Questions About Exploring Health Careers

What other careers do you see students go into when they leave premed?

While we don’t have any numerical data on this, anecdotally, students’ career paths when they decide against medicine are often guided by where they found the most satisfaction, personally or academically (or both!), during college. From my (Kate’s) example, I was considering becoming a veterinarian when I arrived at college. I liked my science courses and did well, but I loved being the equivalent of an RCA on my campus. I enjoyed providing guidance to others as they navigated the college experience, working in an environment that supported lifelong learning, and basically, I just loved college. So, I dropped prevet mid-junior year, finished out my Biology major, and went to graduate school for higher education administration.

At Princeton, we have worked with students who want to continue in a health care role other than medicine who went on to optometry, physician assistant, dentistry, and other health professions; we’ve worked with students who followed a love of service to non-profit work, students who loved fast paced environments and problem solving who went into consulting, students who wanted to share their love of the sciences with others as teachers, students who were passionate about a discipline they discovered at Princeton and pursued it in graduate school, and countless other routes. It can feel scary to give up the “premed identity” and the reasonably straightforward path to medicine for the seemingly infinite number of other, less straightforward career trajectories, but at the end of the day, with a Princeton degree and the experience that four years on campus affords for students to grow and mature, to become liberally educated, deeper thinkers and stronger communicators who want to help others and their communities, we are confident that our former premeds are going to do great things no matter what careers they ultimately choose. 

How late is too late to become premed?

It's never too late! There are individuals in their 50s who start medical school. Is it too late for you to be ready to start medical school right after graduation? Probably, both because there is preparation to do for the application process and because you really want to take your time exploring this new interest and being sure medicine is right for you -- which is something your premed peers have been considering for years and building up experience to help them make that commitment. Give yourself time to gather information via shadowing, volunteer work, speaking with recent alums about what it's like in medical school, and making sure that medicine is the best next step. We can help you chart out a timeline based on your prior experiences, your coursework, and other aspects of the preparation process, but expect that it'll take at least one, more likely a couple of years between graduation and matriculation at medical school to prepare comprehensively and well. Like any huge life decision that's going to require a lot of time, money, and emotional sacrifice, better to take the time at the outset to do your research and feel confident in your decision than to jump into something and regret it.

Dentistry

Are there activities that I should focus on as a predental student?

Just like premeds, focusing on your passions and pursuing them in depth and over time is key. Shadowing dentists in different settings so that you can gain perspective on the career opportunities is valuable. A couple of areas that are emphasized more for predental students than premeds are business skills and manual dexterity. Many dentists go into private or group practice, and if that’s a route that you’re considering, some early preparation in business/management can be valuable. Manual dexterity, developed though activities like ceramics, hand crafts, video games, etc., is also beneficial. It’s also important to be able to connect with others—both patients and colleagues—in close proximity. Dentists are working side by side with their assistants and techs, often in close spaces, and have to be attuned to patients’ feelings via verbal and especially non-verbal cues in ways that physicians in many specialties do not. Activities that develop this team mentality and ability to put others at ease will prepare you well for the career. For more perspectives on predental preparation, read through the information on the ADEA GoDental website.

Pharmacy

Can I take pharmacy school prerequisites like Microbiology with Lab, Anatomy and Physiology, and Public Speaking at Princeton?

Good question! Unlike medical school requirements, which are a little more uniform, different Pharmacy schools will have different course requirements, and may accept Princeton courses, but it’ll be a case-by-case basis. The courses that are most like an Anatomy and Physiology sequence are Human Adaptation (ANT 215 / EEB 315, offered in Fall) and Comparative Physiology (EEB 314, offered in Spring). Princeton offers Microbio with lab in some years – it’ll be MOL 380B, and Public Speaking is offered as ENG 230. We recommend researching Pharmacy schools of interest and making note of their prerequisites (you can find a list of programs online: www.pharmcas.org/school-directory/#/) , and if a school requires Anatomy and Physiology, reach out to them directly to find out if our ANT 215 and EEB 314 will satisfy their requirements. Send an email to the admissions office, introduce yourself as a pre-pharmacy student attending Princeton, and attach copies of the course descriptions from Course Offerings along with the texts used in the courses. If you have trouble getting through to any of the schools, let us know and we can try to intervene on your behalf. It may be difficult to fit these courses into your Princeton curriculum, and you may hear from schools that these courses will not meet their requirements. Many pharmacy schools require significant work in a hospital/pharmacy setting, so many pre-pharmacy students choose to work for a year or two after graduation; if you did this, you could finish up the required courses at a local college while you worked. You can learn more about Pharmacy careers on the HPA website: hpa.princeton.edu/exploring/pharmacy.

Physician Assistant

PA schools require Anatomy and Physiology with lab, which isn't offered at Princeton. Can I take these courses in my gap year for Princeton credit?

It’s absolutely fine to take these courses away from Princeton—most students end up taking them during a summer or after graduation, so taking them now makes good sense as long as you’ve completed the prerequisites for them. You can check with your residential college dean or director of studies about pre-approval for courses to transfer back—it would require that the courses meet certain hours requirements and that there is approval from an academic department to accept the credit. Whether or not the courses do transfer to Princeton, when you apply to PA schools, you will send the original transcripts from the college where you took the courses—it is not required that the credits transfer in order to count them toward professional school prerequisites. If the classes you plan to take are being offered remotely, double check with PA programs of interest to ensure that they will accept remote courses (they almost certainly will—we’ve found that schools we’re in touch with have been very understanding of students’ situations during the pandemic, but it never hurts to check directly). Keep in mind that all grades from all US college/university courses must be reported to professional schools, whether you transfer them to Princeton or not.

