Students vary pre-medical educations

Catherine Dawson, Contributing Writer

Pitt-Johnstown has 48 majors, but pre-medical is not one of them.

A student can come to Pitt-Johnstown as a pre-medical student, but they are required to declare an available major.

“Incoming students can say that they are in the pre-medical careers; that’s how they put it, and we usually put people who say they want to be pre-dental, pre-medical and pre-optometry in those areas. This also includes people who want to be pre-podiatry and pre-veterinarian,” Biology Department Chair Stephen Kilpatrick said.   

“They can be (pursuing) pre-medical careers and they get advised by biology faculty. Then they can decide later on (if) they want to major in biology, or something else.”

Kilpatrick said faculty try to get students to declare a major as soon as possible, but some students go as long as two years undeclared as pre-medical.

“When the students decide to declare their major, they generally go into biology or biochemistry. Sometimes a few go into psychology, and every so often some pick an odd major unrelated to the sciences.”

The reason faculty, such as Kilpatrick, want the students to declare a major is so the student can see on their degree-progress reports online whether they are fulfilling graduation requirements.

“When a student declares a major, it makes it easier to follow what it is they’re going to be doing,” he said.

As of June 30, Kilpatrick said of Pitt-Johnstown’s incoming freshmen, 70 were pre-medical.

That number fluctuates over the years: in fall 2013, Pitt-Johnstown had 53 of its incoming freshmen declared as pre-medical. That number dropped to 21 in spring 2014 because many had declared a major.

In fall 2014, there were 63 pre-medical incoming freshmen and, in spring 2015, the number dropped to 39. Fall 2015 had 54 incoming pre-medical freshmen and, by spring 2016, only 27 students still remained.

Kilpatrick said the only reason students know that they can attend Pitt-Johnstown as pre-medical students is because the admissions staff advises them to do it, so academic advisers know what the students interests are before they get to Pitt-Johnstown.

Starting this year, four biology faculty members now do the majority of pre-medical advising; Kilpatrick is one of the four.

Biology advisers are starting to email the pre-medical students as a group instead of having to email each student individually like they have had to do in the past.

Kilpatrick said a new advising system is underway that includes a complete program written by staff.

This program will give advisers the ability to know exactly which students are pre-medical or which have declared a major, but are on a pre-medical track and allow the advisers to email them in bulk about medical options.

“In the past, I have had students send me their email addresses if they want to be on a list to receive announcements or information pertaining to pre-medical students,” Kilpatrick said.

“The program will be in use hopefully starting next year. This year, it is just being piloted, and I have been asked to help with that, so I will be trying to use it this term.”

Sophomore biology major Luke Fitz said he came to Pitt-Johnstown as a pre-medical student and was told by his adviser to declare a major.

He said he chose biology because it fulfilled all the classes needed for medical school.

“My biology teachers normally tell me about pre-(medical) announcements,” Fitz said.

Sophomore biochemistry major Smit Bhimani also said he enrolled as pre-medical, but he decided to declare biochemistry.

“Biochemistry was a wise choice because my major courses blend with what I need for med(ical) school,” Bhimani said.

“I think that pre-med(ical) is not an actual major at (Pitt-Johnstown) because what happens if you don’t pass the (Medical College Admission Test)? By declaring a major, you have a backup,” Bhimani said.