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Enhanced services for students considering health careers

Students planning for future careers in health-related fields are being helped along by a new advising program made possible through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.

Funded as a bridge to future all-campus advising plans, the Center for Pre-Health Advising has been booked solid since the beginning of this academic year. With five advisors available in multiple locations, the office hums with activity.

Building on services that have existed within the College of Letters and Science, the office has now expanded advising opportunities to reach students from all schools and colleges – and earlier than before.

Coordinator Susan Nelson and former colleague Molly McGlone submitted their proposal last March, following the second round of MIU awards. As co-chair of the pre-professional advising workgroup (PAWG), McGlone had frequently heard from advisors in majors such as biology who felt underprepared to support students as they prepared to apply to graduate programs in the health professions. Moreover, both McGlone and Nelson knew that shifting administrative roles would leave a dearth of services for students in need of assistance.

“We knew that a larger group on campus was aiming for an eventual advising overhaul, so our work is meant to inform what comes later,” says Nelson. “The goal of our office is to help students choose a health professions program that is the right fit for them.  This is one reason for expanding beyond pre-medical and pre-dental students.  We wanted to see students earlier so that we could support them in planning and help them reach their end professional goals. Even though we focus on students’ plans for after graduation, we also emphasize the importance of their undergraduate experience.”

Students interested in becoming physician assistants or physical therapists, for example, hadn’t previously had access to these kinds of coordinated services. The office first reaches many of these students at the Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) program, and continues to work with them through workshops, the pre-health student organizations, and in advising appointments. This year, over 2,000 students (out of more than 7,000 SOAR attendees) indicated an interest in pre-health at SOAR.

The CPHA’s advisors serve students interested in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, occupational therapy, nursing, veterinary medicine and public health. Information is also available on post-baccalaureate and other specialized programs, providing a full complement of options for students interested in the health sciences.

The Center also serves as a clearinghouse for resources and professional development. Advisors can assist students interested in shadowing a clinician, finding research opportunities or volunteering with a health-related organization. Even before students consult a staff member, they can find many of these resources, including course prerequisites, on the Center’s comprehensive ’s website (http://prehealth.wisc.edu).

Since receiving funding approval in May, the process has moved at a lightning pace. Nelson hired two project assistants, who jumped into duties at SOAR orientations in July. Two full-time advisors came on board in September.

The office plans to exist in this form only through 2012. Still, the work that they undertake will have a lasting impact.

Improved data collection, both at SOAR and through the undergraduate years, will help track the demand for services and tailor them to student needs. Collaboration between health sciences admissions staff and undergraduate academic advisors in programs such as the Institute for Biology Education will streamline communications while directing students to resources more efficiently.

Advising is available at seven locations, aiming to improve visibility and accessibility for students across campus. Advisors see students by appointment at Agricultural Hall, Bascom Hall and the Washburn Observatory. Drop-in hours are available at Chadbourne Hall, the Institute for Biology Education, the Multicultural Student Center in the Red Gym, and Engineering Hall.

For additional information about the locations, including hours and links to the campus map, visit http://prehealth.wisc.edu.

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