September 2008

Volume 28 | Number 3

Special Theme: National Meeting Highlights

How Can Advisors Help Their "Stressed Out" Students Prepare for a Career in Medicine
Carol S. Weisse, Ph.D.
Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed.

Why do pre-medical students seem “stressed out” so much of the time? What can advisors do to help them manage their stress more effectively? In answer to the first question, the authors point to some of the unique challenges of the current generation: the anxious hovering parents, the parents who have smoothed the way, the over-emphasis on self esteem and achievement, the protection from disappointment and failure. All of the factors have created a generation of perfectionists who are afraid to fail, and, hence, to take a risk. Multiple, popular TV shows have generated an unrealistic view of a medical career. The popularity of superheroes has emphasized heroic success over quiet caring and compassion.

Advisors are encouraged to help students learn resilience through the model of “the 7 C’s”. These are confidence, competence, connection, character, contribution, caring, and control. Students need a mentor, good coping strategies, creative pursuits, and healthy lifestyles. They need to understand that they can’t and won’t be good at everything, but they can still become a doctor. Caring and contributions will help remind students of why they are pursuing a medical degree. Several good books and a website are recommended.

Preparing Students for Success in Medical School
Gina Paul, Ph.D.

The author advises MEDPREP students and addresses how she prepares these individuals to cope with the six most commonly cited academic problems of medical students. As a starting point she recommends the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test so students discover and understand their learning type. Although the MBTI identifies four preferences, the two that seem most relevant to medical studies are Sensing/Intuitive and Judging/Perceiving. Sensing types tend to see the big picture, but may miss the details. Intuitive types focus on memorizing the details, but may miss the patterns or overall concept. Judging types tend to be structured and organized, but may lack flexibility. Perceiving types tend to be flexible, but may have trouble managing a hectic schedule.

A survey of Midwestern medical schools revealed six common problems: organizing large amounts of information, integrating large amounts of information, time management, test-taking, test-anxiety, non-testing stress. The author discusses each of these problems in the context of the MBTI preferences and offers strategies to help the various types. She recommends several study skill books, and finds the use of labels, recommended in one of these references, useful in helping students organize their notes and connect the details to the bigger picture. She recommends the use of concept maps to help students integrate information. Both strategies encourage students to be active learners.

For time management, the author recommends a combination of trying a strategy, then reflecting upon how useful it was, until the student finds a couple that work well. She also has students search for concentration strategies in a similar fashion. To improve test taking, students generate test questions and analyze incorrect answers. For anxiety of any type, students are taught Deep Breathing Meditation.

Advising for Careers in Public Health: the Good News and the Bad News
William H. Harvey, Ph.D.

After acknowledging that advising about public health can seem daunting, the author offers some useful summaries. There are three core public health functions: 1) assessment and monitoring of community health, 2) formulating public policy in communities and populations, and 3) assuring that all populations have access to appropriate and cost effective care including health promotion and disease prevention. Two key words to describe public health are “community” and “populations”. These serve to contrast public health from individual patient health.

The last decade has seen a large increase in interest in public health for a variety of reasons, including study and travel abroad opportunities, potential pandemic diseases, increased awareness of environmental health issues, and awareness of social justice issues. Related to the increased interest in public health careers has been a dramatic increase of college students doing volunteer service.

Undergraduate programs in public health have expanded, and there has been a significant increase in the number of applicants to public health graduate programs. Entry to graduate programs can be challenging because there are multiple entry points with some programs expecting the applicant to have academic or practice experience prior to entry. A challenge for advisors and undergraduates is that interested students don’t necessarily come from the same majors or populations as pre-medical students; often the advisor and the interested student are unaware of the other. Although there is now a centralized application service (SOPHAS), the test and course requirements are not uniform. The author recommends a number of useful publications and websites to help the advisor better understand the field and the various public health programs available.

Pilot Study to Begin to Identify How to Keep Community College Students in the Pipeline to Medicine
David Thurlow, Ph.D.

Creating Peace of Mind for the Health Professions Undergraduate
Julie Fresne
Shelley Yerman

This article discusses financial peace of mind, not mental health issues! The authors describe in some detail the AAMC’s FIRST (Financial Information, Resources, and Tools) program, a suite of financial planning materials designed for applicants, students, residents, and their advisors. The FIRST website has a Power Point presentation on financial planning for medical school, as well as a library of fact sheets, printable PDFs, on a wide variety of financial topics.

Much of the article describes the resources that would be most useful to advisors and references the websites and publications that support the information. It is clear that debt is a very real concern, but that it is manageable with good planning and good spending habits. The authors point out the difference between tuition/fees and the real cost of attending a school. They also discuss the AAMC Fee Assistance Program and costs of applying that won’t be covered by financial aid. Typical financial aid sources are described and a plea is made to get to know the Financial Aid Office at the school the student will attend. Also noted are ways of preparing for the financial aid process and managing wisely the aid received.

It should be noted that, although FIRST is a product of the AAMC, most of the information is available to any user and the information is applicable to most other graduate, professional programs.

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