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As with any career or professional interest, you should research and consider all of your options, get experience and spend some time reflecting on your strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Below are some of the primary things to consider as you are evaluating your options as a future health care professional. Although some of the information is more specifically targeted towards pre-med students, these areas should be evaluated for anyone considering a professional or graduate program.
Although this may seem like a very basic question, it is one that you will come back to repeatedly. Through application materials, admissions interviews, informal discussions and personal reflections you will ask yourself this question. Put some thought into your response and try to go beyond “I want to help people.” Helping people is an excellent reason but may not provide you with sustained focus and motivation to reach your ultimate goal.
Whether you are deciding on a major or career, self-reflection and self-assessment are big parts of the discernment process. You are highly encouraged to keep a journal to document these reflections. Over time you may see trends in your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and challenges. Start journaling early! Freshman year is not too early to start.
Most health professions require training and certification beyond a baccalaureate (undergraduate) degree. For example, beyond a baccalaureate degree, medicine (allopathic, osteopathic or podiatric), generally requires by four years in medical school, plus one to eight more years of internship/residency, depending on what area of medicine you choose. Likewise, training for dentistry, optometry and veterinary medicine generally takes four years beyond your baccalaureate degree. Some people take specialty training beyond professional school.
Training for careers such as pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, and nursing varies significantly. For example, you might earn an associate's degree in nursing in a community college program in 2 years, or earn a Bachelor's Degree in four years and then a Master's in another two or three years, in order to become a nurse practitioner. Physician assistant programs generally have prerequisite college courses for entry, and take about 1-1/2 to 2 years to complete for a certificate or a bachelor's degree. Programs vary from school to school in physical therapy and in pharmacy. In both areas, programs have been changing away from Bachelor's or Master's to Ph.D. or Pharm.D. levels, which is essential for licensing of people entering the profession.
You are encouraged to utilize the resources and links provided for additional information on expected timelines related to professional programs, trainings and education.
Like undergraduate tuition at public and private schools, at professional and graduate school tuition varies significantly. For example the class starting in fall 2010 at the University of Washington Medicine, tuition for one year (3 quarters, full time) was $23,049 for state residents and $52,029 for non-residents¹. For the class starting at the same time at Saint Louis University School of Medicine (a private school at about the middle of the private cost range) tuition was $46,600 per year² . Again, you are encouraged to do some research on your programs of interest.
Very little scholarship money is available for medical school, so most people attending medical school take out loans. According to Association of American Medical Colleges, the average debt of the 2009 graduating class was over $156,000³. Financial aid officers at the medical schools encourage prospective students to keep their debt loads down as much as they can before coming to medical school and to restrain their use of credit cards for optional spending so that their credit record is good when it comes time to borrow money for medical school.
If you are a resident of a western state, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, or WICHE, may be helpful. In this program, residents of thirteen western states, including Alaska and Hawaii, can obtain professional training which is not available to them in their home states, usually paying reduced or resident tuition, with their home states paying a support fee to the admitting schools. For example, there are no schools of optometry in the state of Washington, and Washington state residents may qualify for reduced tuition to attend optometry schools in Oregon and California. Each state determines the fields and number of students they will support. You need to consult with your state's certifying officer to find out what your opportunities may be. Since there are limits on the number of students each state will support, it is to your advantage to consult EARLY! Plan to talk with the certifying officer no later than early summer of the year preceding the one you want to be enrolled in professional school.
A few other scholarship and loan payback options are available for consideration:
All of these services have health professions recruiters in the Seattle area who can talk with you about such programs.
Certainly, being strong in the area of math and science are critical to being successful as a pre-health student. Having a strong GPA and solid test scores are important as well. However, academic achievements alone will not lead you to your desired health profession. Admissions officers and employers are looking for a well-rounded applicant. Some areas to consider:
Look at each of these areas and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. Continue to build on your stronger areas and create a plan to address deficiencies. Don’t forget to use your journal!
¹See http://uwmedicine.washington.edu/Education/MD-Program/Current-Students/Information-Resources-Technology/resources-services/Financial-Aid/Pages/Budget-Information.aspx ²See http://medschool.slu.edu/sfs/index.php?page=schedule-of-rates ³See http://www.aamc.org/programs/first/debtfactcard.pdf
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