In Episode 44 of the CSUSB Advising Podcast, Matt Markin chats with Dr. Crystal Otubuah, Coordinator of the Health Professions Advising Center (HPAC). What does it mean to be "med school" ready? How can I improve on application to med/professional school? What are other pathways to nursing? How do I know what prerequisites to take? Find out in this episode!
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Hey Yoties. Welcome back to another episode of the CSUSB advising podcast. My name is Matt Markin, an academic advisor here at Cal State San Bernardino. And on today's episode, we're learning more about the health professions Advising Center, also known as HPAC. And we have the HPAC coordinator with us. And that's Dr. Crystal Otubuab, here with us today, also known as Dr. O. Welcome to the podcast.
Thank you for having me, Matt, and thrilled to be here.
Glad that this worked out, and you're gonna have a lot of great information to share with our students. So before we jump into HPAC, the Health Professions Advising Center, let's talk about you. Can you tell us more about yourself and your background in higher ed?
Sure, sure, well firstly, I am a proud CSUSB Yotie. I graduated a million years ago, which I will not say but I graduated a while back with my bachelor's degree in sociology from CSUSB. I've always been interested in learning about systems and how systems shaped people. And I've always been just drawn to this idea of education. I believe education is liberatory. And because of education, we can really uncover who we are as individuals, and essentially what we are to be doing in this world. And so with that both of my parents are also from Ghana. So I'm literally African American in the in that sense in the literal sense. And that also feels my passion for helping others, especially first generation students navigate their ways throughout their academic and professional endeavors. I have a comprehensive background in career counseling, academic advising, ethnic identity development, and just creating culturally inclusive environments that invite students to authentically express themselves. And as we're thinking about HPAC and advising and preparing students for the medical professions, a lot of the times, some students can be really intimidated by that. So what I decided to bring in what we do at HPAC is to really create an atmosphere where students are challenged, but yet empowered and encouraged to want to just try and see exactly what they need to do in order to work in their desired profession. So a little bit about me and kind of what, how my background folds into HPAC.
Yeah, no, definitely. And I can see how everything, everything definitely connects. And you know, and you kind of tell you a little bit about HPAC. So what, what really is the Health Professions Advising Center, and if a student's like, Can this center really helped me? How does the student know like, Hey, I should probably go and see?
Yeah, absolutely HPAC is a one stop shop. It's a hybrid of academic and career counseling. And because we are separate from advising, we have the space, the time I was just to save more of a lot of latitude to help students really think about in process, which desired health profession do they want to enter? But also, do they have the required prereqs? And how do they get there? A big barrier issue that challenges our students is just uncovering the different ways of getting to that desired goal. So at HPAC, we do the comprehensive strength based academic advising students are expected to, to complete an intake form, which allows us to really go in and dive in to get to know the student and extract the most pertinent information that we need, as advisors to see if their values of who they are, what they want to do aligns with their desired career goals. And we go over the application process, we create the comprehensive academic plans and that also ensures timely graduation, we do our best to have as many authentic conversations with students and and think of ways that they can break into the health professions. Some students are challenged by let's say their their GPAs. And so I I'm always telling students, if we can't get in through the front door, we're gonna find a window we're gonna find a back door, we're going to find a way to get you into your desired field of choice, if that's essentially what they want to do. We also link students with necessary resources such as service learning opportunities, volunteer work, different shadowing opportunities, mentorships different health professions, colleges and graduate programs like such as UCR or Western local colleges as well as national call colleges will come in and do information sessions for students. And so we just do all we can to demystify this whole process of what's needed to enter a health profession.
Oh, absolutely. And like you said, it's like this one stop shop. And, you know, if a student's nervous about like, what, what's the different avenues? Or you know, is it just this direct path, you're essentially helping them figure out here are all the options that you have. And you're mentioning the the application process, and I do definitely want to get to that. But before we get to that, I know a term that comes up sometimes as being med school ready. So when you hear that if a student came and said, what does that mean like how would you define that?
