TROY preparing students for careers in health, medicine

Health Professions Advisor Janet Gaston provides help to TROY students seeking careers in health-related fields.

Health Professions Advisor Janet Gaston provides help to TROY students seeking careers in health-related fields.

Katie Holley has known most of her life what she wants to do for a living.

At age 12, she envisioned herself as a doctor, dedicating her life to helping people in need.

She just wasn’t sure how to reach her goal until she arrived at Troy University and met Janet Gaston, the University’s Health Professions Advisor.

“She was the first person I talked to at TROY about that, about my passion,” said Holley, who majored in biomedical science while at TROY. “She wrote down a timeline for me, what classes I needed to take and when, how to study for my MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and when to start studying, and she did this all in the first semester of my freshman year.”

The Health Professions Advising Office, part of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, helps students prepare for professional school programs in health-related professions through academic counseling, admissions advising, application preparation and networking.

“I like to see students either in the second semester of their freshman year or the first semester of their sophomore year, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up,” Gaston said. “I get an idea of what they want or what they think they want, and a lot of times those are two different things. A lot of students come in and say, ‘I want to practice medicine.’ I say, ‘OK, let’s look at this, have you shadowed a physician? How do you know you want to be a physician?’”

Others, like Holley, know exactly what they want to be, but need the guidance to get there.

“I think it was the visualization I needed to keep me grounded,” said Holley, who graduated in December 2017 and is currently enrolled in the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) at Auburn. “(Gaston) wrote down a timeline for me, what classes I needed to take and when, how to study for my MCAT, when to start studying, and all of this was laid out the first semester of my freshman year. She helped me see my three-and-a-half years laid out at TROY.”

Holley is just one example of the program’s success in preparing students for the next level in their education.

According to the most recent numbers, from the 2017-18 academic year, 56 of 60 TROY students who applied to health-related professional schools with guidance from the Health Professions Advising Office received admission to those schools.

Twenty-six of the program’s 30 medical school applicants that year received acceptance letters.

The key to the program’s success, Gaston said, is working with students as early as possible in their college tenures, helping them shadow professionals to make sure they’re on the right career path.

“We try to get them by their sophomore years to make sure they’re on the best path and taking the best courses to prepare them for what they want to do,” she said. “I also bring directors of admission from various schools, and they give an idea what type of student they’re looking for. We like to start early getting them on that right track, because every school has specific prerequisites they need you to take to be successful in their program.”

Sometimes, that path takes students into other areas.

“We also try to help those going to law school too,” Gaston said. “We had a student who was a biomedical science major and decided in her senior year that she didn’t want to go to medical school. I then said, ‘Let’s figure out what you want to be when you grow up,’ and she asked about law school. We got her ready for the (Law School Admission Test), she went to law school and is practicing medical law right now.”

While her students give credit to Gaston, Gaston said it’s the students who deserve credit for staying on the tough road to the next level in their education.

“Our students work hard,” she said. “It’s tough, and we’re blunt and open with them about that. They have to do the work.”

After Holley had put in the work and interviewed for a medical school position, the waiting was the hardest part.

She still remembers the call that changed her life.

“I was on campus at TROY, sitting in the Trojan Center, and I got a phone call from Auburn,” Holley said. “I had interviewed a week earlier, so I knew this could be really good or really bad. I walked outside to the quad, they told me I was accepted, and I started crying right there in middle of the quad.”

After calling her parents, she rushed to Gaston’s office to inform her. A year later, Holley knows the hard work was worth the effort.

“It’s been really good,” she said. “Honestly it’s so enjoyable, because I’m finally getting to do what I’ve desired and been passionate about my whole life. I’m learning the things I need to learn to be a good physician. It’s been more rewarding than it has been demanding.”

TROY students or future students interested in a career in medicine can visit Gaston’s office at 317A McCall Hall.