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You Can Still be a Doctor (Dentist, Vet or Nurse) Even if You Weren’t Pre-Med

Students with life-long plans to pursue a career in medicine are oft-considered the most steadfast of the collegiate bunch — and with good reason. They make calculated decisions to major in biochemistry, and by junior year, plow through their pre-med requirements, leaving them more than prepped for their entrance exams. And for those students, medical school acceptance is swift and expected. But for people who complete bachelor of arts degrees and decide to pursue professional health careers after graduation, the path is a bit different, but nonetheless attainable with a post-baccalaureate pre-health program.

People who find themselves seriously considering a switch to a professional health industry (like medical, dental, nursing or veterinary schools), but have taken few if any of the required prerequisite courses (think: organic chemistry, biology and physics) or wish to bolster their credentials, will find that these programs, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s post-baccalaureate Pre-Health Programs, are exactly the academic stepping stones needed to successfully gain admittance into competitive postgraduate programs.

And folks from a variety of academic backgrounds complete the program because, as it turns out, the desire to help people is independent of academic program, as was discovered by Alana Carstens, a 2015 alumni of Penn’s program.

Though she grew up in a family of physicians, Carstens completed her undergraduate education in humanities and Latin American studies at Scripps College. Following graduation, she worked in international marketing at a hospital in Managua, Nicaragua and spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. However, it wasn’t until she watched the documentary, Half the Sky which depicts an emotionally evocative scene in a Somaliland maternity hospital, that she realized the best way for her to affect change on a person-to-person level was to pursue a career in medicine.

After speaking with friends and family members who completed similar post-baccalaureate programs, Carstens applied and was accepted to Penn. The decision to attend, she says, was made easy thanks to the program’s rigor, flexibility and location. She also utilized Penn’s advisors, resources and network.

“[Faculty and administrators] are willing to take you under their wings, and mentor you. I thought [attending] would be a daunting thing and it was not.”

Students in Penn’s program may select from two tracks: the core studies program and the specialized studies program. The former is for students who have little or no previous coursework in the sciences, while the latter is for those who already have a significant scientific background.

The program also offers a bevy of co-curricular opportunities. Carstens participated in a journaling club and co-led a book club, feeding her passion for fiction and narrative. Two methods, she says, that will help her become a better physician. But there are also many opportunities for volunteer work, research and tutoring. Carstens, who worked part time on a clinical study, says, “[Penn] is great at posting jobs and volunteering positions.” Likewise, the Pre-Health Programs team organizes a variety of carefully designed workshops and special speaker events to better prepare students for their post-program endeavors.

The curriculum is rigorous, to be sure, but these programs are also a strategic and essential step to prepare students for professional health careers. And to prospective students wary of jumping back into science classes? Carstens has this to say:

“At the end of the day, it’s the determination to do it. To do anything, it just requires hard work.”

For more information about Penn’s post-baccalaureate Pre-Health Programs, attend a virtual information session on Tuesday, September 22nd from 5:30 to 6:30pm at the University of Pennsylvania.