As the College of Allied Health Sciences welcomes its new classes of undergraduate students this fall, it also is sending dozens of graduating students to top-ranked graduate programs across the country.
This is particularly notable when more and more students are applying to such programs.
"We’re a pre-professional program that opens the door to any number of professional graduate schools, most of which are extremely competitive,” says Thomas Herrmann, EdD, interim chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. "But while the number of graduating students has grown substantially, the number of graduate programs has not. That makes it all the more important to properly prepare our students.”
Both the departments of Rehabilitation Sciences and Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Allied Health have recorded high numbers of students being accepted into graduate programs, including after the 2012-2013 school year.
In Health Sciences, the undergraduate program of Rehabilitation Sciences, almost half of the Winter 2012 and Spring 2013 graduates were accepted into graduate programs. Of the students who applied to medical schools and physician assistant programs, 68 percent were accepted.
In CSD, 48 seniors graduating in spring semester were accepted into graduate programs in audiology or speech-language pathology to begin this fall (out of 54 who applied). An additional five will be attending graduate programs in non-CSD disciplines.
As director of undergraduate programs in CSD, Carney Sotto, PhD, says her goal is to work with students early in their application process and engage in them "focused attention” on postgraduate education.
"Starting in spring of their junior year, I reach out to students to get them up to par on what they need to do—for the GRE (Graduate Entrance Examinations), for their applications, how many schools they should apply to,” she says.
Sotto also says the college’s new progression form, implemented three years ago, plays a large part in developing successful seniors. At the end of each school year, students meet with academic advisors to go over their requirements, grade point average and conduct a thorough assessment of their scholastic progress.
"From a graduate school perspective, our students are very strong and well-rounded by graduation,” says Sotto. "We expect a lot from them: They are required to take variety of courses in science, math, the arts and foreign language, plus many of them have service work in their resume as well.”
Communication Sciences and Disorders: A Growing Field
Preparation for graduate school in CSD is particularly important, as aspiring speech language pathologists must complete a master’s degree in speech pathology or a clinical doctorate in audiology (AuD).
In CSD, applications for UC’s own graduate program have doubled in the last five years.
Department Chair Nancy Creaghead, PhD, says CSD has seen a growing number of both undergraduate majors and graduate students.
Ten years ago, she estimates the program had 60 undergraduate majors—now it’s more than twice that.
"A lot of our first-year majors have had some encounter with speech therapy that drew them to the field,” she says, "but there is also an increased awareness of speech pathology as a whole, as well as some national attention to the shortage of school-based speech-language pathologists and audiologists.”
That awareness has translated into increased applications to the college’s graduate program: Creaghead estimates they receive 400 applications per year and take about 45 students in the on-campus speech-language program per year, for a total of 90 students in the two-year program. (The department’s distance-learning program has allowed that total number to grow to over 225). There are currently about 60 applicants for 13 positions in the four-year Doctor of Audiology program, which has a total enrollment of approximately 50 students.
In order to prepare undergraduate students for the application process, Creaghead says they start early.
"We have an academically rigorous program and every course counts,” she says. "Our first-year experience and learning communities get students started on the right track, and then they receive ongoing support from our academic advisors, faculty mentors and Carney (Sotto). We try to make it a team effort.”
Health Sciences: Training the Whole Student
In Health Sciences, Herrmann says faculty members have learned that "it’s never too early for students to learn how to behave and how to think like a health care professional.”
Starting in the junior year, when students diverge to either the pre-physical therapy track or the pre-medical track, they begin "skills checks,” which measure their knowledge, skills and abilities in each class.
Lasting just 15 minutes, the checks measure a student’s performance of a clinical activity, with a fellow student performing as a patient and faculty member or graduate student evaluating their performance and professional demeanor.
"They need to have the ability to apply their knowledge and execute their skills—without knowing exactly what they will have to do until they walk in the room,” says Herrmann. "It’s a real world event. They have to work with people and think on their feet, with a little bit of pressure.”
He says the checks are part of a new trend across health education, as professional programs are looking more at the whole student rather than just GPA and a standardized test score.
Despite the stressful nature of the checks, the trend is gaining acceptance among student as well.
"The feedback we get from the students is that they hate them—until they are finished,” says Herrmann. "Then they say it’s much easier the next time.”