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UC San Diego Health Beat pre-health resources

Jessica Kongthong (L) advises a pre-health student at Health Beat career services. Photos by Erika Johnson/University Communications

Health Beat: Campus Pumps New Life into Career Service’s Pre-Health Resources

Ever since elementary school, UC San Diego senior biology major Jackie Nguyen knew she wanted to be an optometrist. She also knew she needed help preparing her application for optometry school, so she headed to UC San Diego’s career services for pre-health students, newly rebranded as Health Beat. Here, she was able to schedule advising appointments and receive individual help with her personal statements and interview preparation. She calls the experience “extremely valuable and helpful in my process of applying to school.”

“Career services are critical to helping students achieve success once they graduate,” said Juan González, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.“With so many of our undergraduates interested in pursuing careers in health, it is essential that we provide the necessary support so our Tritons can continue to be trailblazers in providing the best patient care.”

UC San Diego Health Beat career resources

Student listens to “heart beat” of medical mannequin at U.S. Army mobile hospital booth.

“So many” is right: nearly one-third of UC San Diego’s undergraduate population has expressed interest in a career in a health-related field—that’s almost 9,000 Tritons! Before Health Beat, the university offered resourses to help students choose a health field and apply to school, including advising sessions and health fairs, but the approach was decentralized and sometimes confusing. Students had a hard time scheduling appointments with advisors and often didn’t know where to turn to for guidance. Consequently, many were unsure how to make the best use of the tools that the school offered.

The Career Center wanted to optimize their usefulness to pre-health students. The demand was there, but the infrastructure was not. The solution? They partnered with the other major pre-health advising service on campus, HMP3 (Health and Medical Professions Preparation Program), and rebranded as Health Beat. Alongside HMP3, they created a Staff Advisory Committee with the major health-related divisions on campus, including School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy; and created a student council with representatives from all major student-led, pre-health organizations. This helps ensure all pre-health student needs are being addressed and that there is a cohesive message across campus.

Health Beat began launching updated services in the fall. The website was redesigned to be more user-friendly, granting 24/7 access to information, including videos and guides on how to pay for school. They also created a new program called “Pre-health Certified” that requires students to earn clinical hours, write papers and attend workshops in preparation for medical school. The biggest improvement, however, was to the advising program—a segment that had previously drawn complaints from students.

The advising structure was switched to a combination of drop-ins (quick, ten-minute appointments) and longer, pre-scheduled appointments for students who were closer to actually applying to a health professional school. The difference is apparent, says senior human biology major Desiree Johnson: “It is way more accessible and reliable. The Health Beat advisors have been essential to my success.”

UC San Diego Health Beat pre-health resources

Students speak with potential schools at Health Professional Fair.

Health Beat’s goals were clear: increase readiness rates for pre-health students, provide comprehensive advising, develop a competitive pipeline of applicants, and increase student satisfaction with pre-health services. In support of this mandate, the Career Center created a system called “Explore/Prepare/Apply.” Rather than the previous “one size fits all” approach, this version allows services to be tailored to a student’s particular needs. Freshman and sophomores fall into “Explore,” where they can learn more about the health professions that most interest them and use services like drop-in advising, peer support and online resources. Juniors and seniors can make use of “Prepare”—gaining experience in their chosen medical field and completing the necessary prerequisites for health professional school—and “Apply”—putting together application materials, including recommendation letters and personal essays. They have access to scheduled advising appointments, peer support and special programming. This more individualized approach allows resources to be allocated in the most effective way.

Johnson is pleased with the results: “The new Heath Beat drop-in advising has definitely revolutionized how pre-health information is being distributed to students. This has really created an atmosphere of transparency for pre-med and pre-health students who have no idea how to create a meaningful experience here at the university in regards to what they want to do after they leave.”

Another noticeable change is to the Health Professional School Fair, which has been expanded in several ways. There are more participants—nearly 100, including health professional schools such as University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. Mark Nelson is their director of Admissions & Student Counseling. When asked why he came to the fair, Nelson stated that Tritons “do particularly well. They come to us already understanding how to solve problems and overcome challenges.” Capitalizing on this reputation, this year the fair will also include several hospitals, so students in the “Prepare” stage can look into volunteer work or earning clinical hours. The fair has also expanded across an entire week to include other events designed to educate and support pre-health students, including presentations on how to write compelling personal essays, mock interviews, and panel discussions. Panelists on these discussions are often UC San Diego alumni.

UC San Diego Health Beat career resources

Involving alumni as panelists or mentors is a critical component to Health Beat’s success. Not only can they provide invaluable guidance and real-world experience, but their status as alumni helps create meaningful bonds between UC San Diego’s past and future. Diagnostic radiology resident Charles Li (’12, School of Medicine) is a member of the Alumni Advisor Network and spoke on one of the health professional panels. His goal in participating underscores the mission of Health Beat career services:

“I always felt that the pathway toward my current profession was not clear to me when I was an undergraduate student, and am eager to help other undergraduates make more educated decisions regarding their career development.”

Health Beat is eager too. As Li also stated, “No matter which direction your pre-health journey takes you, the services offered at Health Beat can help you find your way.”

To learn more about Health Beat, visit the website.