Real-World Learning

New Program Prepares Saint Joseph’s Undergraduates for Medical Careers

A new program is offering Saint Joseph’s biology majors the chance to gain mentoring and support from upperclassmen, alumni and the local healthcare community.

stethoscope and pen

Philadelphia is a hub for world-class hospitals and health systems. While this gives Saint Joseph’s students looking to pursue a profession in medicine ample opportunity for hands-on learning, they also face stiff competition in being admitted to professional school and finding a job afterward. 
To help students become more competitive, Michael McCann ’87, Ph.D., professor of biology, created the Pathways to Medical Professions (PMP) program at Saint Joseph’s. Launched in fall 2019, the program currently has about 40 participants. 
“The idea for the program came from actually talking to and working with Saint Joseph’s alumni who are currently working in medicine,” says McCann. “By adding structure and formality to resources that Saint Joseph’s already had, we’ve been able to construct this program that we think will provide immense benefit to our students.”
Currently open to freshmen and sophomore biology majors, the program’s curriculum gives participants an opportunity to explore different fields within medicine and offers support through mentorship from upperclassmen and alumni. To supplement mentorship, students submit written reflections at the end of each semester and showcase their work in an e-portfolio for the duration of the program. 
One of the strengths Pathways is able to draw from is the community of more than 2,000 Saint Joseph’s alumni who now work in medicine and healthcare. Participants have also been able to access experiences and expertise through the program’s partnership with nearby Lankenau Medical Center, McCann says. 
Matthew Nelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and director of the PMP program, says his goals for program participants center around preparing them for the rigorous task of applying to professional schools after their undergraduate careers come to an end. 
“We’ve built the program around years of knowing what students need to get into professional school, the sort of experiences and tangible assets that are valued by admissions committees, and helping them prepare for that process,” says Nelson. 
The program has continued even as courses have moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nelson says there will be a virtual meeting with students to discuss assignments and mentoring, and he also hopes to bring a guest speaker from medical admissions. 

We’ve built the program around years of knowing what students need to get into professional school, the sort of experiences and tangible assets that are valued by admissions committees, and helping them prepare for that process.”

Matthew Nelson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biology

The students also attended a virtual event with Bartholomew Tortella, M.D. ‘75. Tortella was originally scheduled to visit Nelson’s physiology class to discuss trauma surgery. But after the pandemic began to dominate the news, he changed the topic to COVID-19 and the now-virtual lecture was opened up to Pathways students, along with the rest of the University community and alumni. 
“We need to be continually vigilant,” Tortella said, who during the lecture discussed in detail how the virus is spread and travels through the body. “The numbers will climb exponentially, which means the largest increases will be in the last few days of the epidemic and then turn down. So please stay safe, stay isolated, make prudent trips outside for necessary things like groceries and medical care and then watch for those yellow Xs on the grocery store floor so you do stay that six feet apart.”
Teagan McCarthy ‘22, a sophomore who hopes to one day become a physician, says the program is already benefiting her. 
“I’m involved with a lot of things on campus that are supposed to be helping me towards my goals,” says McCarthy. “But the reflections in particular kind of force me to sit back and analyze my experiences each semester, which will be really helpful for when I'm applying to medical school.”
McCarthy will enter her junior year in the fall, but that doesn’t mean her involvement in the program will stop. She plans on sticking around as a mentor to underclassmen, passing along some of the guidance and wisdom that was shared with her. 
Like McCarthy, Nelson looks forward to the future of the program, preparing Saint Joseph’s students for the road ahead. 
“Pre-health students at SJU do an amazing job of preparing themselves for getting into professional school, and the Pathways program is designed to help them even more,” Nelson says. “However, I hope that through reflection, students can gain insight into the importance of their activities and how they will help them in their future careers.”