ASU undergrads find success in entering medical school

March 26, 2014

More than 375 Arizona State University students have been accepted to medical schools over the past five years, many at the top schools in the nation. Sun Devils currently are cracking med school texts at Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Mayo and University of Chicago, to name a few.

ASU’s Health Professions Advising Office is a busy place, with about two dozen students visiting each day to find out what careers are available, what courses to take and what the requirements are for different professional schools. The office also advises students who are aiming for law school. med student simulating giving oxygent to mannequin Download Full Image

“Students are often surprised that we have such an active pre-professional advising program,” says Philip Scharf, senior academic director of the office. “I often talk to high school students who wonder why we don’t have a pre-med major. They don’t realize that medical schools aren’t interested in your undergraduate major. Schools look at your GPA, especially your science GPA, and your MCAT score.”

ASU has more than 20 pre-med science majors

ASU has more than 20 science majors that are considered pre-med, though many students are in engineering, business or psychology. Recently, several dance students and a piano major were accepted to medical school. English majors with a science background do particularly well on the MCAT, according to Scharf.

The ASU undergraduate curriculum provides an excellent grounding for medical school, Scharf says. ASU’s School of Life Sciences was recently ranked in the top 25 of all research institutions in the world by a leading higher education and careers research company based in the United Kingdom.

By sophomore year, students come to the pre-health office to sign up for field internships, and Scharf also encourages them to pursue research opportunities in their departments. By junior year, many take workshops on writing personal statements and applications. They keep track of the dates for the MCAT (medical school) and DAT (dental school) exams, and many will participate in mock interviews.

New BS in medical studies offered this fall

For the first time this fall, ASU will offer a bachelor's in medical studies through the College of Health Solutions, opening yet another pathway for students interested in health careers. The program will be rigorous and interdisciplinary, focusing on health promotion and exploring new delivery models.

Responding to planned changes in the MCAT as well as the evolving field of health care, the program will provide students a well-rounded foundation in social sciences, humanities, interprofessionalism and leadership, in addition to the medical science prerequisites necessary for graduate programs in medicine and health care.

“With health care reform, providers need to understand health policy and economics, and they should be better prepared to talk to their patients about issues of health promotion,” says Keith Lindor, dean of the College of Health Solutions. “This is a degree that will prepare people for health care delivery, how to better influence the health of a population before they become ill.

“Lifestyle choices having to do with food, exercise and stress are major determinants of the health of a population. Students coming into the health profession must understand their broader role. There’s so much to learn, why not take advantage of the undergraduate years to gain a background in these issues, rather than trying to force everything into three or four years of medical school?”

Core coursework will have medical focus

Some of the core coursework will be recast with a medical focus, Lindor says. An English class may focus on the literature of medicine, for instance, and a science class may be biostatistics. Other courses will include applied medical and health care ethics, global health and the cultural aspects of health.

“We hope this will be an attractive alternative for students not only from Arizona, but from other states, who want this kind of a program. Some medical schools will value this diversity of experience, and see it as a model of efficiency.”

Another advantage to the program is that it will give students the background to enter a number of different health-related careers, Lindor says. The vast majority of students interested in health don’t apply to medical school, and less than 50 percent of those who apply will be accepted. New occupations are constantly being formed, and as health care reform proceeds, new roles will be created.

ASU pre-med students have advantages over other schools

ASU students aiming for medical careers have enormous advantages over other schools in that there are so many opportunities at the university and in the Phoenix area for undergraduate research and clinical work, according to both Scharf and Lindor.

“We have formalized internship programs with Scottsdale Healthcare, Banner Good Samaritan, Maricopa Integrated Health Systems and Mayo Clinic,” says Scharf, “and students are good at finding work experience to gain credit. And while there are incredible research opportunities on campus, students also do research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and at Barrow Neurological Institute.”

ASU has built a close relationship with Mayo Clinic, with Mayo medical students coming to campus to pursue dual degrees, and ASU pre-med students participating in activities on the Mayo Clinic campuses.

Selected ASU pre-med students from Barrett, the Honors College can apply to participate in Mayo Medical Scholars, a multi-year program in which they shadow physicians and have lectures and hands-on learning experiences at the Mayo Clinic campus in Phoenix. Another program, the Mayo Physicians of Tomorrow, provides an opportunity for selected students from Barrett to spend two weeks during the summer at an experiential learning program at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn.

For more information on health-related majors at ASU, go to

ASU alum says undergrad years were good preparation for medical school

March 26, 2014

Jessica Burns had many demands on her time as an undergraduate at Arizona State University. Already a young mother, she took a full schedule of science courses, volunteered at a hospital, served as a mentor for a foster child and participated in research, among other activities.

It was a perfect preparation for medical school, says Jessica, now completing her fourth year of medical school at the University of Arizona. She will receive a dual degree in May, an MD and a masters in public health. ASU alum Jessica Burns with medical mannequin Download Full Image

“Medical school is incredible,” she says. “It has challenged me and tested my personal strength many times. ASU coursework prepared me well for the pre-clinical years of medical school and for the MCAT.

“I remember studying for exams and the MCAT in college and thinking those tests were tough. The U.S. Medical Licensing Exams are much more challenging. But they’re so rewarding because that knowledge is applied to being able to help care for patients.”

She is finishing her final rotations at the UA Phoenix campus, and will spend her last two months at Maricopa Medical Center working in the surgical intensive care unit and in anesthesiology. She just found out that she has been matched into an orthopedic surgery residency at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix.

Burns attended one semester of college in another state before she had her son, then stopped attending college so she could work and care for her child. Later on, she worked as a clinical research coordinator, obtaining medical histories, drawing blood, taking vitals and working closely with physicians. The experience confirmed her early ambition to become a physician.

Years later when she enrolled at ASU, she majored in biochemistry, working hard and focusing on her grades. She registered at the pre-health advising office, where an adviser read over her personal statement, counseled her on letters of recommendation and recommended resources for the MCAT. Her pathway wasn’t easy, but she never doubted it was the right choice for her.

“Life throws many curveballs. But I was still able to achieve my goals, despite having a child at a young age and continuing my family during medical school. (Burns had a second child.)

“I did well in my science courses, but I had gaps in my education due to the early start to my family. It helped to have an excellent MCAT to back up my science grades in proving that I could handle the demands of medical school.”

While in medical school, she made lifelong friends. She also sang in an a capella group, participated in clubs that improve clinical skills, volunteered with underserved populations and advocated for political changes.

Her only regret is that she didn’t spend more time doing paid medical work and research as an undergraduate.

“I volunteered at a hospital for two years, but paid experience gives you better opportunities for learning. I would have taken time to acquire training to be an emergency medicine scribe or technician, a medical assistant or paramedic.

“Also, I spent one semester doing research, but I would recommend spending at least two years. Research is helpful for admissions purposes and is such an integral part of medical training. It’s a good foundation.”