By Victoria Gill-Gomez
Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Public Health minor Dr. Elizabeth Yost was announced as the new chair and director of the premedical program in an Aug. 3 email from Phil Ticknor, coordinator of pre-health profession programs.
Dr. Yost is the successor of Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kathleen Verville who initiated and oversaw the program for more than 30 years.
“Those shoes cannot be filled,” Dr. Yost said. “Dr. Verville has ushered countless students through the medical school application process and built the program from the ground up. I have immense respect for her process and work ethic. She has graciously agreed to serve on the committee to help me adjust to the new role.”
In the last year, Dr. Verville began transitioning out of her position as chair while she searched for a successor. The ideal candidate, according to Ticknor, was a faculty member who was excited about the program and what it provided to students.
Dr. Verville said that she and Dr. Yost spoke frequently over the past year, during which she learned of Dr. Yost’s strong interest in the chair position.
“She brings different experiences via her academic background and community interests to the table. Our committee has grown in number and breadth of experience,” Dr. Verville said.
The premedical committee consists of faculty representatives from the departments of physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and philosophy.
Members of the Premedical Committee, including its chair, are appointed by the Dean of the College following the recommendation of the members of the committee itself.
Dr. Yost was under the advisory of former Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio.
Dr. Verville will continue serving as a representative for the Department of Biology.
According to Ticknor’s Aug. 3 email, “[Dr. Verville] will help manage the transition and will also be continuing to work individually with our students and alumni who went through our committee process this past spring and are in the process of applying to professional schools.”
The Premedical Program prepares students who are interested in attending either medical, dental, optometry, podiatry, or veterinary school after graduation.
According to the College website, the program consists of small classes, close relationships with professors, research and internship opportunities, and the option to explore interests beyond medicine which appeal to the students who anticipate studying medicine after their undergraduate education.
This program also includes individual advising for graduate school planning and medical school application guidance.
Dr. Yost said she enjoys working with students throughout the process, especially reflecting on her experience as an undergraduate.
However, she quickly found that the medical field was not a good fit for her.
“I feel that I have a unique view of the whole area,” Dr. Yost said. “I love working closely with students and helping guide them to achieve that level of accomplishment or — if they are like me — helping them figure out the next idea.”
Students in the premedical program also look at allied health careers such as physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and athletic trainers.
Working in public health, Dr. Yost is aware of how the many facets of the medical system work together to create a healthcare experience. With specialized training from the National Association for Advisors of Health Professions , previous working relationships with Premedical Committee chairs at other institutions, and a few years of meeting premedical students in her public health courses, Dr. Yost said she feels ready to help advise students on courses, application timing, and graduate programs.
However, a change in leadership is not the only modification the committee is experiencing this semester.
Each year, the committee makes modifications to procedures in order to improve the premedical process for students and to keep updated on the many changes to the application process itself.
Due to COVID-19, the program was impacted by the cancellation of experiential learning opportunities for students, including job shadowing and lab work.
While this remains a challenge for the foreseeable future, Dr. Verville, Dr. Yost, and Ticknor all said that the “Zoom era” has created accessibility to some once unacknowledged opportunities, such as medical school open houses and flexible connections between alumni in the healthcare field and current students.
This strong motivation and connection between the premedical committee and its alumni in guiding students through their premedical journey has been upheld throughout the past 30 years, according to Dr. Verville.
“This is especially important because we want to emphasize to our students that they can major in any discipline they choose,” Dr. Verville said.
Students can open a file at any time during their college careers, many of whom start their first year. They are not required to major in a scientific area of study, but are still responsible to fulfill class requirements to ensure their readiness for the MCATs.
These files contain letters of recommendation from a variety of faculty members, volunteer experiences, and experiential experiences as well as academic transcripts, scores, and written essays. The files must be completed by the end of the February of the year in which a student wishes to apply for medical school.
After February, the student interviews individually with committee members for a more intimate conversation about goals, career options, and reevaluating the applicant’s readiness for the competitive selection pool.
“If you are coming without a gap year, you might have gotten a lot of cool shadowing experiences and internships — and hopefully you are doing that as a student — but now you are competing against people who are working full-time in the healthcare industry,” Ticknor said.
During the gap year, which, according to Ticknor, the majority of premedical students take part in, students explore a variety of extracurriculars to strengthen themselves as a medical program candidate. This includes positions scribing, Emergency Medical Technician training, fifth-year Masters programs, Global Health Corps, and the Peace Corps.
Once the applicant is ready to move forward, the committee puts together an honest and thorough evaluation letter, often summating about 10 to 14 pages.
“It gives us the opportunity to tell that full story of the student that individual letters do not. And each student has their own strengths that you can sell to [the medical school]…they are not cookie-cutter,” Ticknor said.
Students are encouraged to meet with faculty on the committee each year to find ways to become stronger candidates.
Dr. Yost currently meets with students regularly via Zoom, answers emails, and engages in forums. She said it is important to keep clear and open communication at a constant level “as we navigate these uncharted [COVID-19] waters together.”
“It is a lot to learn and I want to make sure that I am providing the best sources for the students in the process,” Dr. Yost said.
To learn more about the premedical program, there will be an informational meeting with Dr. Yost on Zoom on Wednesday, September 16th, at 6 p.m.