Planning a Career in Healthcare? Ten tips for getting headed in the right direction as an undergraduate

by William B. Farquhar and Carolyn E. Quinci

1. Don’t dig a “GPA hole” your first year in college.

Work hard from the very beginning, as catching up is a lot harder than keeping up. In our department at the University of Delaware, the average GPA of students accepted into health-related graduate professional programs is 3.5, while the average GPA of students not admitted is 3.10. That’s a very small gap. Don’t fall into it.2.Embrace the competitive nature of the next few years of your life.

2. Yes, you should have fun during your college years and take the time to enjoy the process of earning your undergraduate degree. But remember that it’s a competitive process and come prepared for that competition. The number of slots in health-related graduate programs and jobs in the marketplace are limited, and you’ll have to compete with other students to get them.

3. The early bird gets the worm.

No one likes 8:00 am classes, but you need to be ready for them. And even if you don’t have early classes, you can get a lot of work done in the morning. Be prepared for everything—as the saying goes, 80 percent of success is showing up.

4. Treat college like a job because it is your job.

The rule of thumb for the amount of time you should be putting into your coursework is 2-3 hours of work outside of class for every hour you’re in class. So if you take 15 credits in a semester, that translates to ~15 hours in class, a total of an additional 30-45 hours of work outside class.

5. Be willing to ask for help when you need it and know where to go to get it.

No one is perfect, and we don’t expect students to know everything. Ask questions in class, go to office hours, form study groups with others in class. In short, use all the resources available to you.Appreciate that knowledge is not fixed – everything is in flux, always.

6. Listen to former chair of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke when he says, “During your working lives, you will have to reinvent yourself many times.  Success and satisfaction will not come from mastering a fixed body of knowledge but from constant adaptation in a rapidly changing world.”  There is no doubt the world is changing rapidly. Don’t just accept change, embrace it.

7. Have a growth mindset.

Personality and intelligence aren’t fixed unless you believe they are.  Psychologists such as Carol Dweck from Stanford University believe that a “growth mind-set” is critical to overcoming adversity and that struggles can be overcome with effort, strategy, and good instruction.  Successful people, including students, are creative, flexible, and open to new ideas, and they tend to have a growth mind-set.

8. Embrace science.

Learn as much as you can about the scientific method and try to get some research experience as an undergraduate. You’ll learn a lot while also positioning yourself to compete for graduate school positions and jobs.  Also, keep in mind that graduate admission committees in health sciences look very closely at your science GPA (biology, chemistry, etc.).  Work hard in all your classes but especially in your science courses.

9. Gain experience whenever and wherever you can.

Most graduate and professional programs require a minimum number of shadowing hours, so start accumulating these hours as soon as possible. Also, if you’re unsure about which area of healthcare you’re interested in, an internship, summer job, volunteer position, or shadowing experience can give you an idea of what the field is like.

10. Take the time to understand probability.

You’ll make better decisions in school—and in life—if you understand the basic concepts of probability.  If you know, for example, that your top physical therapy school choice receives 400 applications each year for only 40 slots, you’ll understand that you should have some back-up options.

On the other hand, this might be the time to circle back to Tips 1 and 2—if you work hard from the beginning and you embrace competition, you’ll have a much better chance of coming out among the top ten percent of applicants for a spot at your top school.

William B. Farquhar, PhD, is chair and professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at the University of Delaware. Twitter: @farquhar_wbf. Carolyn E. Quinci, EdD, is the Assistant Dean for Student Services in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware.  The authors thank Diane Kukich for expert editorial assistance.  

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