Pre-health Advisor Reflections: Thomas Landefeld
Name: Thomas Landefeld
Position: Professor of Biology; Pre-health advisor
Institution: California State University, Dominguez Hills
How long have you been at your current position at this institution?
I have been at California State University – Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) since 1996. Prior to CSUDH, I was at the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) where I taught Pharmacology and served as Assistant Dean for both the Student/Minority Affairs and Research/Graduate Studies offices.
How did you find yourself on the path of becoming a Pre-health advisor?
My experiences and efforts at UMMS and CSUDH were directed towards improving educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities (URMs). Eventually I stepped away from administration and became the Pre-health advisor for the CSUDH campus. Looking back, it was a natural transition being that I was previously involved with organizations such as the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP), and the National Association of Minority Medical Educators (NAMME).
What are common errors that you see Pre-health students make and how do you correct them?
A large proportion of students that I advise are both first-generation and underrepresented minorities. I believe it is of utmost importance to advise these students who are seeking a career in the health professions to be aware of all the options that they have (i.e. MD, DO, DDS, DPM, PA, DPT). I advise and make sure they realize that all aspects of their application are important and being thorough and meticulous will go a long way. Finally, the component that is critically important is timeliness – earlier is always better than later. Once students are “on board” relative to these issues, the next step involves recognizing that each student is an individual and as result, the mentoring has to be personalized. That is how a trusting relationship is established and truly effective mentoring totally depends on that.
How did you find out about the Tour For Diversity? Can you discuss any memorable events from the day?
As a Pre-health advisor, I utilize all of my experiences, positions and commitments to address the underrepresentation of minorities in the sciences and particularly in the field of health. Moreover, it was natural for me to not only learn about the Tour 4 Diversity (T4D) but also to do whatever I could to assist with it. In fact, having T4D choose my campus as one of the stops on the Western tour was very gratifying to me and beneficial to students who attended the event.
Students from my campus as well as surrounding ones still talk about the events of the day. For example, they appreciated that T4D members shared experiences that many of my students can relate to like maintaining perseverance and persistence despite MCATs or GPAs that were not considered competitive. I appreciated T4D stressing the importance of eradicating health disparities, just as I do with my students because this is a mounting problem that society needs to deal with now.
What advice would you give to other Pre-health advisors?
I recommend that other advisors look personally and individually at each student, without preconceived notions and stereotypes so that their advice is as objective as possible. Sometimes this is tough, for example telling a student that they may need to change paths to their goal, but advising shouldn’t stop there – offer them alternatives. To quote Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I believe that this is what we as Pre-health advisors should subscribe to in life.
What are challenges you encounter in your role as a Pre-health advisor?
The worst obstacle that I have dealt with is the overemphasis of standardized tests in assessing applicants. Not only is this the main challenge for students but the most frustrating aspect of Pre-health advising – especially when working with URMs. Of course there are test preparatory courses and post baccalaureate programs, but these add time and certainly costs to a student’s efforts to go into professional school and do not always end with an acceptance offer to the desired program.
What are your Top 5 Do’s for Pre-health students?
- Research various careers and options
- Always prepare early
- Stay focused
- Be resilient and persistent
- Always follow your passion
What are your Top 5 Don’t(s) for Pre-health students?
- Don’t be inflexible
- Don’t not ask for advice frequently
- Don’t be discouraged easily
- Don’t choose your career for someone else
- Don’t think too narrowly.