Baltimore Sun, February 2005
Few undergraduates have a firm grasp when they begin college on what career path they will choose. Hence, many undergraduates change majors a few times until they find the right fit. However, medicine seems to have a calling for those who are dedicated enough to survive the rigorous coursework of a premedical major, and these individuals have a vision early in life for their career path. But what happens if you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history, English, economics or political science and then realize that medicine is your passion? Will you be required to return to college and tackle another undergraduate degree – this time in premed – that could take two years?
Thankfully, for those students who are motivated to become a doctor, but lack the undergraduate prerequisite classes for medical school, the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Goucher College can provide all the coursework and training needed for medical school – in just one year. The Goucher program brings together students from different educational backgrounds with one common goal – medical school acceptance – and through the small community setting and personal attention of teachers and staff, the program boasts a 100 percent success rate of graduates being accepted into U.S. medical schools.
“Goucher has a tradition of strength in the sciences, and students – who had already finished college but wanted to prepare for medical school – began coming here in the late 1970s and early 1980s to take the required courses for med school admission. We soon recognized that it would be beneficial to these students to create a formal program and, thus, created the program out of a need that had arisen,” says Liza Thompson, director of the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Goucher College. Thompson says that initially the post-baccalaureate students were integrated with undergraduates; however, the two populations were eventually separated to allow the school to tailor-make classes for the post-baccalaureate students.
The Goucher program is not for students who have already taken the majority of the required science classes for medical school during their undergraduate experience, rather it’s for students who lack these science courses but still want to pursue medical school. Hence, the program, which enrolls 25 to 30 students a year, is typically comprised of students from non-science backgrounds. One such example is Darius Fewlass, who graduated from Yale University in 2001 with a degree in economics, and after one year in investment banking in New York, decided to pursue medicine. Fewlass enrolled in the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Goucher and graduated last May. “I decided that I wanted to switch from banking, so I volunteered for six months in scientific research. It was an amazing experience,” says Fewlass.
Like all students in the program, Fewlass began the Goucher program in the summer with an intense term focused on chemistry. “It’s a very fast-paced 11-week term with a weekly test that compresses a year of chemistry and a year of chemistry lab work in 11 weeks,” he says. The school also will adjust the curriculum based on individual needs. For example, if a student has already completed the general chemistry coursework, the school can waive this requirement, as well as add upper-level science courses for those students who have already completed the core courses. After the summer term, students return in the fall to undertake three laboratory science courses. “The fall term is a step up from the summer one. There’s not as much testing, but it’s a lot of work.” In the subsequent spring term, students take three more laboratory science courses and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
Fewlass says that surviving this one-year program that covers so much material would not be possible without Goucher’s support system. “When you’re a undergraduate premedical student, you’re around hundreds of others like you; however, in a post-baccalaureate program, it’s much smaller, but Goucher has this amazing support system where teachers are readily available.” Goucher also offers free individual tutoring in math and chemistry during the summer term, as well as individual and group tutoring in the fall and spring.
“We offer support to students in an effort to ease their transition from their previous non-science backgrounds to the study of science,” says Thompson. “We hire each year a teaching assistant who is a student from the prior year. Since he or she has just completed the post-bac program at Goucher, he or she is very familiar with the coursework and can support students throughout the process. Mastering the science coursework and doing well on the MCAT are two elements that help students get accepted to medical school. Providing a teaching assistant who tutors students eases the students’ stress and helps them get through any rough patches that arise.” Teaching assistants also teach the MCAT prep course, she says.
Helping relieve stress and assisting with coursework is just what Fewlass is doing in his role as teaching assistant while we awaits the beginning of medical school in the fall. “The faculty at Goucher, including Liza [Thompson] is really there for you. Now, I’m part of that process for other students. I help with homework and teach students how to study the sciences. Many times, I’m a therapist.” Fewlass’ work as a teaching assistant is during his “glide year,” which is the year between the completion of a post-baccalaureate program and the beginning of medical school. “Many students like having this year ‘off’ between completion of our program, which is quite intense, and the start of medical school. It gives them the opportunity to gain more work experience in the medical field, and it also allows them to recharge their intellectual batteries before they begin medical school.” Thompson adds that through Goucher’s relationships with some medical schools, some students can opt to apply to medical school while still enrolled in the Goucher program in order to eliminate the glide year.
Fewlass says that the mock interviews he completed with Goucher staff have helped prepare him for the medical school interviews he is undergoing during the glide year. “I’m giving feedback from my interviews, too, to help improve the mock interview process for future students.”
Paul White, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that the Goucher program produces excellent medical school students. “What I like is that we know that these students will have everything covered when they come here for medical school,” he says. “The program provides the training and knowledge necessary for medical school, and if they do well at Goucher, we know that they’ll be fully prepared if they pursue medical school at Johns Hopkins.”
White says that it’s not uncommon for medical students to major in a non-science area at the undergraduate level. “This is why programs like Goucher’s have been around for so long. Many students have some of the core coursework for medical school covered at the undergraduate level, and they need to focus on chemistry or mathematics to be able to apply for medical school.”
Thompson says that the Goucher program is a competitive one. “Applicants go through a fairly rigorous application process; we accepted about 22 percent of our applicants last year. We look for many of the same elements that medical schools look for and try to ensure that they will be extremely well prepared for the application process for medical school.” “I think we’ve accepted a Goucher post-bac graduate about every year, which is a testament to the program’s success,” adds White.
For more information on Goucher’s program, visit www.goucher.edu/postbac.