Hennon, Yoseif, and Touma spend time studying at the USC School of Medicine as a part of a post-grad baccalaureate program.
Photos by Kathryn Hennon.

By Kathryn Hennon

Wearing white, cotton coats, carrying stethoscopes, and writing on plastic clipboards are essential aspects of playing pretend doctor. But do the kids who relish in the pretend game ever grow up to make childhood pursuits a reality? Every year, medical school rejection letters force many students to re-evaluate their medical school childhood dreams as competition for a first-year spots continue to grow.

For many aspiring doctors, the smooth path of college to medical school does not exist. After receiving their first round of rejection letters, these students must either choose a new career or create an alternative path to their original goal. The post-baccalaureate certificate students at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine chose an alternative path.

Medical schools know competition for their coveted spots is stiff, so several of these schools have proposed a solution. Today there are over 200 post-baccalaureate programs at accredited medical schools across the Unites States. The schools design their programs to benefit would-be physicians who may lack top undergraduate grades or science coursework. These programs offer medical school hopefuls one to two years of premed science curriculum to boost their chance at medical school acceptance.

The University of South Carolina Medical School offers a post-baccalaureate certificate program in Biomedical Science. In this program, students complete extensive graduate-level course work in the areas of anatomy, genetics, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and neuro-science along with several other courses in the biomedical sciences. In addition, faculty and staff offer these students assistance and guidance as they complete their medical applications and interviews.

After several rejection letters from medical schools,  Megan Hennon, 23, decided to take advantage of such a program at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine. As a Clemson graduate, Hennon did not expect to attend her university’s chief rival. However, her determination to get her medical degree led her to the post-baccalaureate program. “Although I don’t exactly want to be in the position that I am now, I am working towards my goal and that is all that matters,” Hennon said.

Thomas Touma, 24, is also enrolled in the USC medical school’s post-baccalaureate program in hopes of getting in to medical school next year. After graduating from Clemson in 2015, Touma began work as a nursing assistant on the night shift at a hospital in Anderson.

“At the time, I was still unsure if medical school was the right move, but I needed to start making money. I began this job to figure out my plans and make some cash in the process,” Touma said.

After working grueling hours on the orthopedic floor while his college buddies went to bars after their daytime jobs, Touma struggled.

“Despite the challenges of that job, overall it was extremely rewarding, and I realized that I was willing to go through hard work for a worthwhile career in medicine.” Touma said.

He liked spending time with patients and enjoyed aiding in their recovery. With a new interest in orthopedic medicine, Touma began to apply to medical school. But he knew his undergraduate grades might not be high enough. He was right, so he enrolled in the one-year certificate program.

Each student in the post-baccalaureate program has a different story and journey that led him or her to the project.  But most share the same end goal:  medical school acceptance.

Duke University graduate Sarah Yosief ended up in Columbia after carefully considering location and cost options. From a young age, Yosief knew she wanted to pursue medical school. However, she knew that if she wanted to achieve this goal, she would have to do it on her own. This meant taking out loans, working multiple jobs, and paying for her own education.

The 26-year-old spent the past few years conducting medical research, doing volunteer work, and shadowing a variety of doctors. She says these experiences improved her medical candidacy, but she still needed to up her undergraduate GPA. Yoseif applied to various post-baccalaureate programs, but chose the USC program because of its lower cost and location near family.

“So far this program has challenged me by being around intelligent students and medical professionals. I have learned to think on a higher level and gained insight into what medical school will be like,” she said.

The direct correlation between medical school acceptance and post-baccalaureate certificate programs is uncertain, but there is no doubt that the programs have the potential to help these students succeed. St. Louis based dermatologist Dr. Gina Bowers says that many first-year medical students are underprepared for the demanding coursework and could have benefitted from additional studies or experience.

“I think these post-baccalaureate students may have an advantage over medical school students who come straight from undergraduate studies,” Bowers said. “The extra course work will give them a head start and advantage over their peers when they do begin medical school. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Hennon is a public relations senior