A GUIDE TO UNDERGRADUATE STUDY FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONS

at WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY

Health Career Advisors and Staff | Information and Documents Available | Admissions Requirements | Course Selection and Sequence | Summer School Work | What is Important | Timetable for the Health Profession Students (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior) | Preparing for the MCAT | Preparing for the DAT | Preparing for the GRE | The Health Professions Advisory Committee Evaluation | Applications

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Washington and Lee University is vitally concerned with the undergraduate education of students who wish to enter medical, dental, and veterinary schools as well as other health professions.  Furthermore, the University has had an excellent record of placing these prospective candidates into the professional schools:  our average percent of successful candidates is well above the national average in this regard.  In spite of this enviable record, it remains a sad fact that not all prospective candidates will be able to secure positions in a professional school of their primary career choice.  For this reason, pre-health professional candidates should carefully plan their undergraduate academic program, leaving open the widest possible range of options.

This document has been prepared to provide you with the best advice and information available to help you make choices during your undergraduate career.  Competition for acceptance to health professional graduate schools is fierce, so you should take every opportunity to enhance your chances.  You should begin planning at the beginning of your freshman year.  Planning should be done with the advice of a faculty member experienced in advising health career students, and it should include appropriate choice of major, scheduling of courses required for admission, productive use of summer vacations, etc.

 

HEALTH CAREER ADVISORS AND STAFF

The advising of students seeking eventual admission to graduate work in health related fields, particularly to medical and dental school, is conducted by the Coordinator of the Health Professions Advisory Committee and the Committee of Advisors which she chairs.  Members of this committee are:

Dr. Lisa T. Alty (on sabatical 2008 - 2009)

Coordinator, Health Professions Advisory Committee

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Office:  Science Center, Room A329; Phone 8927

 

Dr. Michael A. Pleva (Acting Health Professions Coordinator, 2008 - 2009)

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Office:  Science Center, Room A313, Phone 8822

 

Dr. Helen I'Anson (on leave 2006-2007)

Professor of Biology

Office: Science Center, Room H405; Phone 8974

 

Dr. John J. Wielgus

Professor of Biology

Office: Science Center, Howe Hall H317; Phone 8895

 

Dr. Erich S. Uffelman

Associate Professor of Chemistry

Office: Science Center, Room A427; Phone 8040

 

Mrs. Barbara D. Higgins

Office Manager, Chemistry/Health Professions

Office: Science Center, Room A330A; Phone 8872

 

If you have indicated a strong interest in health professions studies in your freshman interest survey, you may have had one of the committee members assigned to you as freshman advisor.  If this is not the case, you most likely have a different member of the department of chemistry or biology. These faculty members also have knowledge and experience in advising premedical students but you should form the habit of seeking advice on course choices from one of the health professions advisors. Students interested in health professions other than medicine should introduce themselves to Professor Alty and inform her of your intentions regarding health related careers.

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INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTS AVAILABLE

Each of the health professions advisors has current information on the entrance requirements for each AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) medical school.  While these requirements are quite uniform, several schools have idiosyncrasies and you should check the requirements at several schools in which you have interest.

Additional information is collected in two places.  Professor Alty has detailed descriptions for your use on:

Information about Health Professions--dentistry, veterinary medicine, optometry, osteopathic medicine, physical therapy, physician assistant, pharmacy, ...

The Medical School Interview

Various medical, dental and veterinary school catalogs

Information regarding financial aid.

 

The following reference materials are also available:

Medical School Admissions Requirements

Admission Requirements of U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools

Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements

Directory of Physical Therapy Education Programs

Physician Assistant Programs Directory

Pharmacy School Admissions Requirements

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ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

The absolute minimum of required science courses for nearly all medical, dental, and veterinary schools is: 

                                                                                                W&L Course numbers

Biology                   (8 credits)                                             Biology 111, 113, 220, 221

General Chemistry  (8 credits)                                             Chemistry 111, 112

Organic Chemistry  (8 credits)                                             Chemistry 241 or 241S, 242

Physics                   (8 credits)                                             Physics 111/111A & 113, 112 & 114

                  

With this bare minimum, it is possible to major in any department in the university while including required science courses.  Individual professional schools may have additional requirements in the sciences, and many of the schools retain math (6 credits), English (6 credits), social sciences, and/or humanities courses in their list of specific requirements - particularly English.

Most professional schools proclaim an interest in a well-rounded education, yet in the long run it is the performance in science courses that seems to weigh most strongly in admissions decisions.  Additionally, many prospective health career students are interested in science and elect more than the minimum required courses.  Data compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that more than half of the successful applicants to medical schools have undergraduate science majors; and although majors in nearly all fields have gained admission, all must have had strong records in their science courses.

Since many likely candidates fail to gain acceptance to professional schools, a strong major field provides a maximum of career opportunities for employment and graduate work.  Often a career in an alternate health-related profession may arise from such a major.  Such a major is often in a field of science, but because of Washington and Lee's dedication to the liberal arts philosophy, graduation requirements assure that all students include a breadth of courses (from general education requirements and electives) leading to a well-rounded education, regardless of major.  In most cases it is possible to complete a major in the traditional four years of undergraduate study provided the first course in the department of the major is taken no later than fall of the sophomore year.

