Academic advising is one of the only structured campus activities that allows students to have one-on-one interaction with college or university staff. Working with an academic advisor is very important to students’ academic planning and success. The LSU College of Science advising team is responsible for meeting the counseling and advising needs of over 1,500 science majors. This team includes Director of Prehealth Programs Robby Bowen. Bowen serves as the chief advisor for LSU students who plan to attend a professional health school after graduation.
Advising for the health professions is a very specialized practice and the information is constantly changing. The College of Science is proactive in providing counselors with specific training in working with students pursuing the prehealth program of study. Bowen is the president of the regional Southeastern Association of Advisors for Health Professions, or NAAHP, and serves on the Executive Board of the NAAHP. His involvement with these organizations allows him to receive first-hand information from deans of admissions of professional health schools around the country, which keeps him in the know about recent trends in admissions.
LSU students are very successful once they enter medical school. Bowen shares how important proper advising and other preparation activities are to helping students successfully navigate LSU’s prehealth program of study and be competitive candidates for some of the nation’s top professional health programs.
College of Science: The College of Science has produced a large number of graduates who have gone on to medical school. The medical school acceptance rate for our graduates is significantly higher than the national average. What is the secret to our success?
Robby: I think it’s a combination of factors. We have really good students at LSU and we offer a lot of support and opportunities for them. We begin working with students as soon as they arrive and begin preparing them for the process of gaining admission. We have information sessions specifically for first-year students to give them a four-year plan of what they should focus on each year to develop into competitive applicants. We also have several active student organizations that provide opportunities to gain experience and knowledge about health careers. The student organizations have contacts with local physicians who speak to the group members and provide opportunities for shadowing and gaining experience.
College of Science: The medical field is broad with a variety of specialties. What medical specialties does the prehealth medical advising office assist with?
Robby: We work with students who are entering medicine, dentistry, optometry and podiatry. Advising in the Allied Health fields such as physical therapy, pharmacy, etc. is done in University College. They have a designated counselor who assists students with these fields. There is also a “Pre-nursing” advisor in University College.
College of Science: Is prehealth a major at LSU? Please explain.
Robby: LSU has a very large and successful prehealth program. However, like most universities there is no “prehealth” major. Prehealth is a program of study that can be incorporated into any major. Most medical and dental schools have a standard set of required coursework, mostly science courses, so as long as you complete these courses you can complete a degree in any major. Nevertheless, the medical/dental school curricula are strongly biology based, so you need a strong foundation in science regardless of what you ultimately choose to declare as a major. Biology is by far the most common major of students who are admitted to professional school.
College of Science: More than 50 percent of the doctors in Louisiana got their start in the College of Science. Have you ever been a patient of one of the students you advised? What was that experience like?
Robby: Yes, I’ve actually been around long enough where this has happened. I had a dental emergency while my dentist was out of town and the associate who treated me was a former student. My dermatologist is also a former student. It has been rewarding to see them come to LSU as freshmen and watch them progress to become health professionals.
College of Science: If you could develop a checklist for students preparing to apply to medical or dental school, what would be on that checklist?
Robby: The most important thing is going to be the academic record and admission test scores. While there are many factors to the admission decisions made at medical/dental schools, nothing ever trumps good grades and test scores. So, that is number one. Next would be gaining hands-on experience in the field. It can be volunteer experience, a paid part-time job or a summer internship, but something that allows face-to-face contact with patients and familiarity with the field you want to enter. Getting involved in your campus and community through service and leadership is also important. The professional schools are looking for well-rounded people who are comfortable interacting with people from all walks of life and who have a record of service. The successful candidates are passionate about service and demonstrate compassion to others through volunteerism. So find a cause that you are passionate about and get involved.
College of Science: What are the biggest mistakes students make when applying for medical or dental school and how do you avoid making those mistakes?
Robby: I would say learning to balance responsibilities and time management are the biggest struggles for most students. You need a balanced resume. This means having to prioritize and manage time wisely. Often students spend too much time building their resume at the expense of studying while others spend all their time studying and have no experience in the field or in community service. You need a balance of study and experience. Students tend to think “quantity” while admissions deans think “quality.” Instead of trying to be remotely involved in 10 different clubs and volunteering at 20 different organizations, commit to one or two and make a difference in them. They will have a much better quality of experience.
