A year of physics, a year of organic chemistry, a year of inorganic chemistry, May Siu ’15 said as she ticked off her requirements. A year of humanities, a year of biochemistry, a year of math. Molecular biology, genetics and as many animal studies courses as possible.
While many of the courses Siu needs to take can also fulfill the requirements of her biology concentration, she must tailor her course schedule to be able to pursue a very specific line of work after her undergraduate years — not medical school, though the requirements seem similar. After immersing herself in hands-on experience for a year after graduation, Siu plans to apply to veterinary school. But unlike the support system in place for the larger faction of undergraduates applying to med schools, there is no equivalent for pre-vet students, Siu said.
“I felt very much on my own,” she said. “I felt like there were all these resources for pre-med kids. Everyone knew exactly what they needed to do, and they had all these resources and fairs.”
Alan Vazquez ’15 knew he wanted to become a dentist early in his undergraduate career, but like Siu, he has found resources and advising for pre-dental students to be less readily available than those for pre-meds.
“Definitely you have be a ‘go-getter’ type of person,” Vazquez said. “The advising isn’t always geared toward dental school. It’s mostly geared toward medical school.”
A fraction of the larger faction
During any given year, between 600 and 800 current and recently-graduated Brown students pursue tracks leading to health careers, Director of Pre-Professional Advising and Assistant Dean of the College George Vassilev said. Roughly 150 seniors and alums apply to medical schools each year, a number the University monitors very closely, Vassilev added. Every year, a much smaller, less closely-tracked faction of students pursue other health careers. Dental schools and veterinary schools consistently attract a large part of this group.
Health Careers Advising keeps tabs on students who apply to health schools other than medical schools — such as dental schools, vet schools, nurse practitioner schools, podiatry programs and more — but most data is anecdotal at best, Vassilev said. Normally between six and 10 students apply to dental schools every year, and one to three students submit applications to veterinary schools, Vassilev said.
Close to 70 percent of students submit applications to health schools after they have graduated, Vassilev added, which makes tracking the total number of applicants difficult. “We’re here for students and alumni over the span of many years,” he said.
Overworked and underrepresented
Compared to the resources allocated to pre-med students, undergrads pursuing careers in veterinary and dental medicine said the University does not provide them with enough structured advising and support.
When Siu arrived at Brown, she was already considering being pre-vet, but she spent her first semester exploring other options. By the time she started the pre-vet track her second semester, she was already behind, she said.
“Every semester, I found out something new that I wasn’t doing that I had to be doing,” she said, adding that she did not have the advising she needed to help her plan her course load effectively.
“I definitely found that I was struggling a lot these four years just trying to figure out what I needed to do,” she said. “I just wanted someone to talk to about that and to tell me ‘this is what you need to do; go do it.’”
The requirements for vet schools differ — sometimes significantly — between the individual programs, Siu said, adding that having someone very familiar with both the array of vet school requirements and Brown’s curriculum would have made the process much easier.
Monica Pechanec ’15 knew she wanted to be a vet coming in to Brown, but said the process of figuring out coursework and seeking hands-on experience has been an isolating one. Opportunities to shadow vets are not abundant in Providence, Pechanec said, adding that she does not attend CareerLab events or resource fairs geared towards health careers because they are “useless” for students considering tracks other than med school.
The number of animal-related classes and upper-level nutrition and anatomy classes offered are minimal, and many do not count towards veterinary prerequisites, Pechanec added.
“I got through without any problems, but I’m definitely still always frustrated,” she said.
A music concentrator working to simultaneously complete her pre-dental requirements, Samantha SaVaun ’17 is struggling to find an advisor who understands balancing two very different academic pursuits. “I think it’s difficult. I’ve been trying to find an adviser who doesn’t favor either side of my education,” she said. SaVaun said no one has been able to suggest the best way to structure her schedule each year, for example “how to balance the orgo of music with the orgo of orgo.”
For students navigating pre-health tracks, peers often serve as the greatest resources.
Catherine Dang ’15, president of the current Brown Pre-Dental Society, said while she understands Brown’s focus on pre-med students because of their sheer number, the lack of resources available to those interested in other health careers can be discouraging. “I am kind of more sympathetic about it because the majority of people are pre-med,” she said. “So we’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.”
But it “took years to develop the (Pre-Dental Society), years of passing down information on what dental resources are available.”
Currently, no pre-vet society exists at Brown. Miranda Norlin ’17 said she wished she had other pre-vet students to go through the process with her. “It would be nice just to be able to talk to other people about what they’re doing,” she said.
‘Instruments and info sessions’
Though there are no official advisers specifically for the veterinary or dental tracks, pre-vet students often seek advice from Director of Animal Care James Harper. Harper said students’ innovative takes on how to approach the pre-vet track have impressed him over the years and exemplify how “Brown students do things so many unique ways.”
But his advice is not always pretty. “For all the effort that you’re going to put into going through vet school, you’ve got to like it because you’re not going to make the same amount of money,” Harper said, comparing vets to doctors.
These lower income rates also make paying off loans more difficult, Harper said. “That affects what kind of car you have, what kind of house you have. I answer all the academic questions, but then I try to make them aware of the (field) they’re going to work in.”
But despite student complaints and potential disparities, Vassilev said he rarely encounters much discontent with the advising available for students pursuing careers outside of the med school track.
“It’s incumbent upon students to come and find us, and our website, events and programs,” Vassilev said. “All of these instruments and info sessions and programs and events are intended to provide robust support to students and alumni.”
He added that students considering any sort of health profession are encouraged to come in for advising.
“I welcome any suggestions about ways in which students might have other ways to be informed about these,” he said.