Professor of Biology Jennifer Armstrong has been reappointed as the faculty director of Scripps College’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, having already served one three-year term. Targeted toward college graduates seeking to change their career path to pursue work in medicine, the 13-month premedical program comprises the coursework necessary to apply to medical, dental, or veterinary school. The program’s benefits beyond the classroom, including volunteer experience in a medical or research setting, preparation courses for the MCAT, and personal advising, are evident—98 percent of students are accepted to medical, dental, or veterinary school post-graduation.
Scripps College: As a professor of biology within the W.M. Keck Science Department, how did you become involved with the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program?
Jennifer Armstrong: I have had post-bac students in my courses since I began teaching in Keck in 2003. I have always enjoyed working with them; they are focused, highly motivated, and bring unique perspectives from their non-science backgrounds. I applied for the position of faculty director of the program three years ago in order to work more closely with post-bac students to help them realize their dreams of pursuing medicine.
SC: What is unique about this program, and what does it aim to do for its students?
JA: Our Scripps post-bac program is a career-changer program, meaning that students typically come from non-science backgrounds. They may have just completed an undergraduate degree, or they may have spent several years in a career before deciding to make the switch to medicine. Post-bac students take classes side-by-side with Keck undergraduate science students, joining them as lab partners and forming study groups. Our post-bac students appreciate the energy and scientific knowledge that our undergraduate students bring to their studies, and our undergraduates benefit from the novel perspectives our post-bacs bring to the classes. About a third of each post-bac class chooses to take advantage of one of the program’s linkage opportunities, which allows them to begin attending medical school a few months after the program ends. The non-linking students take a glide year during which they interview for medical schools.
SC: What are your goals for the program in the coming three years?
JA: DeEttra Mulay, the post-bac program director, and I will continue to embrace the key values of our program: teamwork, diversity, and community. Medicine is not a solitary effort; healthcare providers work collaboratively in teams to provide the best possible care to their patients. In our post-bac program, we discourage competition between students and encourage collaboration.
We also appreciate that diversity makes us stronger, and we continue to work toward attracting students from groups historically underrepresented in science and medicine. These efforts have included increased tracking of applications, interviews, and acceptances, specific outreach efforts, and a holistic review of admission files.
One of the unique aspects about our career-changer program is the small cohort size. Our post-bac students quickly form a strong community, which allows them to support each other throughout the rigorous program. The supportive Keck Science faculty routinely go above and beyond for all Keck students, including our post-bacs, and our small community allows us to respond quickly to changes in the pre-medical world. For example, in 2015, the MCAT changed to include quite a bit of biochemistry, and we were able to rapidly modify our post-bac program to ensure that our students have the tools they need to be successful medical school applicants. Our program now includes a five-week biochemistry course—also open to undergraduates and recent graduates—that begins the Monday after finals week. We also offer our post-bacs a specialized MCAT prep course that is designed to complement our curriculum, and we offer math and biochemistry “boot camps” at the start of the fall and spring semesters, respectively.
SC: In addition to teaching and doing research, what does it mean to you to be able to work with this program?
JA: Post-bacs bring a level of life experience and maturity that I enjoy working with; they add an exciting dimension to Keck Science. Before joining Scripps they were teachers, actors, fighter pilots, and Wall Street investors. As career changers they are hopeful and brave, and I find satisfaction in helping them to reach their ambitious goals of becoming doctors, dentists, or veterinarians.
About the Scripps College Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program
The Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program offers motivated women and men the opportunity to complete the requisite science courses to successfully pursue a career in medicine in a thirteen-month program for career changers. For more information, visit the program online at scrippscollege.edu/postbac.