Continuing studies students start ‘prehealth’ group

Jacqueline Chmielnicki

Leah Toppel graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1997 with a major in Spanish. Seven years later, she’s back in college — this time at Northwestern — preparing for medical school.

For many students like Toppel, taking such a long hiatus from academics makes for a difficult transition back.

Students in the School of Continuing Studies at NU face that challenge when enrolling in the Prehealth Professions Program, a post-bachelors program created in 2001 designed for those who did not choose the premedicine, predental or preveterinary track as undergraduates but now want to go to medical school.

To alleviate stress and to provide people with networking and other resource opportunities, Toppel and David Goodrich, two students in the program, recently created the Northwestern University Prehealth Professionals. The organization serves as both an administrative and social service for all students.

“It’s hard when you have been out of school for so long,” Toppel said. “So it’s nice to have this camaraderie and support from a group with people in the same situation as you.”

The group hopes to make students aware of resources available at NU and to create a social and career network for its members. To accomplish these goals, the co-founders created several different subcommittees, including a volunteer group, a shadowing group, a resources group and a researching group.

Members schedule speakers, offer volunteer opportunities, and create study groups for final exams and the Medical College Admission Test.

“We put people in touch with resources that would be more difficult otherwise to learn about,” Toppel said.

The group’s first two speakers came to campus last week. The first guest, a medical student at NU, discussed life in graduate school. The second speaker gave a presentation about financing school in a lecture titled “Money Management for Dummies.”

The organization currently has 80 official members, encompassing a “unique” assortment of people, Goodrich said. Members range in age from 22 to 45 and have had majors or careers ranging from finance to philosophy.

“Everyone has such a diverse background,” said Goodrich, who graduated from Indiana University in 1998, majoring in psychology and minoring in business. “That’s another great thing about the group.”

Goodrich and Toppel developed the idea for Prehealth Professionals in late 2003 and received approval from administrators in January. Goodrich and Toppel pitched their idea to Assistant Dean for Student Services Rich Birndorf, who they said had helped with preliminary work.

“I thought the group was a good idea, and we wholeheartedly felt it would be beneficial to (the students),” Birndorf said. “The group provides them with a lot of opportunities that might be given more to traditional undergraduate students.”

Many students in the program said they appreciate the initiative the co-founders took and said they are happy such an organization exists.

“It’s a great thing that it’s been set up, because there’s a lot of different issues that people on this course of study need to get a grasp on,” said Pia Chaudhari, 29, a premed student. “It provides access to resources so people can get through this program with greater success.”