Diverse Paths to the Health Professions

June 25, 2015 | by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs

There was a time when Zabrina Ebert believed that medical school might be beyond her reach.

A standout student at her high school in tiny Juneau, Wisconsin, Ebert had long dreamed of one day becoming a physician. But her doubts were fed by well-meaning friends back home who told her that medical school would be too rigorous, too demanding.

It took only a few first-year visits to Elmhurst’s Patterson Center for the Health Professions to convince Ebert otherwise. Her early conversations with Erica Ashauer, the Patterson Center’s associate director, reassured her that she could handle the academic work required for medical school, and the two outlined a four-year academic road map to get her there.

“She did a great job of explaining exactly what the medical field entails and helping me realize my potential,” Ebert said. “I genuinely went in with no idea what to expect, and came out feeling so much more confident that I could graduate on time and be the best medical-school candidate I could be.”

Ebert will start realizing her medical-school dreams this August, when she begins her studies at Midwestern University. She is one of a large number of Elmhurst graduates accepted into professional schools in health-related fields this year. They will be studying in fields as diverse as veterinary medicine and dentistry, pharmacy and physical therapy, athletic training and medicine. Among their destinations: medical school at the University of Washington and the University of Illinois at Chicago, an athletic training program at Texas Tech University, the pharmacy program at the University of Kentucky, veterinary medicine at Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin, and the physician assistant program at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

“What is remarkable is the variety of health care programs our students have been accepted into this year. You can see our students are successful in a wide range of health care fields,” said Cheryl Leoni, the director of the Patterson Center. She credited Elmhurst’s faculty and the College’s academic programs for graduates’ success in professional schools. “Our students are so well prepared by our faculty. The research opportunities they are afforded are unbelievable and help make our students more competitive. Our alums tell us time and again how well prepared they feel compared to their peers at professional school.”

Ebert agreed that the chance to collaborate on research with her professors gave her an edge in her professional-school application. She worked with Assistant Professor Eve Mellgren of the Department of Biology on investigations into the role played by pathogens in causing disease in plant hosts. Ebert presented findings from her research at three national undergraduate research conferences, in Denver, Spokane and Lexington, Kentucky.

“I knew research would be important,” Ebert said. “It is so helpful to be able to work closely with one of your professors. When the time comes to ask for a letter of recommendation, they actually know who you are.”

The Patterson Center serves students interested in careers in the health professions, offering experiential experiences including informational interviews, shadowing, internships, research opportunities and international experiences. The center also gives workshops in test preparation, crafting personal statements for professional-school applications and practice interviews.

Ebert said that Leoni helped arrange more than 200 hours of shadowing experiences with health care professionals, including observation of a heart surgery at Edward Hospital in Naperville. Ebert also worked with the center throughout her medical-school application and interview process, which lasted for more than 13 months.

“It can be a crazy process, and it’s amazing how stressful it can be,” Ebert said. “It’s so important to have the kind of support I had.”

Come graduation time, Ebert and some of her fellow graduates did not forget about the help they received. They wrote thank-you notes to their professors in the biology department.

“We just told them that we felt like we had been part of a family,” she said. “They really inspired us to keep going.“

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