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Providing an Entree to Medical Professions

By Angela Modany

Lauren Rarick

Lauren Rarick (Photo: Angela Modany)

When the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program first started at American University, four students were enrolled. This fall, Lynne Arneson, the program’s coordinator, is welcoming 56 students, a 20 percent growth over last year.

“Knowledge about the program has grown,” Arneson says. “In addition to traditional recruitment, many students hear about the program by word of mouth.”

Arneson also attributed the increase to the growing health-care industry and the growing number of retirements among members of the baby boomer generation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the health-care and social assistance industry will grow by 33 percent, or 5.7 million new jobs, between 2010 and 2020.

“We definitely need more geriatric physicians, podiatrists, and primary-care physicians if we’re going to take care of these folks as they get older,” Arneson says.

The Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree who want to enter a health field such as medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine but need to fulfill admission requirements, or they may want to make themselves more attractive candidates for admission. The program, which can be completed in one year, can also guide them through the application process.

“We hold seminars and workshops on how to interview, how to write a personal statement, and how to fill out the application,” Arneson says. “I collect letters of recommendation, we prepare a committee letter for the students, a lot of advising on what classes to take . . . I point them in the right direction.”

Arneson says AU’s program is more flexible than other programs in regards to prerequisites. “Some students come with no prerequisites for medical school, and some students have taken them all. We’re flexible; you can have taken none, all, or a few, and we’ll help you get the additional classes that you need in order to be a competitive applicant.”

Unlike many other postbaccalaureate programs around the country, AU’s program also does not limit the number of students it accepts. “We accept students that we feel are, or we can help become, competitive applicants to medical school,” Arneson says.

Those students come from all walks of life, from one year out of college to 40-year-olds. According to Arneson, many have decided to change careers or are in the military on surrounding bases.

“We’ve had a few Navy SEALs who were medical corpsmen. They finished up being Navy SEALs, were out of the Navy, did the postbaccalaureate program, and then went back to become doctors in the Navy,” Arneson says.

The program also attracted a fashion designer who was just a few years out of college. Arneson said she went on to become a physician.

Charlotte Bourdillon, a current postbaccalaureate student from Indianapolis, studied community health and international relations at Tufts University and came to AU to fill in her requirements for medical school. She said she liked the program's flexibility, community, and small classes.

“I'm one in 40 people and every professor knew my name with in a few weeks,” she said. “It offers me what I'm going to need to go to medical school, and it fits my learning style.”

Volunteering as an emergency medical technician in Bethesda got Lauren Rarick interested in going to medical school. Rarick received her undergrad degree in gender studies, but said something clicked when she volunteered as an EMT.

“I thought, ‘I would love to do this,’” she said.

Rarick found out about AU’s program online, and said it’s nice that her classes are so close to home in Bethesda.

“I hope to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in the spring and then start applying to medical schools,” she said. “But I would love to get a research job and defer medical school for a year, or take a year to see medicine abroad. That's the dream!”

As for Arneson, she anticipates a busy year.

“I’m looking forward to helping students apply and get into medical school,” she says. “And I’m looking forward to more applications.”