Podiatry

What is podiatric medicine, and is this something I should consider?

According to the the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, which represents the eight podiatric medical schools and about 200 hospitals, "Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs) strive to improve the overall health of their patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. They treat a variety of conditions and employ innovative treatments to improve the well-being of their patients."  Applications to podiatry schools have been on the rise in recent years, and average GPA and MCAT scores for those accepted to DPM programs are somewhat lower than those for medical school.  Most importantly, you might consider pursuing a career in podiatry if you've spent time with someone who practices in this field, and if you believe that the approach to the patient and the lifestyle is consistent with your interests.  Getting exposure to a wide range of medical practices (as a volunteer, doing "shadowing," or in the course of clinical research) is the best way to assess which specific direction makes the most sense for you.  HPA at Princeton sees many more students interested in allopathic medicine than podiatry or osteopathic medicine, but we do have information about numerous health professions (including dentistry and veterinary medicine) in our library and on our website.  We hope you'll take a look at the resources soon!

Public Health

Is pursuing a MS in Public Health is a good way to get preparation that’s relevant to being a doctor that will give me an edge in medical admissions?

The best evidence for ability in the sciences is taking additional, advanced courses in the sciences and doing well (hopefully also securing letters of recommendation that speak to your ability). Most MPH programs do not provide access to these kinds of advanced science courses. The academic record enhancer post-baccalaureate programs are more specifically geared toward students in your situation. Many of them allow you to take the same courses that first-year medical students are taking, so if you do well in them, it’s showing that you’ll also be able to do well in medical school. We have a handout and some sample programs listed on our website under Record Enhancement Programs. Of course, if you’re interested in public health, it’s a great career path for which pursuing an MPH could be a next educational step, but doing an MPH shouldn’t be seen as a stepping stone to medical school admissions. 

What can I do with an MPH vs. MD/MPH?

An MPH leads to a wide variety of career options. A great place to start researching career options is the American Public Health Association "What is Public Health" resource, where you'll see, among other things, that an MPH leads to work in environmental health, biostatistics, health administration, nutrition, epidemiology, health education, and more. Many of the prehealth students we see at HPA elect to go for the joint MD/MPH degree because they want to study health as it pertains to larger populations and cultures (public health) while still treating the individual (human medicine). A background in public health can benefit nearly any doctor in their desire to treat the "whole" patient and to be a leader within the community. For a list of joint MD/MPH programs and other information, check out the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.

Veterinary Medicine

What can HPA do for pre-vet students?

There aren’t many pre-vet students on campus, but we certainly enjoy working with pre-vets. We have specialized listservs for pre-vet, pre-dental, and MD/PhD through which we share targeted messages, so be sure to email Jennifer at HPA@princeton.edu and ask that she put you on the pre-vet email list. Most often, we answer pre-vet students’ questions about coursework (the required courses for vet school are very similar to the ones for med school, but there are a few anomalies at certain vet schools) and about applying to vet school. When it comes time to apply (your junior summer if you’re hoping to matriculate right after graduation, or your senior summer if you’re taking one glide year), we’ll work with you on application logistics. You’re always welcome at the programming we offer for pre-meds, such as the Interviewing Info Session or the session we do on writing a personal statement for your application, since the vet school application process is very similar to the med school one. The key differences are in timing and your letters of recommendation. You will need 3-4 individual recommenders who will complete forms via VMCAS, the application service that most (but not all!) vet schools use. The committee letter process through HPA is optional – vet schools do not expect committee letters in the way that medical schools do. You’ll also submit your application in the fall rather than early summer. The AAVMC website and their pre-vet newsletters may provide particularly advice, so we’d recommend bookmarking that site, as well as using our HPA resources, and be sure to contact Princeton’s Pre-Veterinary Society officers to be part of the pre-vet student community on campus. In any case, we’d like to meet you and talk about your pre-vet path in general, so please don’t be a stranger! 

As an EEB concentrator, I think I have many of the pre-vet requirements done, but it seems I still need to take biochem, genetics, microbiology, physiology and public speaking. Is this true?

Great question.  Don’t forget to email us at HPA@princeton.edu and get yourself on the pre-vet email list for your class year, in case we have any vet schools visiting or any of your peer pre-vet students plan any related programming.  As for the vet school requirements, alas, you are correct in that they often have slightly different requirements than med schools. A list of each school's requirements is available on the AAVMC website. You may have had enough genetics within one of the biology courses you’ve taken already, and physiology isn’t a standard requirement (fairly rare, actually).  As for microbiology and public speaking, you should probably do these.  Public speaking is offered once per year at Princeton via the English Dept (ENG 230, a fall course). Microbiology (MOL 380) is sometimes offered with a lab at Princeton, usually in the fall semester. All in all, come in to see us and we’ll discuss your interest.  If you can get biochem, public speaking, and microbiology done before you apply, great.  As for the others, we’ll tailor our advice depending on your possible list of schools.