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COURSE SELECTION AND SEQUENCE

The science courses required for medical, dental and veterinary school admission are also those required for minimum preparation for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test), DAT (Dental Admission Testing Program), and the GRE (Graduate Record Examination, for veterinary medical school admission).  The MCAT is normally taken in April of the junior year, so it is important to schedule these courses prior to this time.  The DAT is now taken on computer and should be taken before August 1 of the year that you apply to dental school. The GRE should be taken in August prior to the senior year.

The present MCAT format emphasizes problem solving and reading comprehension.   Many who have taken the test suggest that courses beyond the minimum required for admission can be very useful in preparing for the MCAT.  In particular, ONE of the following three courses should be taken prior to the first attempt at the MCAT:

Chemistry 341              Biochemistry                            (fall)

Biology 215                  Biochemistry of the Cell      (winter)

Biology 310                  Microbiology                           (winter)

The sequence in which these courses are taken is strongly dependent upon choice of major.  All majors should be planned by careful consultation with an advisor from that field and a health professions advisor.

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SUMMER SCHOOL WORK

Regardless of major, some of the courses required for medical school admission are electives or cognate courses rather than specific degree requirements.  This means that they may be taken in summer school and the credits transferred to Washington and Lee for degree credit.  The wisdom of doing this is a matter of some debate.  Some medical school admissions officers have indicated that students presenting summer school credit for a required course will be asked to justify why they took it away from their home institution.  Some students have reported being asked about summer school credits during medical school interviews.  Different medical schools treat this issue differently.  It would seem wise, if there is a need to do summer school work, not to take required courses:  if this becomes a necessity, one should choose a strong institution. 

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WHAT IS IMPORTANT?

In a survey conducted by the AAMC in its Group on Student Affairs it was found that the preadmission variables accorded high importance by medical school admissions personnel included:

MCAT scores

undergraduate grade point average and overall GPA

involvement in health-related work or volunteer experiences

personal comments on AMCAS and supplemental applications

interview ratings

letters of evaluation

involvement in extracurricular activities

quality of degree-granting undergraduate institution

For dental and veterinary applicants, hours spent in a dentist’s or veterinarian's office are a top criterion for admissions.   Local dentists and veterinarians have accommodated W&L students in the past and/or you may need to get additional hours during the summer.

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TIMETABLE FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONS STUDENTS

Freshman Year

1.   Early in the orientation period health professions students should learn of the options available in terms of majors so that they, and their academic advisor, can plan accordingly.  An information table during orientation week is available for this purpose.

2.   Early in the fall term they should choose an adjunct advisor who is a member of the Health Professions Advisory Committee if their assigned advisor is not a member.  This is not meant to replace their original advisor, but to assure their planning is appropriate for a health professions undergraduate career.

 Sophomore Year

1.   Students should participate in Alpha Epsilon Delta activities; most of which are open to everyone.  New members are chosen at the end of the academic year from the rising junior class.  To be considered for AED membership a student must have at least a 3.0 grade point average (overall and in science courses), have had two years of undergraduate study, and be working towards a health care career.

2.   Spend some time with a doctor, dentist, or veterinary doctor this summer to help focus your interests and gain exposure to the field.

Junior Year

1.   Particular attention should be paid to AED activities relating to MCAT, Kaplan Pre-test, AMCAS, AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service), AADSAS (American Association of Dental Schools Application Services) and VMCAS (Veterinary Medical College Application Service) applications, the interview process, etc.  Read your email on a regular basis for announcements about seminars, arrival of applications, and other relevant items.

2.   Take the Kaplan MCAT pretest in November if you are planning to take the MCAT in April or May.

            3.   Attend a mandatory planning meeting usually held on a Sunday in early January.

4.   The MCAT is given on computer throughout the year. We recommend that students prepare to take the test in April or May of the junior year. Application for the test is done on the Web in the fall. The MCAT is also offered in late summer but should be delayed only if you are planning to take a year off after graduation. The DAT is offered on computer and should be taken before August 1 following your junior year. The GRE should be taken in August prior to the senior year.

5.   Information sheets must be filed with Mrs. Higgins in April in order that Washington and Lee evaluations may be completed over the summer months.  (See The HPAC Evaluation)  Failure to do so may delay the application process.

6.  AMCAS and AACOMAS application are available on the Web by May 15 and must be completed and submitted after June 1.  The "personal statement" section of this application is usually the most time consuming.  Assistance with this is allowed. Students are encouraged to prepare at least one draft and have it read and evaluated by a health professions advisor prior to leaving school for the summer.  AADSAS applications are online in June and should be completed no later than July 1.  VMCAS applications are available online after August 1, and should be completed promptly.

7.   During mid- to late summer or early fall of the senior year, students will receive a secondary application form (by mail or by email) from those schools who are interested in continuing the application process.  These should be completed and returned as soon as possible, and then evaluation letters can and should be sent (see 8. below).  Failure to return them in time may result in your credentials being discarded.

