Saint Mary's Shepherds Students on to Medical School

Doctors are among the most trusted members of society, called upon for everything from life-saving surgeries to end-of-life care.

It should come as no surprise, then, that admission to medical school is itself no small accomplishment.

At California universities, there are 50 applicants for each space in a medical school class. Nationwide, close to 60 percent of all medical school aspirants are turned away completely even after submitting applications to 10 or more schools.

The odds have been considerably better for Saint Mary's students lately, however.

All seven students who applied to medical school in 2007 after completing the College's pre-med advising program were accepted. Some have already completed their first year in good standing and others start classes this summer.

"We take pride in supporting and guiding our students who intend to apply to medical school," says Karen Cowman, the College's health professions advisor.

Saint Mary's does not have a pre-med major, but each year students from disciplines ranging from chemistry to English take medical school prerequisites in science and math. Cowman advises some 350 health sciences students every year and helps individuals considering medical school by arranging for speakers and medical school representatives, including Saint Mary's alumni, to come to campus.

Jessica Curti '06, a biology major who recently completed her first year at the UC Davis Medical School, says the Saint Mary's science curriculum allowed her hit the ground running.

"I took everything from organic chemistry to zoology, and each class helped me," she says. "I was able to get a good score on the MCATs because of the chemistry, biology, and physics courses at Saint Mary's."

Pre-med preparation at Saint Mary's is more than just reading textbooks, according to Taylor Klein '07, a health sciences major now at the University of Nevada's medical school. She and another upper-division student working with Professor Greg Smith each dissected a cadaver, giving them the ultimate in hands-on medical school preparation.

"Most (pre-med) students just observe the cadavers and name structures," she says. "Our work at Saint Mary's was more similar to what you do in medical school."

Michael Jones '06, who begins at the University of Hawaii's medical school next week, says his major in experimental psychology served as excellent pre-med preparation.

"A big part of being a doctor is talking to people, so I'll be practicing what I learned every day," he says.

There are lessons to be learned outside the lab as well. Brian Jersky, the College's dean of science, says Saint Mary's liberal arts curriculum and Seminar Program help students develop critical thinking skills and a familiarity with concepts of ethics.

"Thinking about issues other than the merely technical is a crucial skill in a medical student and later a doctor," he says.

The College also encourages its aspiring medical doctors to look beyond the campus for ways to learn more about the field, and several students volunteer at hospitals or doctor's offices.

As part of Brother Michael Avila's Jan Term service learning course, both Jones and Klein worked at the St. Rose public hospital serving low-income patients in Hayward.

"It was fabulous and really cemented my desire to go to medical school," Jones says. "I really got to see the impact it has on a community."

The College's St. Luke Premedical Society also serves as a base of support. Students in the society, named for the physician-turned-Gospel Evangelist and patron saint of medicine, organize group study sessions and community volunteer activities.

"Our pre-med students are very competitive, but not with each other," says Cowman. "They're competitive with their own potential."

Curti, who knew she wanted to be a doctor "since before I can remember," says the College's devoted professors, small classes and supportive environment helped her reach the next step in her lifelong journey.

"I chose Saint Mary's to help me along this path because I had heard such wonderful things about the program. And what a great choice it turned out to be."

--John Grennan

Office of College Communications