The Doctor Is In

December 24, 2013

By Dave Brandon  | Courtesy, Brandon’s Blog

The University of Michigan is considered one the best institutions of higher learning throughout the world. Our faculty and students set the standard for academic excellence as it relates to teaching, learning and research.

As I complete my fourth year as director of athletics at U-M, I am always proud and impressed to see how our student-athletes perform. They are smart, engaged and ambitious. Digging deeper into the culture, I also became aware that a number of our young student-athletes arrive in Ann Arbor interested in a career in medicine. However, earning a precious spot in the University of Michigan Medical School following completion of their undergraduate experience is very difficult.

The U-M Medical School receives 5,600 applications each year. From those applicants, 500 to 600 are invited to be interviewed. From that group, 300 are offered admission for a class of what will ultimately become 175 students. That means 3.1 percent of those who apply are actually admitted. Now that is competition at the highest level!!

That is why when the U-M Athletic Department received the news in late December that Katie Zurales (women’s gymnastics), Eileen Brandes (field hockey), Kate Thompson (women’s basketball) and Evan Gregg (men’s swimming and diving) were accepted to the U-M Medical School, we were thrilled and proud!

This was one those moments when a strategic plan developed four years ago by a team of volunteers from the world of medicine along with athletics and university personnel came together to aid U-M student-athletes in planning their career and life goals outside of athletics.

Even though most of the student-athletes who have plans to apply to medical school have the grades to gain admission, understanding the placement process is just as important.

Too many times in the past, our student-athletes who have applied for medical school have had to take a “gap year.” Even though our student-athletes were competitive in varsity sports and in the classroom, they were not as competitive with other students who understood the admission process to medical schools.

What were they missing? And how could the University of Michigan Athletic Department help?

Our student-athletes were prepared academically, but even a 3.9 GPA doesn’t make the cut if the admissions process isn’t executed properly.

Students need to have a background in research. Students need to be published. Volunteer work — above and beyond what they do with their teams — is necessary.

The only research opportunities available at U-M are through UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program), and that is only available for freshmen and sophomores. By the time our juniors and seniors began communicating their interest in medical school to our team in academic support, they were already behind. They needed a “gap year” to catch up.

Our own Athletic Department process needed to be reengineered in order to create the positive academic experiences we strive to develop for our student-athletes.

Shari Acho is director for career education and advancement with the U-M Athletic Department’s M-PACT Program (Michigan’s Professional and Career Transition Program). Through a meeting with Dr. James Wasco and then developing a relationship with Dr. Timothy Johnson, Acho helped develop a program called “The Doctor Is In.”

Dr. Wasco is a retired physician from Boston. When he visits his children (both are doctors in the Ann Arbor area and are graduates of the U-M Medical School) approximately once a month, back-to-back scheduled appointments with our student-athletes interested in medicine and health careers make for a long day. Dr. Wasco answers pertinent questions and gives them advice. He sets them on the path of what they should be thinking about as they go further into the admissions process.

Then Dr. Johnson takes over. He has been a faculty member for the U-M Medical School for more than 20 years, and he understands research. He talks to the student-athletes to gauge their interest and helps them connect with doctors on campus to develop research projects.

Now, a Pre-Med/Health Advisory Board with doctors, nurses, student-athletes and faculty members has been set up to aid U-M student-athletes who are entertaining thoughts of careers in nursing, physical therapy and other careers awaiting graduates in the health field.

Student-athletes who excel in team sports should consider the medical field. After all, medicine is a team sport.

A Reuters Health study noted “doctors-in-training who excelled in team sports are more likely to do well in their residency programs than those who did not participate in team sports.” Motivation of the student-athlete combined with the ability to work in a team setting was specifically noted in the study.

The health care industry is growing and changing, and the University of Michigan Athletic Department is going to do everything in its power to enable our student-athletes to be prepared for the future.

As we await word on a fifth student who just finished his interview and will find out in mid-January if he too will be accepted to the U-M Medical School, we congratulate Zurales, Brandes, Thompson and Gregg on their admission. These are the first students who took advantage of the entire M-PACT Experience, culminating with “The Dr. is In” program.

And as the world of intercollegiate athletics keeps growing and changing, the University of Michigan Athletic Department will expand its education and advancement practices to encompass more career opportunities to prepare the whole person — the student and the athlete — for competition in life after graduation.

From everyone at the University of Michigan Athletic Department, Happy Holidays!

Go Blue!


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