On the Right Track: Pre-Health Mentoring at St. Lawrence
Can an undergraduate education from a liberal arts school prepare students for a career in healthcare? For Grace Smith ’22, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
“The best part about being a pre-health student at St. Lawrence is that you have the resources and guidance of mentors that truly care about you and want you to succeed,” Grace says. “The liberal arts education also allowed me to take classes in public speaking, film studies, and creative writing. All of my coursework has helped me prepare for a career in healthcare.”
Grace, a biology major with minors in public health and sports studies and exercise science, plans to attend the University of Rochester next year and is on track to enter the field of nursing. She’s also a senior mentor in St. Lawrence’s pre-health mentoring program, which helps first-year students explore and prepare for health careers.
Grace believes there’s a misconception that students on a pre-health track must be so focused on meeting requirements for medical school that they have to forgo other transformative college opportunities. The pre-health mentoring program aims to debunk this myth.
“I share what motivates me, tips on time management, my study spots on campus, which courses I loved taking, how I chose my major and minors, and how I found the field of nursing,” she says. The mentoring program also encourages first-year students to understand how they can leverage all their liberal arts experiences for success in whichever post-graduation path they choose.
“St. Lawrence helps students develop academically and holistically for admission to medical school. Students who begin this process early find themselves best prepared for successful admission to health professional schools and programs,” says Karin Heckman, associate professor of biology and one of the mentoring program’s faculty directors.
“Students who wish to go directly from St. Lawrence to a health professional program need to be strategic in planning their coursework and shadowing experiences. Even important opportunities like study abroad can be accomplished with good planning,” says Heckman.
The program empowers first-year students to ask questions and build a support system that will help them navigate everything from course planning and extracurricular activities to job-shadowing opportunities and medical school applications.
“I remember talking with a student who thought that being pre-med meant you didn’t struggle with anything, so she didn’t ask for help in organic chemistry when she needed it,” says Jane Kring, an academic support specialist in biology and co-director of the pre-health mentoring program. “I’ve also talked with juniors that have done very well academically but don’t have any experience shadowing a physician. This program encourages students to proactively deal with challenges, learn from others’ experiences, benefit from Dr. Heckman’s and my insights, and plan ahead.”
Biology major Bella Hillman ’24, who transferred to St. Lawrence as a sophomore, participated in the pre-health mentoring program during her first semester on campus and is already reaping the benefits of strategic planning.
“Dr. Heckman is now my advisor. She has really helped me to form course plans and talk through how I should schedule my time here to fit in everything I need to succeed,” she says. “I told her that I want to study abroad, and she was able to create a course plan for me that would enable me to do so. I’ve learned that, even though the pre-health path is demanding, you’re still able to study topics that interest you. There is no one correct path you have to follow.”
For Bella, the close, personal nature of the program makes it possible to accommodate her unique goals.
“Students who are still determining their specific career interest within healthcare are encouraged to participate in the program,” says Heckman. “Often, students are unfamiliar with the range of health careers available, so we challenge them to understand all roles in the healthcare system to find what best fits their interests, personal strengths, and goals for life-work balance.”
As student-athletes with additional co-curricular commitments off the field and rink, Grace—a member of the women’s hockey team—and Bella—women’s lacrosse—understand the importance of balance. They also emphasize the value a diverse undergraduate experience can have for their future careers.
“Being a first responder for SLU EMS has been incredibly helpful in gaining patient care experience and learning how to act in emergency situations,” says Grace. “As a pre-health mentor, I have also connected students to clubs on campus while encouraging them to branch out and try new things—not just because it looks good on your resume, but because you truly find it enjoyable and interesting.”
“I chose St. Lawrence because I wanted opportunities outside of just pre-health,” says Bella. “I am able to have a balanced lifestyle here, with sports, friends, and clubs, while still working to achieve my career goals.”
Grace SmithClass of 2022
Grace is from Ithaca, New York. A biology major with minors in public health and sports studies and exercise science, Grace is also the vice president of Alpha Phi Omega, a first responder for SLU EMS, and a member of the women’s hockey team. She's served as an Orientation Leader (OL) since sophomore year and was a head OL her junior and senior years.
Bella HillmanClass of 2024
Bella is from Rye, New Hampshire. She's a member of the women's lacrosse team, as well as a first responder with SLU EMS. She's also involved with the pre-health club and active in Alpha Phi Omega.