Pranav Samineni, a recent graduate currently working in a stroke lab at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, knew coming into Hopkins that he wanted to be a doctor.
After growing up in a multigenerational household and witnessing the impact of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia on his family members and their caregivers, Samineni gained the impression that physical health was one of the biggest things to be thankful for in life.
Along with other students who come to Hopkins interested in medicine, Samineni attended a Pre-Health 101 presentation from the Pre-Professional Advising Office.
US News ranks Hopkins as number two in the nation for the health professions. Given that Hopkins itself doesn’t offer a “pre-med” or “health” degree, medicine-hopeful students with a spectrum of majors and clinical experiences often share one Hopkins office in common: the Pre-Health Advising Office.
In 2015, one in five medical students had a parent who is a doctor. Because of this pattern, pre-health offices are seen as important for increasing minority or first-generation access to medical careers that may feel impossible to navigate alone.
In interviews with The News-Letter, Hopkins students expressed not only the strengths of the Pre-Health Advising office but also some areas where it could be more encouraging towards every demographic of pre-med at Hopkins.
Cameron Brown, a recent Hopkins graduate who was also interviewed in an earlier issue of this column, shared his experience with the Pre-Health Advising office with The News-Letter.
Brown was already intending to submit a primary application in May when he visited Pre-Health Advising for advice on a low MCAT score. According to Brown, the representative encouraged him not to apply, citing that it would be difficult to gain an acceptance with his GPA.
Instead, he was encouraged to consider enrolling in a master’s program to apply later. Brown had discussed enrolling in a master’s or post-baccalaureate program with Pre-Health Advising before, but because financial aid is not offered for these programs, he ultimately knew it would not be a viable option for him. The News-Letter independently verified this exchange by obtaining the cited emails in question.
“She didn’t look at any other parts of my application, didn’t consider any of my other circumstances, but she based it solely off my GPA and my MCAT numbers,” he said. “Every time I go, I’ve been told instead of ways I can make my application stronger, I’m told why I’m not ever going to be good enough.”
Samineni did acknowledge that he has had some positive experiences with the office, and does appreciate that Hopkins prepares a committee letter for medical school applicants. A committee letter is akin to a cover letter for the medical school application; undergraduate institutions write them to introduce their students to prospective medical schools.
Despite this, Samineni did note that his experiences at Pre-Health Advising were very advisor-dependent.
“This is a critique not so much of how the office operates, but maybe particular people,” he said.
Samineni noted that, in his sophomore year, a Pre-Health advisor encouraged him to take General Biology, a course Samineni had already taken at the college level twice in high school. After taking the course, a different Pre-Health Advising advisor told him that it would probably hurt his application, as medical schools might wonder why he took the same course three times.
Ellen Snydman, director of Pre-Professional Programs and Advising provided a statement to The News-Letter based on student comments.
“Pre-Professional Advising is honored to work with so many caring, compassionate, hard-working, and innovative students as they pursue pre-med, pre-health, and pre-law paths. We have established pre-health advising pillars of Exploration, Reflection, and Application to support students seeking entry into medical, dental, and other health professions school, and we work as a team to provide relevant resources and programs throughout the year.”
Snydman also detailed the office’s current plans to improve the office’s current operations.
“We are actively working with our campus partners to create a symbiotic advising experience for our students, and are expanding our advising staff, programming, resources, and applicant workshops to better serve our students.”
In addition, Samineni raised concerns that, although Hopkins does have data on student applications and acceptances to medical schools, they often share them with students sparingly. Data on medical school application results is compiled for Pre-Health Advising by Hopkins’ Academic Assessment and Analysis office, and the complete dataset can not be shared publicly.
Samineni ultimately reported that he relied on an advising network outside of Pre-Health Advising to map out his journey to medical school. While no one in Samineni’s immediate family is in health care, he does have cousins in medical school and residency.
“I come from a place of relative privilege where I have great resources outside of the Pre-Health system that I can rely on for guidance and advice,” he said. “Some of the most critical and difficult parts of my pre-med journey were actually not answered by the Pre-Health office but rather family and friends who were there to mentor me during that time.”
For students at schools that do not offer a pre-health advisor, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) offers a program that matches students with volunteer advisors free of charge.
Ellie Rose Mattoon is a junior from Austin, Texas majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Public Health. Project MD 2027 documents the challenges, inequities and triumphs of Hopkins students applying to medical school for entry in 2023.