Oh, that's such a great question. I really, I sat on that for a little bit. I would define med school ready as a mindset. First and foremost, are students able to really throw themselves in a situation where no matter what comes at them in terms of obstacles? Or what people might say? Are they ready to continue to pursue their dream of becoming a med student, or ultimately becoming some type of physician? And so with that, there are also the practical components of it, right? How is your GPA? Do you have relevant experiences for your medical school application? Are you prepared for the MCAT, right, which is the Medical College Admissions Test? To get into medical school? What is your service? Or I should say, shadowing observation hours looking like this far? Do you need to go to a post baccalaureate program to perhaps take or retake some of the prereqs for med school? So it's, it's really it's a it's a comprehensive mindset. But also, there are some just critical components that students need to ensure that they're also taking into consideration when they're determining if they're med school ready.
And connected to that I guess a student might ask is, if I'm if I'm going to be applying for some sort of professional school or med school, how do I improve my application?
Right, and so there are nine sections for a med school application, right? sections one through three typically encompass what your background is your history ethnicity. For section four would be your your coursework, they want to know the GPA, they want to see your transcripts, and they want to, again, essentially, make sure that you can't keep up academically with the rigor of the respective medical school that you're looking to attend. There's section five is the work and activities section. And with that, there's 18 categories 15, of which, you can include within your application. And so in HPAC, we primarily help students with this section, because it is so lengthy, helping students tease out their experiences, whether it's volunteer work, whether it's leadership, whether it's their work experience, because of the background that I have in career counseling are really work with students to think about different ways of describing their experiences within the work and activity section. So that's, that takes a lot of work. Six is letters of recommendation. And so beyond that, I try to work with students as soon as possible and asking those questions. Are they creating relationships with faculty? Are they looking for ways to perhaps maybe even participate in research or work in a research lab with faculty? Are they sitting in front of the class, raising their hand participating attending office hours, there's often a hidden curricula for students to kind of navigate to get the letters of recommendation. So I work with students to help acquire that section seven. Listing the school that you want to apply to section eight will be your personal comments essay or your personal statement. And nine would be your MCAT exams. So that med school application itself is very comprehensive, and in my experiences and hearing what medical schools want, some students will hyper focus on their GPA, but then they won't focus on their service hours. And so most institutions will look at each component of an application and give them a point per section. So I really do my best to work with students to ensure that all of those points are met. So when they are submitting their application there there are competitive candidates? Yeah, well, I'm
glad that you really kind of defined everything as structured it because I agree, I think you have a lot of students that are very focused on GPA, GPA, GPA. And it's like, well, that's one part of it. And there's so many others. And I liked that you kind of mentioned, you can start early on a lot of this too, especially getting to know your faculty or sitting in front of the class, raise your hand asking questions, going to office hours, whatever it might be. But connected to this would be, of course, courses that I need to take. Sometimes students are like, do I need to do a certain major? Or is it just prerequisites? How do I know what prerequisites to take? How do you help students with that? Oh, wow.
So this process, I think, is the most, the most challenging with students. And even as I'm going through the prereqs, for students, we sometimes have three or four different tabs open. So first and foremost, I always recommend students look at the HPAC website, there's a comprehensive list of different health professions along with just some a typical prereqs that they can anticipate needing to take in order to get into their desired health profession. Number two, which is also I think, just as if not more important, is knowing the school that they want to attend. And so thinking about some programs, thinking about which which college they're looking to matriculate into is key. That way, we can really design their prereqs around the schools that they are, that they are interested in. The thing with that is some programs might require, let's say, biochemistry, and depending on a student's major, that could take an extra year and a half. And then there are some schools that you know, may not need biochemistry, and so I have to have those, you know, discussions with students, how long do you intend on being here? Which, which college makes the most sense for them? And you know, their career goals? And how fast do they want to get working versus how long do they want to be student. So that's also something to take into consideration, as well as making an appointment if not with me and HPAC, but also working with the intended school they'd like to matriculate into. So working with an admissions counselor, is key. So again, number one, looking at our HPAC website, number two, having at the very least three to five schools that they'd like to attend number four, working with an admissions counselor at the school they want to go to, and then also number five working with us over here at HPAC.
