From IC to M.D.
Andrew Becker ’14 doesn’t relax. The word isn’t in his vocabulary. Whether he’s running to biochemistry or architecture class, organizing a Premedical Society meeting, volunteering at Cayuga Medical Center, or working as a leadership facilitator at the Cornell Team and Leadership Center, he’s always on the move. Welcome to life on the premed track.
“To get into medical school, you have to focus on academics, leadership, responsibility, and research,” says Becker, a biochemistry major. “The most challenging part is the time commitment. You have to really, really love it.”
Becker is one of many IC students who is taking advantage of the college’s premed option.
The premed option is open to students in all majors. However, they must take the biology, chemistry, and physics courses that medical schools require. Students gain experience in their desired field through research, shadowing, and internships. The 10 faculty members that make up the IC Premedical Sciences Advisory Committee help students identify their medical career goals and stay on track to achieve them.
“We call the premed option a state of mind,” says Jean Hardwick, biology professor and chair of the committee. “It’s not a major or minor; it’s what you plan to do after you graduate. Any student from any major may choose to do this. Most students do come through sciences because that’s what they love, but your undergraduate career is your opportunity to explore an area in depth, and it doesn’t have to be science.”
Students who are studying in disciplines from music to communications have registered for the premed option. The flexibility and freedom of the coursework is partly why Sarah Rabice ’14 decided to attend Ithaca.
“When I was looking at schools, I met with the head of the science department to discuss my options,” says Rabice, a biochemistry major. “There are many opportunities available here for undergraduates that really aren’t available at larger universities. None of the other schools I saw had such interdisciplinary studies and seminars.”
Students are encouraged to conduct research with faculty members during the summer. Rabice worked for eight weeks last summer with biology professor Andy Smith researching the structure and mechanics of bioadhesives. “The summer is a wonderful time for me and my students to get into a lot of depth on a project and also to think more about the big picture,” says Smith.
This faculty-student collaboration is not only integral to the students’ learning, but it also comes in handy when it’s time for letters of recommendation for medical school applications.
“Professors get to know you extremely well in a research lab. That means those letters of recommendation are meaningful and have a lot to say,” Hardwick explains. “Students get a lot of advice, and they are often more confident in their choice.”
Rabice would like to pursue a career in oncology but is keeping her options open. Getting into medical school is no easy feat. The national rate of medical school acceptance is less than 50 percent.
“So many students want this as a career path, and there are a limited number of seats,” Hardwick says. “Ithaca is above the national average for applications: we’re closer to 60 percent acceptance. We also help those students who aren’t getting in decide what to do, whether it be strengthening their application for the next time or finding an alternative path. I tell students to work really hard but keep an open mind; you might discover there’s something else out there you love even more than medicine.”
Hardwick has guided many students through the premed program, including Lauren Houdek ’09, who is currently at the University of Pennsylvania medical school pursuing a career in pediatrics.
“The rigor of IC’s coursework prepared me for the academic challenge of medical school,” Houdek says. “My work with the Premedical Society affirmed my desire to go to medical school and taught me valuable lessons about leadership and service.”
As the current leaders of the Premedical Society, Rabice and Becker have started a resource guide for the society, with contact information for internships, a timeline for coursework, and tips for taking finals. The department also keeps a list on file of alumni who often provide student internships.
Looking back on her experiences at IC, Houdek is thankful for the community she found in IC’s premed program.
“All the premed students knew and supported each other,” she says. “It was very encouraging to be surrounded by a group of good people who all understood and sympathized with any challenges you were facing in the program.”
Faculty members like Hardwick are also good support for students.
“My goal is to help my students get the most they can out of their undergraduate experience. It’s about helping students find what they’re best at and what they’re passionate about,” Hardwick says. “If this is something you’re truly passionate about, just know you’ll have to work hard. But, if you work hard, that’s the key to success."
Originally published in Fuse: From IC to M.D..