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Preparing for med school

July 8, 2008

Accepted to med school

For those passing through northwest­ern Idaho, here’s hoping you don’t meet Guy Jensen. Jensen is a volunteer emergency medical technician, who, during the summer, is likely to be one of the first people on the scene in the event of a car wreck, wildfire or other emergency on the rural roads near his hometown of Genesee, Idaho, population 900.Jensen, who otherwise works on the family farm when he’s not at PLU, saw this as an opportunity to serve his com­munity, and get precious job skills to boot. He spent his summers training as an EMT. He took classes at the state fire academy. He completed a rope-rescue training course. He learned Spanish volunteering at a medical clinic that treats migrant workers.

For a while, he considered studying to be a paramedic but realized that wouldn’t quite satisfy him. “Dropping people off at the hospital and that being the end of my contact with them just wasn’t fulfilling,” Jensen recalled. “I wanted to know how they did.”

So he decided to prepare for medical school.

For someone with aspirations to serve in the medical pro­fession, he was doing all the right things. And by partici­pating in PLU’s pre-professional health sciences program, his prognosis for success got even better.

PLU doesn’t have a pre-med major, per se. It has a pre-pro­fessional health sciences program, which advises students one-on-one how to best build a course schedule that gives them the best chance at getting into a medical or dental school, or another heath science professional school.

For Jensen, this meant working with Matt Smith, associate professor of biology and chair of the department. Smith is one of six natural science professors on the Health Sciences Committee.

At PLU, most students on the health-sciences track work through the biology curriculum and take an entire year of organic chemistry. By the junior year, with most of the lower-division classes out of the way, students select classes and extra-curricular projects to burnish their academic reputation. In Jensen’s case, he wanted to showcase his lab skills – something every med school likes to see.

The course work itself is tough, and a lot of students find they are not cut out for it. It’s a hard reality: As difficult as the PLU program is, med school isn’t going to be any easier. “I don’t enjoy that part of the job, when students realize they might not be med-school material,” Smith said. “But they need to know what they are getting themselves into.”

Smith’s involvement extends beyond the academic arena. When Jensen started filling out applications during fall semester of his senior year – 13 in total for schools across the United States – Smith was there, guiding him through the realities of the process.

For instance, Smith worked with Jensen to identify where to apply ($100 per application is no small chunk of change) and how to strengthen his personal statements. Advisors are there to help students build a strong resume. After all, it’s all about standing apart from the pack.

This kind of insight can really make or break a student’s application. Smith encourages students to volunteer at a hospital or shadow a doctor. He says med schools like to know if students have shown a desire to help others, particularly underserved populations. Jensen’s work as an EMT, and at the medical clinic, certainly qualifies.

In December, Jensen went before the entire Health Sciences Committee to participate in a mock interview, one that mirrored what he’d later go through for real. By February, he had secured oral interviews at the University of Washington and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Md. of

In this case, two for 13 isn’t bad, particularly when the UW program is one of the best in the United States. As the “regional” med school for five states – Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Wyoming – 20 spots are reserved for Idaho residents. Be one of the 20 most promising students in the entire state, and you’ve got a chance.

“That’s where being from PLU really helped me,” Jensen said. “They know what kind of student makes it though the [pre-med] program here. That gives me an edge. Other universities back east aren’t as familiar with that.”

It is a reputation PLU has earned. Year after year, PLU is regularly second only to the UW itself in admits to its School of Medicine. According to PLU’s Office of Admis­sion, nearly two-thirds of PLU students who apply to medical school are accepted. Nearly 90 percent of dental students are accepted.

“I’ve had some people from other schools ask ‘what’s your secret?’ I don’t think there is a secret,” said Smith. Then he pauses for a moment. “It might just be that PLU attracts really good students.”

Jensen was one of them. As he neared graduation, he waited to hear if his four years of hard work would pay off. By April, he got his answer: he was accepted to both universities.

For Jensen, that means the hard work will only continue – he starts at UW in the fall of 2008.

He headed back to Genesee for the summer, working on the family ranch. He’s also on call as a volunteer EMT. So, if you do wind up meeting Jensen somewhere in north­western Idaho, rest assured, you are in good hands. He’s among the region’s best.

 -Steve Hansen, University Communications