Premed advising gets a check-up

Being a premed is famously difficult, but students say the advising and support systems in place at Yale are not making it any easier.

Ten of 14 premed students interviewed said they are not satisfied with the Undergraduate Career Services program, complaining of long wait times for appointments and a lack of personalized attention from UCS advisers. And administrators have taken notice: J. Michael McBride, a chemistry professor, said he is writing a report on the Health Professions Advisory Program for the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising, although he and the chair of the committee declined to comment further on the review.

In the meantime, Rosalinda Garcia, director of La Casa Cultural, said she has discussed with administrators the possibility of allowing premed students failing prerequisite courses to drop the classes in question and be tutored through the remaining coursework without earning credit.

“We’ve discussed it briefly, and I think the idea deserves consideration,” Garcia said. “We have a responsibility to every student that comes to Yale, and we take that seriously. Anything that might help our students deserves a good look.”

Students interviewed said UCS fails to provide personalized attention and individual career counseling based on individual needs. Instead, they said, advisers gauge their competitiveness as applicants and help with organization rather than providing meaningful support.

First, students attend a mandatory meeting during their junior year in order to fill out a card declaring their intention to apply to medical school. In January, they must submit a four-page autobiography and resume to UCS, followed by an interview with a Yale Medical School student later in the spring. According to Yale’s official guide for students applying to medical school, the autobiography helps UCS to support students’ applications.

“They gauge how competitive you are as an applicant,” said a junior who wished to remain anonymous to avoid affecting his relationship with UCS. “There’s nobody you can be honest with because you have to present your best face forward to the med schools, to UCS and to your professors. There’s no real sense that they care about you.”

John Karpinski ’12 said he has shied away from UCS advisers after a discouraging experience last semester. Karpinski said he visited UCS advisers for guidance on how to improve his math and science grade point average, which dropped after he earned “a poor mark” in one of the prerequisite courses for medical school. The UCS adviser did not explicitly tell him that his situation was not promising, Karpinski said, but he still felt that the adviser was not optimistic about his prospects for medical school.

“If you do poorly in one of the premed requirements, they don’t seem really interested in getting you back on track,” Karpinski said. “They don’t offer you much encouragement.”

Since then, Karpinski said, his academic adviser has been his primary source for guidance related to his premed studies. Karpinski’s adviser encouraged him to retake the course, Karpinski said, which he plans to do next year.

Monica Liu ’11 said she turns to fellow premed students more than to UCS for advice. Despite this, Liu said she is pleased with the quantity and quality of resources available to premed students through UCS and the Science and Quantitative Reasoning Center.

While Liu said she thinks tutoring services available through the Science and QR Center are popular among her fellow premed students, coordinator Frank Robinson was not so certain. Robinson said the center, which administers residential college tutoring services and longer-term support through its Science and QR Tutoring program, does not track how many premed students take advantage of tutoring services.

Karpinski said he has taken advantage of the tutoring services for three of his courses, but added that he learned of their availability through his residential college dean. In one instance, he had to request approval from his organic chemistry teaching fellow in order to get tutoring.

As part of the review of the Health Professions Advisory Program, McBride sent an e-mail to freshman organic chemistry students past and present, asking for anecdotes and feedback about the University Career Service’s Health Professions Advisory Program.

Undergraduate Career Services Director Phil Jones, who made a presentation to the review committee about UCS programs, said the review is “a comprehensive look on advising in general” and is not specific to health advising.

Yale’s success in the medical school application process itself may prove that the UCS program is working, Jones said: in the last decade, acceptance rates for Yale students and alumni applying to medical school have risen by about 10 percent, from 80 percent to about 90 percent. Though there may not be a correlation, he said, he believes advising is satisfactory for most students based on their increasing success rates.

Still, Jones said, UCS has its own evaluation processes, which students who have worked with health advisers from UCS fill out each year.

“Yale students are hardly ever shy to tell us what they think,” he said, adding that survey respondents’ greatest concern in recent evaluations has been wait time for booking appointments. In response, UCS hired a second full-time premed adviser, Jones said, and he does not expect delays to be a problem any longer.

Seven percent of the class of 2008 went on to attend medical school, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

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