[CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: MORGAN AUSTIN]
(Charleston, IL) – Eastern Illinois University’s Health Professions Advisor, Sam Laingen, is helping EIU students get into professional health schools—and she is helping more than just students whose majors relate to the medical field.
In terms of experience, Laingen says although she hasn’t been in advising before, she has an extensive background in the medical world that is extremely valuable to her position in helping EIU students enroll in professional health schools in the future. Previously, Laingen worked as an athletic trainer in Division 1 athletics for 17 years, and she says that this experience helps to bring a realistic practitioner’s point of view to her advising position. She explains that as an athletic trainer, she had the opportunity to practice healthcare, to work with other healthcare professionals, and to understand what the day-to-day life of a healthcare professional is really like.
Laingen shared that her previous position allowed her to work with and mentor college students. With college athletes, she was helping them through what she described as “some of the worst parts of their careers”—not only through injuries, but through dealing with loss and managing a busy personal life with a hectic academic schedule. Because of this involvement with helping students to manage their lives, Laingen believes she brings an appreciation for the student as well as advocating for the student while she’s in her new advising role. She also states that she has an understanding of what is being asked of healthcare providers when asking them to host students.
Laingen has firsthand knowledge that she can share with students about what to expect when shadowing a healthcare professional, how to volunteer, and how to gain valuable experience from any opportunity.
“You don’t have to be the person diagnosing the patient or doing the tests on the patient to gain quality experience from it,” Laingen said. “Meeting people in the waiting room, pulling up a chair for a family member, or going to get warm blankets for patients. Those are all things that are really important in healthcare, and if our students can understand that before they go on to their professional school, I think it gives them a better appreciation as a practitioner of what goes into making the clinic run, or the hospital run, or wherever they wind up working.”
Laingen works with EIU’s 11 different pre-health professions, and helps them pick classes to not only meet their major requirements but also meet their prerequisites for professional school. Laingen explains that she only directly advises biology majors who are going into pre-health, but she’s a secondary advisor for any major who wishes to go into pre-health—such as psychology majors and kinesiology majors who want to go into occupational or physical therapy.
The other half of the service that Laingen provides as an advisor is helping students successfully apply to schools and teaching them how to be strong applicants. She does this by making sure students understand the timeline for applications, prepping for admissions tests, reviewing personal statements, deciding who to ask for letters of recommendation, and navigating the different websites for application submissions.
Laingen explains that if students wish to speak with her about getting into medical school, whether or not they are a biology major, all they have to do is make an appointment. She states that her bio on EIU’s biology website contains a link to schedule an appointment with her. Laingen has several different types of appointments that students can choose from. The main one is an appointment she describes as “I just need to talk.” This type of advising is mainly for students who are feeling lost, want to explore different careers, are looking at a specific profession, need to choose classes, or are graduating and are not sure where to go. Laingen is open and enthusiastic about talking with these students about their options for the future.
One thing that Laingen wants to emphasize to students is that there is no such thing as a pre-med major.
“I’m available to all majors interested in pre-health. You major in whatever you want to,” she explains. “Whether that’s biology, chemistry, psychology, history, health promotion, kinesiology…you can major in anything. What my position works with is looking at the pre-health prerequisites and making sure you hit all of those courses. In my position, I need to be continually looking at what the different health schools are looking for in their prerequisites, so that’s where I can help students.”
Laingen further explains that she can take this information about different health schools to help students decide which schools fits them best. She also states that EIU has a great relationship with Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital, and this relationship can give students more opportunities to volunteer in the medical field to gain experience.
When talking about the specific aspects of what EIU’s pre-health program brings to the table in comparison to other universities, Laingen explained that there is currently a huge focus on rural medicine. This can give EIU students an advantage because they are exposed to rural medicine early on through their volunteer work, and that’s different because students will have a broader scope of practice than someone who specializes in one area in a big city. Laingen also emphasizes that EIU gives students a huge bonus when it comes to undergraduate opportunities for research, which will help to set students apart from other applicants for professional school.
“A lot of larger universities reserve their research opportunities for seniors or graduate students,” she explained. “At EIU, you can start doing research in your freshman and sophomore year if you approach your professors.”
She says that this is another benefit to EIU, as it’s easier for students to approach their professors in EIU’s smaller class sizes because professors are more likely to know students more personally than if they were in a larger class. This can allow students to have a better opportunity to talk to professors to start research early, and they can get higher quality letters of recommendation from those professors that they can use to apply to professional school.
To prepare for medical or professional school outside of an advising appointment, Laingen recommends that students start getting exposure to clinical experiences, such as shadowing and speaking to healthcare practitioners that are already in the student’s life.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the area of medicine that you’re really interested in or not,” says Laingen. “You can still learn something from it. Be open to all sorts of healthcare so you can get an appreciation for all the different areas of healthcare.”
Laingen also wants students to know that healthcare isn’t limited to being a doctor.
“There are so many other avenues to impact healthcare,” she says.“We have many of those at Eastern.”
She also encourages students to join Alpha Epsilon Delta, the Pre-Medical Honor Society on campus. This honor society welcomes students in any health-related field, and they help students with applying to medical and professional school as well through their programs that give students entrance exam preparation, entrance essay reviews, and opportunities to speak with local health professionals.
For more information about EIU, or to learn more about its growing assortment of programs and services, visit the university’s website at www.eiu.edu, or call EIU’s public information office at (217) 581-7400.