Director of Health Professions Advising Kirsten Kirby talks Pre-Health

By Chase Kovalcheck || Contributing Writer

This week, I spoke with Kirsten Kirby, the Director of Health Professions Advising here at F&M. I asked her to answer a few general questions about the strengths and competitiveness of F&M’s Pre-Health Program. She was excited to share her knowledge on the wide-range of admissions-seeking qualities that so many students develop at a liberal arts college.

Here at Franklin & Marshall, we have roughly 350 to 400 students who are currently following the pre-health track. In the class of 2020 alone, 100 to 110 first-years are looking into the possibility of pursuing a health-related career. Out of those numbers and the statistics of alumni, approximately 75 percent have indicated that they want to become some sort of medical doctor in the future, while 25 percent have said that they hope to acquire an occupation in physical assistance, veterinary work, and other pre-health fields.  

Kirby states, “F&M has cultivated a reputation for a place that displays success in its medical alumni.” This success comes from many aspects of both academic and extracurricular opportunities.  Kirby, who also worked in the pre-health department at Johns Hopkins University, states that “research opportunities at a research university are harder for undergrads to take ahold of.” Because there are medical students, graduate students, and others with a higher degree of education than that of undergrads, they do not have a good chance of doing research until they graduate from college. However, here at F&M, we have countless opportunities for student-faculty research. In fact, more than 50 percent of F&M’s seniors participate in an independent study. For example, Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently donated a grant to Robert Jinks, a professor in the biology department, and a team of student researchers to facilitate research dealing with inherited neurodevelopmental diseases of Amish and Mennonite children. Also, for those interested in pre-vet, the vivarium is a great way to have direct contact with, care for, research, learn about, and train various animals before stepping foot into veterinary school. These are only some of the many advantages that F&M has over other schools of similar stature.

Coming from Smith College, a small, nationally ranked liberal arts college herself, Kirby stresses that a “liberal arts education is the best way to prepare for the medical field because modern professions are drawn from many subjects.” Instead of only focusing on science-related classes and activities, it is actually recommended that an applicant is “well-rounded.” This means that a student should follow their interests, join clubs and organizations that they fit into and are passionate about, and sign up for classes that spark new desires. A large portion of students do not even major in a science and actually have a greater chance of being admitted to highly competitive medical schools. According to 2015-2016 MCAT and GPA statistics from the AAMC, out of 52,549 applicants, only 27,653 had actually majored in the Biological Sciences, while the other 24,896 had majored in the Humanities, Math and Statistics, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Specialized Health Sciences, or Other. In addition, out of the 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students created by the AAMC, only two of the 15 core competencies are science related, while the others have to do with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and thinking and reasoning skills. So, students should not be afraid of doing something they love just because it does not fit into a particular category–it can actually help in the long run.

Yes, the MCATs and a high GPA are important predictors of future success, but so is “developing a meaningful level of interest in something,” according to Kirby. Success requires both qualitative and quantitative parts. The qualitative part includes some type of research and service, which are both easily accomplished through the magnitude of possibilities at Franklin & Marshall. The second part, the quantitative part, is perhaps the most important.  This part involves creating a depth of real understanding over time.  It emphasizes learning over just grades and the pursuit of knowledge, not the pursuit of getting an A in a class. With this technique, one masters the material inside and out. This approach could be more difficult because it requires a high responsibility for the self and finding the self. Together, both parts form an individual who is ready to be a doctor, not just get into medical school.

If you want more information or have any questions regarding any of the content you could check out AAMC.org, the F&M Health Professions Advising web page, or read Kirby’s piece in the AAMC Pre-Med Navigator.  I also recommend contacting Kirsten Kirby if you have further questions.

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