Health Professions Overview

Preparing for a Career in the Health Professions

Advisors in the Office of Pre-Professional Advising help pre-health students prepare for a career in the health professions, make informed decisions in their pre-health course planning, secure relevant and meaningful experience, overcome obstacles, and navigate the application process. As stated in our mission, we advise students to “pursue a holistic approach to their education, to be reflective about their learning and decision-making, and to demonstrate social responsibility and a commitment to voluntarism in preparation for a career of service.” In helping students prepare for and proceed through the application process, we advise with holistic principles of admissions in mind.

Majors for Pre-Health Students

Choosing a major is an exciting, yet sometimes daunting decision for a freshman. But rest assured, pre-health students can choose to study any major, whether that be Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, or English. Students who major in the sciences are strongly encouraged to explore an academic area outside of their major to demonstrate the breadth of their intellectual interests. In addition, students who major in humanities or social sciences will need to build pre-health requirements into their course planning.

While there is no required major for entrance into a health professions school, there are many skills, abilities, and values students can develop during their undergraduate years to help them succeed. These include:

  • Mastery of basic scientific principles
  • Demonstration of a broad exposure to the humanities and social sciences
  • Mastery of life-long learning skills
  • An understanding of the physician-patient relationship
  • Demonstration of desired personal traits such as maturity, integrity, compassion, empathy, and leadership
  • Establishment of relationships with faculty members
  • Demonstration of caring for fellow human beings
  • Demonstration of an understanding of the health care profession of choice
  • Demonstration of a commitment to public service

Let’s discuss this further in the next section.

How to be a Successful Health Professions School Applicant

What qualities do health professions schools seek in applicants? There is no doubt that they want excellent students with a demonstrated ability in science who made the most of the academic opportunities available at Hopkins, made efforts to learn about the healthcare field, and have demonstrated a commitment to helping others. Furthermore, professional schools seek students who are mature, stable, honest, responsible, trustworthy, enthusiastic, intellectually curious, and capable of leadership.

This is quite a list of qualifications. Successful applicants, however, must first demonstrate a mastery of the basic requirements in the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The science expertise of most Hopkins students pursuing careers in healthcare typically exceeds that of most applicants nationwide. Our students take advanced seminars, and most perform independent research with a faculty mentor. Furthermore, health professions schools look for students who have demonstrated that they are lifelong independent learners. This quality is evident in the way they approach learning “for the sake of learning,” their intellectual curiosity, and their approach to learning in service roles outside of the classroom.

As previously noted, applicants must also demonstrate intellectual breadth by either majoring outside of the sciences or by taking a sample of coursework in the humanities and social sciences. From a pragmatic vantage point, the abilities to read rapidly and understand dense, sophisticated material in the humanities and social sciences are especially important for success on standardized tests.

Additionally, students must provide strong evidence of a firm motivation to pursue a career in healthcare. These students demonstrate through their actions that they care about the welfare of fellow human beings and that they can effectively deal with those of different cultural backgrounds. Through their experiences, students must also understand the obstacles and difficulties faced by today’s health professionals.

Successful applicants also need to establish relationships with faculty members, supervisors, research PIs, etc., in order to obtain substantive letters of recommendation for future applications.

Although the expectations are high, Hopkins pre-health students have staff dedicated to assisting them along their journey.

When to Apply to Health Professions School

The majority of candidates to health professions schools apply either at the end of their senior of college or as alumni. In fact, more than 80% of Hopkins applicants to allopathic (MD) medical schools take at least one gap year, and nationally, the average age of a first-year applicant to medical school is 24.

Many students committed to careers in healthcare use their time after college to pursue new opportunities. Some engaged in community service programs such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America, while others obtain master’s degrees, engage in research, work in health care policy, or simply pursue a life-long passion. We believe that, above all, it is important for parents and advisors to allow each student to find his/her own path and offer support along the way. Both those who apply as rising seniors and those who apply as recent graduates or alumni enjoy high rates of acceptance.

It’s important to remember that this is a process that takes times, not everyone follows the same path, and there is no rush to apply to health professions school if you are not ready.

Preparing for Other Careers in Healthcare

Not all pre-health students seek careers in allopathic medicine (M.D.). Every year, some students apply to schools of osteopathic medicine, veterinary medicine, dental medicine, and other fields like pharmacy, physician assistant, and nursing.

Hopkins undergraduates and alumni apply to schools of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). Osteopathic physicians embrace a holistic philosophy by considering the body as a unit of interrelated systems that work together to ensure good health. D.O.s practice in all areas of medicine. About 60% of D.O.s are primary care physicians in family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics. However, more and more D.O.s are pursuing specialty training in areas including emergency medicine, anesthesiology, OB/GYN, psychiatry, and surgery. Despite some minor differences in philosophy and training emphasis, there are relatively few differences between the career paths of allopathic and osteopathic physicians. M.D.s and D.O.s have the same practice rights throughout the United States, and you can find D.O.s and M.D.s working together in the best hospitals and clinics throughout the nation, including at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Many Hopkins premedical students are exploring the option of becoming a D.O.

Although our applicants to veterinary school are few, we offer advising on a wide range of opportunities for pre-veterinary students to gain valuable experience, including working with companion animals, livestock, and even exotic animals. These experiences complement the outstanding academic and research opportunities that are inherent in a Johns Hopkins education. Competition for acceptance to veterinary school is fierce, and a strong academic record, combined with excellent letters of recommendation from both faculty as well as mentors in the veterinary field who have observed animal interactions, are very important. The significant number of animal contact hours required for application to veterinary medical schools can require that a student apply to vet school a year or two post-graduation.

Several students apply to dental medicine programs every year. With a good academic record, a repertoire of extracurricular activities, strong letters of support, use of the Hopkins committee system, exposure to the field of dentistry, and endorsement of a dental professional, our students have enjoyed outstanding success as dental school applicants.

In closing, there are numerous opportunities and decisions to consider when focusing on the health professions, so please encourage your student to make an appointment with a Pre-Professional advisor to discuss his or her pre-health path.