College of Science: You chair the premed/predental review committee for LSU. What are the benefits of students working with the review committee to process their medical school application? Are students more successful when they go through the review committee process?
Robby: Medical and dental school admissions deans prefer that students use the committee process if their school has one. LSU has a very successful and long standing review committee that is very well respected around the nation. Admissions deans rely on the review committee to evaluate the quality of the student’s record in ways in which they are unable. An admissions dean in New York is not going to be familiar with which individual courses at LSU are challenging. They would only see a grade posted, but the committee can provide insights to let the admissions officers know that the student has challenged him or herself by taking demanding courses all while being involved in activities that provide high quality experiences. Students who use the committee process are definitely more successful and we have statistics to show this. While the LSU acceptance rate is typically 10-12 points above the national average, the acceptance rate for students using the committee is typically another 10-12 points above the regular LSU acceptance rate.
College of Science: Are the services of the premed/predental review committee only available to College of Science students?
Robby: Not at all. This is a service that the College of Science provides to all LSU students regardless of major. We have faculty representatives on the committee from other colleges who help us evaluate students from all majors.
College of Science: I would think that preparing for the Medical College Admission Test, (MCAT) or the Dental Admission Test (DAT) is quite stressful for our students. What are your tips to help students prepare for the test?
Robby: My advice is always to begin preparing as early as possible. I encourage students to begin scheduling time into their weekly routine and treat the test preparation like they would a part-time job or a course they are taking for credit. Most students wait until a few months before they intend to take the test and then try to shut themselves away and cram in as much study time as possible. That doesn’t typically work. It’s better to start early and set aside a designated time a few hours each week that is totally dedicated to MCAT/DAT preparation. This means turning off the phone and finding a place where you can study uninterrupted. Go to the football game, schedule time with friends and family and do other things you typically do each week, but set aside hours for serious preparation. It all goes back to balance.
College of science: What events or activities are available for students to learn more about LSU’s prehealth programs?
Robby: I mentioned our information sessions for first-year students and sophomores. We also host workshops for students who are about to begin the application process, which includes workshops on how to write their personal statements. We also hold the annual Deans Convocation where the Deans of Admission from both LSU Medical schools and the LSU Dental School come to campus to meet with our students. We also co-sponsor the annual Health Professions Career Information Fair with the Olinde Career Center each October. We work closely with all of our prehealth student organizations and have email listservs specifically dedicated to premedical and predental students where we share upcoming events and information about possible jobs, internships and summer programs. We encourage all students interested in pursuing a prehealth program of study to join our Facebook group “Pre-Med/Pre-Dent at LSU.” We are currently in the process of updating our prehealth website and we’re always trying to think of new ways to communicate with students.
College of Science: You have been an advisor at LSU for 18 years. What do you love most about your job?
Robby: I am so fortunate to be working at my alma mater. I love getting to be on the campus that I love so much. By far the best thing about the job is getting to work with incredible students. LSU students are really amazing. It is always so rewarding and exciting when they come to my office to let me know they have been accepted to medical or dental school. They are so excited and filled with joy and I honestly get just as excited as they do at the news. It’s very rewarding.
College of Science: I know that you are a very loyal Tiger fan. What are your football predictions for the Tigers?
Robby: I had very high hopes for this season and then I traveled to Green Bay for the opening game. So, that dampened my expectations a bit and now the coaching change. So, who knows? I think 9-3 would be great but maybe overly optimistic at this point.
College of Science: How can students interested in pursuing prehealth programs contact you?
Robby: I am located in the College of Science Dean’s Office in 124 Hatcher Hall. Students can schedule appointments to see me using our online appointment scheduling system found on the College of Science Student Services website. The advising schedule changes from week to week depending on the academic calendar, but each Friday the appointment schedule for the following week is opened and they can schedule a one-on-one appointment with me. Students from any major can make appointments for prehealth advising in this way.