I can speak from experience that that your HPAC website with the resources page has been a lifesaver in a sense, especially for students that I've met with I said, Actually, here's a lot of information you can find on here, especially if you're interested in a certain field. So very much has come in handy. And let's say we have a student that, you know, they're like, I am interested in the medical field, I feel like I want to do something in the medical field. But there's so many options. I don't know what kind of career path I want to decide or to pursue. Do you have any suggestions for that for that student to help them decide?
Yeah, this is where we kind of take a step back and do some career counseling. asking those questions. So how do you want to help people in the medical field, right? Some students will say, Well, I want to help people heal in a physical way. I'm really drawn to kinesiology versus biology. And I really believe in you know, helping students you know, work out in order or helping I should say, Are my future patients work out to facilitate healing, whereas I'll have some students that say, I'm all about diagnosing and getting to the root of the problem getting to the root of the issue that my future patient would have. So I kind of look at what students are saying and and how they desire to help people heal because a lot of students will say, I want to help people and so it's just okay in what capacity and and based off of that, really start paying attention to, to how they like to enact that. And I'll work as a mirror for students, but I also just encourage students to think about the ways they want to work in the medical profession, then that can that can sort of tease out which one whether it be you know, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, etc, etc.
Now, on your website, there's also a part where it talks about, I think it's MAPSS. M-A-P-S-S. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, so MAPSS stands for the medical and pre health students, society. It's a student lead organization where it's it really houses and creates that student led atmosphere for pre health for students that want to be pre health professionals. MAPSS also facilitates a pre health conference and where colleges not just locally, but nationally, will come and recruit, will recruit. It's not even just CSUSB students, it's students from colleges all over Southern California. What I appreciate most about MAPSS is it gives students an opportunity to connect with those desired schools that they would want to attend for graduate school because of the pre health care. And also, as I'm, I'm also the advisor of MAPSS. And so as I'm working with different colleges around either the surrounding area, or nationally, colleges really desire to meet with students that are a part of MAPSS, more so than even coming to different fairs. They want to come and connect with students from the ground up. And so students that are a part of MAPSS really get that first shot of connecting with different admissions counselors, doctors, prospective mentors, within their desired health profession. I know this is going to be recorded, but there is also a mentor, a mentorship dinner with UCR School of Medicine that's happening on March 17. It's happening next Friday. And so that's just one other event that max will be hosting and just continuing to operate as a resource and providing experiences that student led, or their peers that are looking to break into the medical and health professions.
Yeah, and if there's a theme with this episode, or pretty much a lot of episodes after this podcast, or when we meet with students, it's get involved. And here are the various number of ways to get involved and why it's like to get involved. A number six that we meet with our students that are interested in nursing. So, we you know, we have an impacted major here. So meaning that there's only a certain amount of spots open for students to get into the nursing program at Cal State San Bernardino. So we have students that maybe were admitted into pre nursing when they got accepted to the university. But maybe they didn't get admitted into the nursing program when they submitted their application, we might have students that wanted to get into pre nursing when they got admitted to the university and didn't. So unfortunately, that student is not able to change over to pre nursing at this point, right. So in either of those situations, you know, we have students that might say, you know, I want to still pursue nursing, is there a way I can still do it. But then he also might have seen instead of like, you know, what, maybe I need to decide, and I'm going to change my major to something else. So I guess, when you're when you're working with with students in some of these situations, how do you help them navigate? Like, is still pursuing nursing somehow, you know, other pathways to it changing to something else? I know, that's a very loaded question. But I guess generally speaking, you know, any advice that you can give on this podcast?
