Pre-med mentoring program has 100% application success rate to medical school

Pre-med mentoring program has 100% application success rate to medical school

Story, video and photos developed by University Communications.

 

T hey say going to college is like drinking from a water fountain—in medical school, a fire hose.

At Georgia College & State University, a group of pre-med students already know what it’s like to drink from a hose and withstand the deluge.

They have a mentor by their side.

Private tutoring sessions for the MCAT exam would cost thousands of dollars. But, here, we have Dr. Hegde.
– Sarah Fix
When senior Sarah Fix of Fayetteville, Georgia, switched her biology major concentration from nursing to pre-med, she checked resources at other schools.

“There’s nothing comparable to this,” Fix said. “Private tutoring sessions for the MCAT exam would cost thousands of dollars. But, here, we have Dr. Hegde.”

Dr. Ashok Hegde
Dr. Ashok Hegde
Dr. Ashok Hegde is the William Harvey Endowed Professor of Biomedical Science at Georgia College. In 2016, he took over the university’s pre-med mentorship program from Dr. Kenneth Saladin, distinguished professor emeritus of biology, who wanted to better equip tomorrow’s medical students.

The results of Saladin’s vision have been nothing short of astounding.

Since the program started in 2009, every student who applied to medical school has been accepted.

Every single one.

In 14 years, only a handful of students decided not to pursue medicine. Some opted for health-related jobs with fewer working hours. The rest—about 140—got into medical school.

That’s unusual.

But so is the mentorship itself.

Most universities have larger pre-med numbers—but only an academic advisor to help students along. Advising generally means one meeting and a brochure.

There’s not a program like this in Georgia or anywhere in the country. I talk to people at national conferences. I dug online. As far as I can tell, there is not a comparable program anywhere. There are varying degrees of pre-med advising but not pre-med mentoring. There’s a huge difference. It’s not about giving them a little bit of information. It’s about actually preparing them with all the skills that they require. I don’t leave anything to chance.
– Dr. Ashok Hegde

To underscore how unusual the 100% application rate is—one only has to look at admission rates for medical school.

Prior to coming to Georgia College, Hegde taught first- and second-year students at Wake Forest Medical School in North Carolina. Part of that job was interviewing prospective students. During that time, Wake Forest received about 8,000 med-school applications. Only 500 were chosen for interviews and roughly 200 accepted. The average class size was about 120.

That’s about a 2.5% chance of success.

Even more troubling: According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AMMC), as many as 18.4% of medical students drop out during four years of medical school.

That’s why Hegde accepted the position at Georgia College.

Med students at Wake Forest often told him they wished they’d been better prepared and knew what they were getting into.

Some—like two former undergraduates—come specifically to Georgia College because of its pre-med seminar. They’d gotten into the University of Georgia’s medical school but heard of Georgia College’s mentoring program and transferred.

Senior Sarah Fix and Junior Carter Coursey in the medical culture seminar.
Senior Sarah Fix and Junior Carter Coursey in the medical culture seminar.

Junior biology major and pre-med student Carter Coursey of Loganville, Georgia, also came for the mentorship. When he heard about the 100% application success during an admissions tour, he turned to his father and said, “Whoa. This is what separates this school from all the others. This is the right place for me.”

Coursey wanted to be a doctor since high school. He loves science and enjoys helping people. The chance to impact lives on a daily basis appealed to him. He hopes to become a dermatologist or orthopedic surgeon.

Like so many other pre-med students before him, however, Coursey wasn’t sure he was good enough. What if he messed up the school’s 100% application rate by failing to get into medical school?

...when you have someone like Dr. Hegde in your corner, you say, ‘I’ve got this.' He’s definitely lowered my anxiety because I feel like I’m more prepared. This seminar makes me feel like I can succeed in med school.
– Carter Coursey
But there’s something special about having a mentor on your side.

Someone who believes in you and helps you believe in yourself.

It creates confidence. Now, Coursey knows he’ll make it.

“There’s been many times in a class, when I’ve been struggling with a topic, I think, ‘This is hard,’” he said. “There are other majors I could do that are easier than this, and I think, ‘Do I want to do this? Can I do this?’”

“But when you have someone like Dr. Hegde in your corner, you say, ‘I’ve got this,’” Coursey said. “He’s definitely lowered my anxiety because I feel like I’m more prepared. This seminar makes me feel like I can succeed in med school.”

“My day brightens every time I see Dr. Hegde,” he added.

To create this kind of self-assuredness, Hegde covers all bases. Seminars are not about note-taking or quizzes. There are no lectures. There are no grades, only satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

It’s all active learning.

The medical culture seminar is part of the university’s newly-named Biomedical Science concentration and meets two hours a week. Students are in seminar for at least two semesters and up to four. All aspects of what it takes to become a medical student are covered: How long it takes to study for the national medical exam, MCAT; how to write riveting personal essays for applications; and what to say at medical school interviews.

Seminars also cover what it’s like to be a doctor. Hegde tells his students—it’s not like Grey’s Anatomy on TV.

Students read and discuss books written by doctors. They watch Ted Talks; interact with visiting physicians and former pre-med students; and do real case studies, normally reserved for medical school.

Students love this part of the seminar. Every time Hegde announces a new case study, they cheer.

They get to play doctor, going step-by-step through the process of correctly diagnosing an illness. As a patient’s symptoms and history unfold, Hegde asks, “What are you thinking? What’s your hypothesis?” The goal is to understand the disease but also the treatment.

I’m looking for potential. It’s not about being bright and hardworking. Not everyone is cut out for medicine. It requires a certain kind of person. That’s what I’m looking for—whether this student is suited for a medical career.
– Dr. Hegde
Students determine what to look for in a physical exam, which lab tests to order and whether X-rays or MRIs are needed.

Like any good mystery, there are twists and turns along the way.

Eventually, a diagnosis is made. Any terms or diseases students don’t understand become learning opportunities. They each research an issue, then present findings to the class like a doctor presenting a case.

The first time Hegde did a case study with undergraduates, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I did one out of curiosity to see how they’d do, and they did quite well,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised. They were comparable to first-year medical students.”

It’s gotten to the point, where Hegde said he’s “almost cocky” knowing his students will do well in interviews and med school.

A person’s heart has to be in it. This is not a profession you go halfheartedly into, because lives are at stake. It’s not just about you. An office job is not going to hurt anybody. But here, there’s a real danger of hurting someone.
– D. Hegde
When selecting students for seminar, he looks for individuals who can articulate why they want to become doctors—students with people skills and compassion. They must also have a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.7—the same requirement for med school.

“I’m looking for potential,” Hegde said. “It’s not about being bright and hardworking. Not everyone is cut out for medicine. It requires a certain kind of person. That’s what I’m looking for—whether this student is suited for a medical career.”

“A person’s heart has to be in it,” he said. “This is not a profession you go half-heartedly into, because lives are at stake. It’s not just about you. An office job is not going to hurt anybody. But here, there’s a real danger of hurting someone.”

Students are usually surprised by the invitation to join. Most admit to hesitating before accepting, because they don’t want to be the first to break the group’s 100% acceptance streak.

Once inside the program, their confidence blossoms.

Senior Jinha Kim
Senior Jinha Kim
Senior biology major Jinha Kim of Milledgeville has a premed concentration with a minor in Spanish. She loves science and is passionate about medicine, but she said it’s her nature to be nervous and shy.

Biology Professor Ellen France encouraged Kim to apply for the pre-med mentorship, but Kim wasn’t sure she was good enough. Hegde calls that “imposter syndrome”—when someone underestimates their potential.

Her first mock interview in front of seminar peers was scary, and Kim felt she messed up. But Hegde was reassuring. That’s why they have practice sessions, he said, to ready students for the real thing.

“I am a very anxious person, and I like to plan things out and be aware of what I’m getting myself into,” Kim said. “The mentorship is showing me what to expect in medical school. Being in this program has definitely shown me my strengths and some of my weaknesses too. I feel a lot more confident in my abilities because of this program.”

I have been able to get an inside scoop on what medical school is like. With each new component, I am more and more excited to make that dream become my reality.
– Jinha Kim
Kim’s confidence also grew during volunteer hours at Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta and HOPE For Kids in Macon. She helped nurses and families with anything they needed, whether it meant bringing a toy to an ill child or fetching lab results.

She hopes to one day be a pediatric oncologist.

“I have been able to get an inside scoop on what medical school is like,” Kim said. “With each new component, I am more and more excited to make that dream become my reality.”

I don’t coddle my students. Right from the get-go, I plunge them into this thing, so they’re not nervous when it’s time to apply. We build a good foundation.
– Dr. Hegde
Every semester, Hegde meets each student one-on-one at the Max for a meal and discussion. He uses a scale he calls the “Saladin Score”—based on the Apgar score that quickly evaluates the health of newborn babies. It’s a self-assessment that helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses in academics, MCAT preparation, interview skills and volunteer hours.

“Getting into medical school is getting a little more challenging,” Hegde said. “You can think about it all you want, but unless you actually practice these things, you’re not going to get good at it.”

“I don’t coddle my students,” he said. “Right from the get-go, I plunge them into this thing, so they’re not nervous when it’s time to apply. We build a good foundation.”

Every semester, there’s also fun and relaxation. Hegde invites students to his house for a potluck dinner. They sit around laughing and talking about everything but medicine. They listen to Hegde read excerpts from his favorite hobby: writing fiction.

He affectionately calls them his people— “peops” (pronounced peeps) for short.

That, perhaps, sums up the secret to the seminar’s success.

A tight knit family-style group is a bedrock of stability.

Sarah Fix
Sarah Fix
It gave Fix the chance she needed to venture forth and test the waters without fear.

Hegde’s encouragement, the knowledge she gained from seminars, plus her shadowing of doctors in Northeast Georgia through the Foothills Pathway to Med School program and the hours she volunteered at Fayette Care Clinic in her hometown—all helped solidify Fix’s decision to pursue medicine.
 
Her goal is to become a pediatrician and work with underserved communities in rural areas.

“The journey to medical school is very daunting and intimidating,” Fix said. “The culture surrounding pre-medical studies, globally, is competitive and can feel threatening or make you feel inadequate.”

“Being in the mentorship has allowed me to change my mindset and become more insulated to the scare tactics of med-school admissions,” she said. “I have developed peace and certainty.”

Students know they can rely on Hegde’s support well after graduation too—sometimes into their practice as doctors.

It makes leaving the nest a little less frightening.

It’s so great to be around these bright young people. I’m very proud of them. I tell them their success is my success.
– Dr. Hegde