A Launchpad to Medical Success
News of Note
Smith’s health professions advising office empowers students to thrive in medical careers
Smith may not offer a traditional pre-med program, but it does have a powerful resource through the Lazarus Center for Career Development to assist students who want to pursue that professional path. The health professions advising office guides students interested in any career involving medicine or health care, including veterinary medicine, nursing, physical therapy, and dentistry. That guidance starts with a student’s curiosity about career options and goes all the way through the intense process of applying to medical or other types of schools.
“We try to be a one-stop shop,” says Elly Mons, director of health professions advising. “We work with a board of faculty health professions advisers representing different majors and divisions in the college. We’re here to be the coaches and the advisers to help students figure out what is the best path for them.”
Mons invites all students and alums to access the office for information and support. “We work with them to create a plan and help point them toward resources,” she says. Services include helping students gain clinical experience through internships, counseling students on their choice of classes, and offering discounted workshops to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or Dental Admission Test (DAT). Among the most valuable resources, however, is the network of Smith alums working in the medical field. They volunteer to assist the health professions advising office in myriad ways, doing presentations, conducting mock interviews, assessing coursework, mentoring students, and more.
“I’ve worked at other institutions where we did not interact with the alum network in the way that we do here,” Mons says. “Who better to speak to our students than someone who was making a lot of the same decisions that they are now making?”
Deborah Davis ’76, a medical doctor who specializes in pediatric cardiac anesthesia and critical care at Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware, has been working with the health professions advising office at Smith for about six years. She was invited to speak at a leadership conference on campus, which led to lecturing to a neuroscience class. “That was really well-received,” Davis says. “I applied real-life scenarios to what the students were learning, explaining, ‘This is why you’re studying this—because it really has applicability.’”
Davis has helped students build an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, more commonly known as a heart-lung machine, in one of Associate Professor of Engineering Sarah Moore’s classes. She has advised students on research thesis papers, course selection, and which career—nurse, physician assistant, medical doctor—is the best fit. “I talk to them about the trials and the triumphs of going into the health profession, serving others, and making sacrifices,” she says.
Davis says students are fascinated to hear her story because of the historical perspective it provides. When she went to Hahnemann Medical College in the late 1970s, only 13% of the students were women, and women were not allowed in the doctors lounge. But Davis—who eventually became the first woman president of a medical school class at Hahnemann—shares these experiences to inspire others. “I tell these stories to let them know that they can do it too,” she says.
In terms of academics, both Davis and Mons believe that Smith students have an advantage in attending a liberal arts college. “Every applicant to a health profession program has to take some combination of prerequisites,” Mons says. “But we want students to study what they’re interested in so they’ll thrive and do well. If you’re a dance major or a philosophy major, you can still take those prerequisites. They can be layered within the major requirements, which is part of what we help students do. Do we need to have a pre-med major? No.”
The Power of Connections
A major benefit of the health professions advising office is that it provides an equal opportunity for all Smith students to pursue careers in medicine or health care—even students who may not have received a comprehensive high school education in science, technology, engineering, and math. “We recognize students come from many different backgrounds and may not know how to access all the resources that are available at the college,” Mons says. “Helping connect them to alums who might come from similar backgrounds is invaluable. Students can meet alums who started where they did and are now in their career of choice because they received the assistance they needed. It is crucial to get the right information to students and have them know they have a full team of support here.”
Mons says one of her office’s major responsibilities is to ensure that students—especially those applying for highly competitive spots at medical schools—are working with accurate information. Some fallacies out there, she says, are that no one gets into medical school with a grade of C on their record, that you’re doomed if your MCAT score is not above a certain number, and that you shouldn’t even think about reapplying to a school that already rejected you. “I want students to be fully informed with correct information, not bogus information that will potentially deter them from making the right decisions for themselves,” Mons says. “Every student is unique, so what’s right for one student is not necessarily going to be the same story for another individual.”
Davis says she would “100% recommend a liberal arts education” to any student considering a career in medicine or health care. “It gives you a way in which to interact with your patient that’s not just from a scientific perspective,” she says. “A liberal arts education teaches you how to read and think critically and write effectively, which are important in whatever career you go into, but particularly in the sciences.” Mons adds, “A Smith education gives students a liberal arts foundation, research experience, and exposure to working within the community, so they have a really solid base to do whatever they want after graduation.”