Y eah. You have those diehard nursing students that are like, Listen, I don't want to do anything else, but become a nurse. Right? And so when I'm with that group, I often just educate them on the different nursing programs, right, so we look at the different programs offered by state schools. We look at nursing programs. Now this is BSN programs, different private colleges if they if they need to transfer. We support that if that's the desired career goal. At h Pak I'll have some students that are interested in perhaps going to a community college and take going through an ADN program. That is something that they desire and perhaps maybe later on, transferred to CSUSB and do the RN to BSN nursing program and that's that's okay as well, for students who who want to stay at CSUSB but they can't get into the nursing program, they often switch their major to something that's related to the health professions such as kinesiology, allied health, kinesiology, exercise, science, concentration, perhaps even biology. There are some students that because within the nurse, the pre nursing program here, they have to take a couple of psychology courses, so they'll sometimes switch over into psychology, and they'll just change their majors altogether. Now, if they still want to stick with nursing, we often recommend attending on perhaps an entry level master's in nursing program as well, we just are going over the prereqs and the requirements and ensuring that students are competitive candidates. And so if there's courses that need to be retaken, or if we need to look at post baccalaureate options, or different graduate level programs, nursing is the goal, we try to strategize and find a way to get them there. Let's see, depending on the students, some also will switch to a physician's assistant plan and attend PA school CSUSB is going to have a PA program open in 2025. And so applications, the application will open I believe fall 2024. And so students are you know, getting their prereqs together for that program, so many different options there, depending on the student, what they want to do, and in how they want to again, help people heal physically.
So, and then we also get a question too, sometimes from students of like, if I want to go on to like a professional school, or let's say med school, for example. You know, I was told I have to do this certain major, like, maybe I have to do biology as my major? Or is it I just need that I can do any major, but as long as I have these prerequisites done? How do you help students navigate that kind of choice of like, is it a major prereq? How do I decide on what to do?
Yeah, it's one of those things where being a bio major is one of the biggest myths out there, that students, you know, kind of feel like they need to be a part of in order to reach that medical school go, I totally honor and understand why a bio major is looked at as the a typical major to get into medical school. A lot of the prereqs that are for medical school are embedded within the biology degree here at CSUSB. But there are many different ways they could acquire the their prereqs. For example, the HPAC student assistant, my HPAC student assistant is a psychology major. She is the biology concentration. However, she's not like necessarily taking bio courses for that major, right, and so and so she's just added the prereqs within her academic plan, and she's still going to graduate with her degree in psychology. And so you don't have to be a bio major, we just have to ensure that your prereqs are there. And that you are in a space and able to take those courses and thrive and do well academically.
Nice. And I think after all, all of your answers, probably have students that are like, You know what, I think I need to meet with HPAC, that seems like I'm gonna get a lot of great useful information I've gotten from this podcast. Now, I want to dig more into maybe my interests and maybe different pathways I can I can go into. So how can someone reach out to your department or schedule an appointment?
Yeah. So you can reach out via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'd be more than happy to either connect you directly to me, and or any other professional that's needed for the intended purpose of the appointment. CSUSB students can connect with HPAC via navigate through the a typical advising process that's just for I believe the service area helped me out, Matt. It's not going to be academic advising. It's going to be university success. Sorry, please.
Yes, university. You are absolutely right. Yeah, university. University Success.
Yes. And so the HPAC office should pop up there. And you'll you'll see my name and to be able to schedule an appointment. We also have dropins Tuesday, Tuesdays through Friday that students can can pop in and have their questions immediately answered. But yeah, many different ways. And in case they forget, you can always log on to our HPAC website at CSUSB. And there's a tab at the very top. This is appointment scheduling. And if you click on that link, you'll have all the appointment information there as well.
All right, sounds good. A very informative interview Dr o thank you so much for being on the podcast today
thank you for having me.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai