On the Right Track: Pre-Health Mentoring at St. Lawrence

Can a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts school prepare students for a career in healthcare? For Grace Smith ’22, the answer is a resounding yes.

“The best thing about being a pre-health student at St. Lawrence is you have the resources and guidance from mentors who genuinely care about you and want you to be successful,” says Grace. “The liberal arts education also allowed me to take courses in public speaking, film studies and creative writing. All of my coursework has helped prepare me for a career in healthcare.”

Grace, who is majoring in biology with minors in public health and exercise science and exercise science, plans to attend the University of Rochester next year and is on track to enter the nursing field. She is also a lead mentor in St. Lawrence’s pre-health mentoring program, the helps first-year students explore and prepare for careers in healthcare.

Grace believes there is a misconception that students in a pre-med program must be so focused on meeting med school requirements that they have to forego other transformative college opportunities. The Pre-Health Mentoring Program aims to debunk this myth.

“I share what motivates me, tips on time management, my places on campus, what courses I enjoyed taking, how I chose my majors and minors, and how I got into the nursing field,” she says. The mentoring program also supports first-year students To understand how they can use all of their liberal arts experiences to succeed in their chosen path after graduation.

“St. Lawrence helps students develop academically and holistically for admission to medical school. Students who begin this process early are best prepared for successful admission to health professional schools and programs,” says Karin Heckman, associate professor of biology and one of the faculty directors of the mentoring program.

“Students looking to transfer directly from St. Lawrence to a health professional program must be strategic in planning their coursework and shadowing experiences. Important opportunities like studying abroad can also be realized with good planning,” says Heckman.

The program empowers freshman students to ask questions and build a support system that helps them navigate everything from course scheduling and extracurricular activities to job shadowing opportunities and medical school applications.

“I remember talking to a student who thought that going to medical school was not struggling with anything, so she didn’t ask for organic chemistry help when she needed it,” says Jane Kring, a Specialist in Academic Support in Biology and Co-Director of the Pre-Health Mentoring Program. “I’ve also spoken to juniors who have done very well academically but have no experience of accompanying a doctor. This program encourages students to take a proactive approach to challenges, to learn from the experiences of others, from Dr. Heckman and my insights and to plan ahead.”

Bella Hillman ’24, a sophomore in biology transferred to St. Lawrence, participated in the pre-health mentoring program during her first semester on campus and is already reaping the benefits of strategic planning.

“Dr. Heckman is now my advisor. She’s really helped me set up class schedules and talk about how to plan my time here to fit everything I need to be successful,” she says. “I told her “that I would like to study abroad and she was able to draw up a study plan for me that would allow me to do that. I learned that despite the demanding pre-health education, you can still study topics that interest you. There is no one right way , which you must follow.”

For Bella, the close, personal nature of the program allows it to serve her unique goals.

“Students who are still determining their specific career interest in healthcare are encouraged to enroll in the program,” says Heckman. “Students are often unfamiliar with the range of healthcare careers available, so we challenge them to understand all roles in the healthcare system to determine what best fits their interests, personal strengths and work-life balance goals.”

As student-athletes with additional commitments off the field and rink, Grace – a member of the women’s hockey team – and Bella – women’s lacrosse – understand the importance of balance. They also emphasize the value that a diverse undergraduate experience can have for their future careers.

“Being a first responder for SLU EMS has been incredibly helpful in gaining experience in patient care and learning how to behave in emergency situations,” says Grace. “As a pre-health mentor, I’ve also connected students to clubs on campus and encouraged them to branch out and try new things — not just because it looks good on your resume, but because you find it really enjoyable and interesting. “

“I chose St. Lawrence because I wanted opportunities that weren’t just about health,” says Bella. “Here I can lead a balanced life with sports, friends and clubs and at the same time work on my professional goals.”

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