Our Postbaccalaureate Premedical program director, Elizabeth Fogt, was recently featured on Case Western University’s “All Access: Med School Admissions” podcast. Highlights from her interview are below.
WashU’s Post-Bac Premed Program
We have been around since 2001. Basically, the origin was we saw adult students taking these science courses to prepare for med school. Our home? We started out in University College, which is an evening adult part-time division primarily. One of our deans noticed this pattern of people trying to prepare for med school on their own and said, "Let's give this support and structure and help these folks out." We've grown a lot since then.
A Flexible Curriculum to Meet Your Needs
We have a structured program. We still are flexible — so we can support students who are doing a career change if they need all those prereqs. We also support students who are needing enhancement work and building their GPA. Then we have a third category we think of as a blended program, where students can come in and if they are coming from engineering and they've got great math and physics background, but they need a lot more biology and chemistry, they can come and do just what they need.
We have, in our program, a pretty good number of people who are doing a traditional enhancement track. They're taking additional undergraduate course work in the sciences, usually upper level biology work. Something that prospective students don't always know when they first come in to talk with me is how a post-bac helps them. If they're doing a traditional enhancement post-bac doing undergraduate work, it actually does move their GPA. Something that might be helpful for listeners to take a look at the AMCAS Grade Conversion Guide. That will show you exactly how the medical school application services are going to slice and dice your academic record and present it to med schools.
Assessing Your Situation
One of the big considerations in this is, you really have to think about what your starting point is. And we often recommend that students calculate their own GPA figures. You know, one thing to be aware of is wherever you have gone to school, they may have different weights for grades than AMCAS and AACOMAS. So, at some schools, an A- is a 3.7, at some it's a 3.65. So, you really need to get the guide and plug in all of your numbers and see where you stand. And then see how much a traditional post-bac can move that needle. If you take 30 credits and you have a 3.5 or you have a 4.0, is that going to be enough to get you in a reasonable range for the schools that you're wanting to apply to?
I think as with a lot of decisions in life, it comes down in many ways to whether you're prioritizing your time or your finances. Whether it's important to you to move quickly and be in med school as soon as possible, or whether you need to take a more measured approach and try to do it bit by bit, which is certainly possible.
We sometimes have applicants to our program who look pretty strong already, and we may admit them and then counsel them, "Hey you know what? You are welcome to come, but we don't think you need us." Here's a way to do it and here's another way to do it. And you might want to stay where you are, where you've got a network, or you've got family. Sometimes if you're staying where you've got somebody that you can lean on to say, "Hey, can I move back home for a while, while I do this?" That can be really valuable.
I think it really comes down to also evaluating what you really need. Is it your grades are pretty strong, but you've really need time to prepare for the MCAT? Some people might want to be in classes so they can take some more electives that are going to be helpful content for the test, and they've got more structure. But a lot of people may just want to say, “All right, I'm going to put myself on a schedule. I'm going to get these resources, or I'm going to sign up for a prep course and here's my goal.”
Balancing Your Goals
I think one of the tough things is to try to evaluate if you're in a situation where you need to improve your record and show that you're ready for the medical school curriculum. How do you do that? I frequently tell my students that you're going to work hard, but we also want you to just not combust. We want to be sure there's some balance. What are you doing for self-care? And having connections is a big part of that.
Most of our students are going through and taking two lab science courses at a time or three or four lecture courses at a time if they're doing enhancement. They typically are working part time, because we want them to be getting clinical experience along the way and volunteering and building their overall portfolio for applying to med school.
Student Support and Advising
We can support students who are coming from a variety of backgrounds. Most of our students are pre-med, but we certainly do have pre-dental, pre-PA, PT, occasionally pharmacy, dentistry. We've got the course work. Occasionally a student will shift goals while they're in the program, and that's fine too.
Our approach is to talk with each student. They'll be assigned an advisor when they get admitted, and we'll have a conversation about what their background is, what content they need, what gaps they need to fill, and map out a program. I would say that's really our hallmark.
Sometimes I'll be having conversation with a student and they might be having a really difficult week and saying, “I'm doubting whether I can do this.” So, part of our role sometimes is to say, “You know what? You're here, we admitted you because we really believe in you. We really think you can get there. Look at what you've done so far.” So sometimes having a good frame of reference is really helpful.
Now there are times when we have had students who've struggled in the program and when it gets to the point that they are about to apply to medical school; we're having meetings and we're doing an assessment and talking about how prepared they are. And there are times I've had to say to a student, “I think if you go forward now, you would be a risky applicant.” So, I'd rather them hear it from me than go and have a terrible cycle. But most of the time, our students are coming in and thriving and our role gets to be really being an advocate and a supporter and reminding them of how much they've done and how well they're doing.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
I think you could look at finances in another way, because a lot of structured programs provide access to financial aid. So that's something that may enable a student to take a break from work, or step back to part time to really focus on course work. We have need- and merit-based scholarships and that's something that's not available everywhere.
We have a scholarship named for James L. Sweatt, who was the first African American graduate of the WashU school of medicine. And so, this is a merit scholarship for students with a 3.5 or better, who also have a demonstrated record of service and bridging divides, bringing communities together, or students who have really overcome substantial personal hurdles being first generation, things like that.
A Supportive Community of Peers
Our students can take day or evening courses. Most of them are taking evening courses, which are smaller and have a lower tuition point. There's a pretty good community feel, I would say, in the program. Students tend to help and support each other, pass on information about job openings in a lab or a doctor's office, things like that.
For us the students really get to choose, because if they decided to take day courses, they will be in class with WashU undergrads. If they're opting for evening courses, that's where they'll really be with a group of other post-bacs. And I think there is…. just nice comradery when you're studying with people who've had a longer path and a different route. People who have really similar values and goals to what you have. We actually have a book group that our students decided to do that, just happened organically.
We have linkages with University of Michigan and with Case Western. And for the linkage we have with you at Case, the MCAT is not required, but this is not a way for students to hide if they've taken it and not done well. In fact, they would be disqualified if they've taken it. So, I think there are a lot of things that weigh into that decision.
We're happy to talk to students and prospective students about the linkage pathway. We also are interested in expanding our linkage partnerships, and we have a third that we are working on finalizing now that hopefully we'll be able to announce before too, too long.
About the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at WashU
As you pursue a career in medicine, strong academic resources and outstanding clinical opportunities can be invaluable. That is why Washington University in St. Louis is an exceptional choice for post-baccalaureate premedical study. Not only will you enjoy the academic environment of one of the nation’s top universities—and opportunities at one of the nation’s best medical schools—you will also benefit from the personalized support found in a program dedicated to your success. Learn more here.