8.   In summer and/or early fall, students must notify Mrs. Higgins as to where they wish to have evaluations sent.

 

PREPARING FOR THE MCAT

 

The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, is a 4.5-hour examination. The exam tests students in the following areas: Physical Sciences, including Physics and Inorganic Chemistry; Verbal Reasoning; Biological Sciences, including Biology and Organic Chemistry; and a Writing Sample, two half hour essays on assigned topics.

In preparing for the MCAT, the student should first become familiar with the content, depth and type of questions, how the test is scored and how the scores are used. The MCAT Student Manual from the Association of American Medical Colleges is the best source to use for this purpose, although the student may decide to use other MCAT preparation booklets when actually reviewing for the test. A student should identify areas of greater and lesser academic strength in order to make best use of preparation time. The health professions advisor can be helpful in this regard. Review all areas that are covered by the test, putting greater time and effort in the areas of greatest academic weakness. After a thorough review of the subject matter and practice sessions in the science problems and skills analyses areas, students should take several self-administered, full length practice MCAT to familiarize themselves with the rigors of time and pressure in taking the test. It should not be forgotten that a test of this intensity and length is a physical challenge, and attention to good sense in exercise, diet and sleep habits in the time leading up to the actual test can be of significant value.

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PREPARING FOR THE DAT

 

The Dental Admission Testing Program (DAT) administers a four-hour examination.  The exam tests students in the following areas, in order: natural sciences, including biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry; perceptual ability; reading comprehension; and quantitative reasoning.

In preparing for the DAT, the student should become familiar with the content, depth and type of questions, how the test is scored and how scores are used.  The DAT Application and Preparation materials booklet is the best source for this material, and is available in Mrs. Higgins’ office.  Since the DAT is now given solely on computer, the student should take a practice test on their web site, located at: http://www.ada.org/prof/ed/testing/dat/index.asp.

As with any standardized test, practice is important.  (See Preparing for the MCAT, second paragraph).  Less practice materials are available for the DAT, but MCAT practice manuals on the natural sciences and reading comprehension areas can be useful.

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PREPARING FOR THE GRE

Most veterinary medical schools now require the GRE as the standardized test of choice.  In addition to the general test, some schools also require the Biology subject test. See the current Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements (in the Science Library) to determine what is required for schools of interest to you.

A GRE practice manual can be obtained to get used to the format of the test questions and to pace yourself.  Since the GRE is now given solely on computer, the student should take a practice test on their web site, located at: http://www.gre.org.

 

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Senior Year

1.   Medical school and dental school interview invitations typically come during the first semester; dental school interviews from November to February; veterinary school interviews, second semester.  You should not go into an interview cold: i.e., without a sense of what to expect.  The best preparation comes from participation in a mock interview, with one of the health professions advisors. 

2.   Many schools have now gone to "rolling admissions" procedures where there is no specific acceptance date, but candidates are evaluated as their credentials become complete.  You may thus expect to hear sometime between October and June (and on occasion, later) regarding acceptance, depending on the school and your candidacy.

3.   At the end of each academic term, grades should be forwarded to schools where your file is still active.

4.   If you are placed on a wait list for a school you wish to attend, you should see Dr. Alty for suggestions on how to keep your file current and looked at regularly by the school.

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The Health Professions Advisory Committee Evaluation

1.   At the end of winter term of the junior year, each student should come to Mrs. Higgins' office and complete a biographical data form.  This is how you indicate those professor(s), in addition to your choice of health professions advisors, from whom you wish to obtain evaluations.

2.   In the spring term of the junior year, your choice of health professions advisors and additional professors will be asked to complete a standard evaluation form.

3.   During the summer, this information is compiled into a single composite letter, which is the format preferred by most professional schools.

4.   When a student has been requested to send evaluations (usually at the time the secondary application is filled out), he or she must request in writing, by phone, by email, or by fax that Mrs. Higgins send the composite.  This request should not be made until a school has requested the information.  In non-AMCAS schools (such as Texas medical schools) and for dental schools, this information may be requested with the original application.

5.   This information is kept on file, and may be used in subsequent years.

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Applications

AMCAS - for allopathic medical schools.  It goes online in mid May at: http://www.aamc.org/students/amcas/start.htm.  May be submitted in early June.  Allopathic schools award an M.D. degree.

AACOMAS - for osteopathic medical schools.  It goes online in May at:  https://aacomas.aacom.org/.  May be submitted on June 1.  Osteopathic schools award a D.O. degree.

AADSAS - for dental schools.  It goes online in June at: http://www.adea.org/AADSAS/default.htm.  May be submitted on June 1.  Dental schools award either a D.D.S. or a D.M.D. degree.

VMCAS - for veterinary medical schools.  It goes online in June at:  http://aavmc.org/vmcas/vmcas.htm.  Veterinary medical schools award a D.V.M. degree.

Applications must be filled out very carefully and completely.  This is the student's opportunity to show attention to detail, humanity, interest in and understanding of the career, intelligence, creativity, as well as those characteristics needed by physician, dentist, or veterinary medical doctor.

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