By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
“It’s never too late” . . . “Think when, not if” . . . and “Hey, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over” . . . These are things I hear myself saying on a fairly regular basis. To be candid, I sometimes wonder if I’m building up false hope. Is the end goal of admission to health professional school really possible for all F&M graduates as long as they’re fully committed? Is “it’s never too late” a helpful reminder or a mere platitude? It could only be a meaningless cliché if everyone already knew it, I suppose, and given the number of pre-health students I see who are ready to throw in the towel, “it’s never too late” is far from a universal belief. So is there a way of getting from college to health professional school for nearly everyone, really? Yes. How do I know? Because post-bac programs make it so.
If you’ve heard the term “post-bac” and don’t really know what it means, I’d suggest you start with a couple of resources here on the HPA website. First, read the material called Post-Bac Options, which goes into detail about the two main types of programs, “career-changer” and “academic enhancement.” I’ve included a selected list of programs but these are merely the ones I’ve come to know over the years and/or had advisees attend; the list is by no means comprehensive. For a complete list, go to the Association of American Medical Colleges and spend some time searching by type of program and location. I also talked about the variety of post-bac paths in a recent webinar, part of the F&M Alumni Webinar Series (it’s under “Archived Webinars”).
Another excellent resource is the Post Baccalaureate Information located in the public section of the site for my professional association, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP). Here you’ll find the great “FAQ & Glossary,” which helps to explain the differences between structured and unstructured programs, and between graduate and undergraduate. The NAAHP has formally addressed the topic of post-bac programs several times over the years, and enlightening articles and conference presentations can be found here as well.
One last place to go: If you’d like to hear four directors from four different post-bac programs (University of Virginia, Bryn Mawr, Johns Hopkins, and University of Pennsylvania) talk about what they look for in applicants and the differences between their programs, check out the audiofile on Princeton’s Health Professions Advising page (scroll down, it’s the “Post-Bac Night” at the bottom of the page). I hosted the event a couple of years ago at Princeton, inviting three career-changer and one academic enhancement program to talk to students. FYI, since then, Hopkins now has an academic enhancement masters program as well, called the Health Science Intensive.
The fact remains that post-bac programs are variable, challenging, and not without some risk. Above all, once you become a post-bac student you may still feel pretty disoriented, since while you’re post-college, you’re still pre-health. Being post-this and pre-that—both at the same time—places you in limbo, for a matter of months or even years. All I can say to reassure you is that the success of graduates who have done post-bac work is very real. It can work. With patience and persistence, you will eventually drop the formal “post” and the “pre” from your academic station in life. If you’re not post-this and pre-that, what will you be?