Pre-health Advisor Reflections: Tomas Varela, Jr
Name: Tomas Varela, Jr
Position: Health Professions Advisor
Institution: Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ
How long have you been at your current position at this institution?
How did you find yourself on the path of becoming a pre-health advisor?
This position represents a combination of my academic background and interest in education and advocacy. I earned a Masters Degree in Public Health, however, I realized that I was more passionate about topics related to access and education.
What are common errors that pre-health students make and how do you correct them?
Due to the competitive nature of getting into medical school, students struggle to take ownership of their extracurricular activities for fear that their activities “will not count for medical school”. This ownership extends to students who have career aspirations based on outside influences versus personal desires. Initially, I help students acknowledge those concerns so that they can understand that these obstacles are not unique to them. From there, I try to empower them to take ownership of their academic portfolio so that they can pursue activities that are true to their interests and values. Empowerment is important to building the student’s confidence so that they can genuinely convey their passion and desires.
How did you find out about the Tour For Diversity?
At a National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) conference, I was able to connect with Dr. Kameron Matthews and learn about her work and the goals of the Tour for Diversity. In addition, I serve on the Diversity Committee for NAAHP where I was given more information on the Tour for Diversity.
Can you discuss any memorable events from the day?
It was exciting to extend the opportunity to students at Rutgers-Newark, where a group of students traveled close to 100 miles down the New Jersey Turnpike to get insight from these physicians. It speaks to students understanding the need to take advantage of academic opportunities to accomplish their goals.
How important is the relationship between pre-health advisor and student?
It is important because a good advisor is someone who will give students a realistic understanding of their academic profile. A good advisor is one who will not say “you received one C in General Chemistry and now you can’t make it to medical school — change your career,” but will say “you earned a C, what ways do you plan to improve upon the grade?” Getting into these programs are hard. I do not think an advisor should sugarcoat that point. An advisor can best serve by helping students understand their options (improve grades, post-bac, etc) and empower them to make the right decisions.
What advice would you give to other pre-health advisors?
Help students understand their options based on their academic profile and empower them to understand their chances of getting accepted based on their profile. This is particularly important for students of color who are quickly discouraged from pursuing medical school because of one low grade in a course. It is important to help students understand their career options without quickly dismissing the student’s primary goal.
What role do post-baccalaureate programs play in a pre-health student’s career?
For some students, Post-baccalaureate programs help students have a “second-chance to make a first impression.” Doing well in these programs can help students show that they have the academic ability to do well in medical, dental, and other professional schools.
What are your Top 5 Do’s/Recommendations for pre-health students?
1. Do identify your passion, interests, goals
2. Do get involved with student organizations on campus (i.e. MAPS, SNMA, AMSA)
3. Do start thinking about professional exams EARLY (i.e. MCAT, DAT, GRE)
4. Do seek guidance from health professions advisors regardless of your grades
5. Do have business cards: you never know when you will be in front of a doctor, dentist, or other professionals
What are your Top 5 Don’t(s) for pre-health students?
1. Don’t think that the purpose of your major is to “look good for professional school”
2. Don’t think that the purpose of shadowing, community service, and leadership is to “look good for professional school”
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from Professors, Tutoring Center, Writing Center, etc.
4. Don’t procrastinate (on studying, seeking help from professors, etc.)
5. Don’t wait to think about professional exams (MCAT, DAT, GRE, etc.)