Thanks to Rowan University’s Office of Health Professions and Pre-Health Society, the doctor is in — the dentist, too

Thanks to Rowan University’s Office of Health Professions and Pre-Health Society, the doctor is in — the dentist, too

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Walter Hinman always has been good with his hands.

The 32-year-old Williamstown, N.J., resident worked as a union carpenter with Philadelphia Local 1050 and his father’s construction company for a time after graduating from Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, N.J., in 2000.

The job was good, but the economy was bad, and his father closed his firm. So Hinman revisited a dream he had considered as a teen: to become a dentist.

“Construction was not very stable. I thought something in the medical field would give me more stability. And I could still work with my hands,” he recalled of switching fields.

Rowan University helped him pursue his dream.

He enrolled at the Glassboro, N.J., institution, worked with the Office of Health Professions and became active in its Pre-Health Society for his 3 ½ years at Rowan, serving as its president his last year.

“It was awesome, especially to be able to talk to people when I got there about what to expect,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea except for what I read on the Internet.”

“Having a place to talk to other students was a big thing, talking to people who had the same goals as you,” added Hinman, who met with Tomas Varela, health professions advisor in the Office of Health Professions, and received advice before actually enrolling at Rowan.

Hinman graduated Rowan with a B.S. in biological sciences in 2013. This summer, he finished his first year at Temple University’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry.

“It's hard, but Rowan and what I learned in Pre-Health really helped to prepare me,” said Hinman, who had enrolled at two other higher education institutions before landing at Rowan in 2009. “It’s really exciting. I still can’t believe I’m in dental school. It’s pretty crazy. But it’s good. I enjoy it. It’s something I wanted to do for a while.

Open to all majors

Though the University does not have a pre-med major per se, for years it has graduated students in various majors who have been accepted into professional programs, in large part thanks to the guidance they received from the Office of Health Professions and the experience they had in the Pre-Health ClubSociety.

Varela is advisor to the student-led Pre-Health Society, which was founded about a half dozen years ago, and he offers one-on-one advising. His office and the club work in tandem, and one or both help students build and review resumes and assist with developing competitive applications to medical, dental and other professional programs. Varela, who earned a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University, also oversees Rowan’s Health Professions Committee, a group of faculty members that assesses every professional program application — whether to medical, dental, veterinary, physician assistantship, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy or podiatry programs.

Students from every major may tap into the expertise of Varela and other faculty and staff and are welcome into the Pre-Health Society, though many tend to major in a science.

“A student who is an English major has just as much of a chance to get into medical school as a bio major,” Varela said. “Here at Rowan, students don’t major in pre-med. Or pre-vet. They can major in biology or biomedical engineering or English, as long as they incorporate the course prerequisites.”

Enjoys great success

The Health Professions Committee meets with all students interested in applying to professional programs, and the University has agreements with several medical and dental schools that facilitate entry into them as long as students maintain certain standards.

The students the committee recommends typically do get accepted into a professional program. In the class of 2013, 100 percent of dental school applicants and 80 percent of medical school applicants were accepted into at least one program and sometimes several across the country.

Today, Rowan graduates attend dental school at Temple, the University of Michigan, Indiana University and the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.

Recent Rowan graduates attend medical school at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Maryland. Past students have attended Jefferson Medical College and New York Medical College as well.

Hussain Haider is one of them. The 22-year-old 2014 biological sciences graduate started dental school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in June.

Haider, a Mt. Laurel resident and 2010 graduate of Lenape Regional High School, decided in his freshman year of college to become a dentist, after shadowing both a dentist and an endocrinologist. Active in numerous campus organizations, he was president of the Pre-Health Society during 2013-14.

“As a freshman, I came in not knowing what I wanted to do,” Haider said. “This was the one go-to club. And I knew if I wanted this club to really help me, I had to be as involved as possible. The club is geared toward underclassmen. It provides students with a very good foundational knowledge of what is required of them to get into these fields. It keeps students up to date with what they need to be doing: summer enrichment programs to solidify resumes, application deadlines, letters, MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) courses on campus.”

Preparing for professions

“I went from not knowing anybody to knowing other students pursuing the same careers,” Haider said. “I learned what professors to talk to about the MCAT and DAT (Dental Admission Test), what students to rely on for studying techniques.” As part of the club, he met admissions directors from medical and dental schools, networked, heard presentations on ethics and more.

Several speakers at club meetings, he said, opened his eyes. “Learning about getting into professional school is one aspect. What’s more important is learning about what you’re getting yourself into.” Haider applied to 12 dental schools, received interview offers from 10 and was accepted at all of his top choices.

Jessica Healey, a 22-year-old 2014 biology graduate from Sicklerville, N.J., received multiple acceptances, also, in her case to medical school.

Healey knew she wanted to be a doctor since she was a kid. A student representative to the Rowan University Board of Trustees and active in numerous groups at Rowan, including the Pre-Health Society, Healey even started a volunteer program while at Rowan, inspired by her cousin Misha, who had cancer as a child. Hope for Education sends college students to Cooper University Hospital to tutor pediatric patients.

Accepted into three medical schools, Healey enrolled at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and is interested in primary care.

While she always has been focused, always has been fascinated by sciences and has wanted to become a physician for more than half her life, she still was nervous about the process, especially the MCATs. “It’s a highly daunting challenge for anybody who’s interested in going to medical school. It’s a daunting test to prepare for and take,” she said.

The Pre-Health Society helped steady her for the test and assist with much more. Professors guided her through the med school application process, she said, and small classes benefitted her educationally. Mock interviews prepared her for the real thing.

“There are no words to describe how it feels to know I’m in,” Healey said. “It’s something I have been working toward for a long time, I don’t think it would have worked out so well if I had gone to a different undergraduate program. It all worked out perfectly for me.”