental.” 

The OAA also has an Allied Health Guide webpage specifically for students pursuing non-premed health professions. According to Sofia Roa, a Jones College senior pursuing pre-physical therapy, the Allied Health Guide provides insufficient guidance for many pre-health students.  

“I think there’s so much more that can be done than having a singular webpage that has all these pre-health sources that, when you click on the link, leads you to this [nationwide] professional organization,” Roa said.

Aryana Suhartono, a Hanszen sophomore pursuing the pre-physician assistant track, said that the lack of available resources for pre-physician assistants makes it difficult to gauge their quality . 

“Because there are so few resources available, there’s not much to judge,” Suhartono said. “In terms of mentoring and advising, I wouldn’t say there’s great quality just because it’s not available.”

Roa said there is a lot that Rice can and should do to improve the quantity and quality of resources for all pre-health students. 

“There’s always room ... to have our voices heard and to have access to similar quality and quantity of resources and not just have the professional organization website,” Roa said. “Have Rice-specific classes [and information on] whether AP classes will be accepted into this certain PT program or vet-school program, whatever it may be.”

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