Getting into medical school is hard. Even the application is tricky.
You have to take prerequisite courses. You need good grades, and a good score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). You need to do community service so you’re resume stands out. And you’ll want to shadow an actual doctor, to make sure your dream job is really your dream job.
That’s the challenge ahead for Illinois State senior Jesse Nelson, but he’s not facing it alone. He’s one of the first students to be guided by Brent Kane ’07, University College’s advisor focusing specifically on students who want to become doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, and dentists.
“He’s been a big help,” Nelson said. “There’s so many different things that you have put together to make yourself a competitive med school applicant. He’s doing a great job helping me out with that.”
Kane just started his second year in his new role, taking on many students previously guided by a School of Biological Sciences advisor. In his first year, he helped more than 180 students, mostly those on a pre-med track. (Illinois State does not have a “pre-med” major but offers a structured plan of courses and experiences for students wishing to prepare for a career in the medical field.)
Nelson is one of those students. His mother is a physician in Champaign, so he grew up in and around medicine, and is fascinated whenever his college classes veer into the science of the human body.
Soon after their first meeting, Kane suggested ways for Nelson to make himself more competitive when it’s time for him to start applying to medical schools. That started with an ordered plan for prerequisite courses, such as biochemistry, so that Nelson doesn’t veer off track.
“It’s all about making sure they’re thinking about these things early on, so they’re prepared,” Kane said.
Kane also recommended Nelson get some research experience and make time to volunteer. So Nelson spent this past summer as an undergraduate lab assistant, while also volunteering at two hospitals.
Also with Kane’s help, Nelson spent the spring 2014 semester shadowing a local orthopedic surgeon, even getting to observe a surgery. That experience, offered with credit through the Mentorship In Healthcare Professions course (IDS 298), solidified Nelson’s interest in medicine.
“That was probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever done here at ISU,” said Nelson, who also launched Illinois State’s new Pre-Health Society student organization.
While academic departments handle pre-law and pre-veterinary advising, “it was a natural fit” for University College to take on pre-health students like Nelson, said University College Director Amelia V. Noël-Elkins. A biology major may be able to figure out which courses to take before applying to med school, but that’s trickier if you’re a pre-med student majoring in business, psychology, or English.
“Having one person dedicated just to this responsibility allows him to spend more time with those students than a traditional advisor would,” Noël-Elkins said. “And it can be somewhat complex to make sure they understand all those requirements, the exams they have to take, and the classes they have to take.”
Because Kane first meets many of his students during Preview freshmen orientation, he’ll work with them for three years before they apply following their junior year.
“I help them understand what it’s going to take,” Kane said. “I don’t want to scare them, but I want them to understand what they’re going to need to do, and that I’m going to be there to help them.”
Juniors are encouraged to take the Careers For Health Professionals course (IDS 194), taught by Kane. It focuses on the application process, and guest speakers include admissions counselors from popular professional schools, local physicians, and young alumni in the middle of their schooling. Juniors also have the option of working with a faculty committee that performs mock interviews, reviews their application, and writes a combined letter of recommendation.
“I’m just another person that can be on their team to figure things out,” Kane said.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.