One of the core components of our Pre-Professional Health Science Program is derived from its name. It is the development of the pre-professional mindset in each and every student. This begs a set of questions: What exactly is pre-professionalism? How does it inform each student’s preparation for their vocation?

Most undergraduate students in our program begin their studies with a naive and superficial understanding of professional attributes. Misconceptions are corrected every time a career advisor helps students with guidance on attire, adult communication, or etiquette. But in PPHS, we build a deeper foundation for professional success.

Let us begin by defining the root term “profession.” One dictionary defines the term broadly as An occupation whose core element is work, based on the mastery of a complex body of knowledge and skills. It is a vocation in which knowledge of some department of science or learning, or the practice of an art founded on it, is used in the service of others. Its members profess a commitment to competence, integrity, morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their domain. These commitments form the basis of a social contract between a profession and society, which in return grants the profession autonomy in practice and the privilege of self-regulation. Professions and their members are accountable to those served and to society.

The social contract between licensed healthcare professionals and society is based on competence, altruism, and individual and group integrity.

Pre-professional education follows a holistic approach to vocational preparation that transcends a metrics-driven mindset. “Generally, the rigor of most professional programs crowds out time and energy for students to develop, reflect, and learn more about themselves,” according to Dr. David J. Tipton. In his book Personal and Professional Growth for Health Care Professionals, Tipton argues, “This lack of personal development is a problem, because the student as a professional cannot be separated from the student as a human being.” Pre-professionalism enables pre-health students to become more “comfortable in their own skin” as they function in academic, professional, and social settings.

Student professionalism begins in our classrooms, clubs, dorm rooms, labs, and the library.

Following Tipton’s lead, we begin by countering a narrow approach to pre-health preparation that focuses on grades and test scores. Instead, we have developed a curriculum that uses school as a safe environment or “laboratory” for intentional personal growth. Once they arrive on campus, students recognize that they are professionals and have professional obligations and standards. They begin to develop a more collegial understanding of the educational process; this growth leads them to re-examine their sense of academic entitlement. In its place they discover an inclination towards humility and a growth mindset.

As students begin to perceive that their professional vocation is, in fact, a life of service to others, a new expectation emerges to discourage the academic dishonesty that “foreshadows unethical, unprofessional, and even illegal activities in practice.” The mark of a professional is further planted in students who experience growth through “acknowledging [potential] missteps and acting accordingly.” Our program sets high expectations for students so that “acting professionally is not a choice – it is an ethical obligation as a novice in the profession.” The PPHS approach to pre-professionalism flips the script, so to speak, on the refrain that “college is just another consumer marketplace, and a university education is just another product.” Our goal is to raise up leaders with a deep commitment to professional life as public service.

Our pre-professional curriculum challenges PPHS students to develop their metacognitive capacities and embrace discomfort as they exit their comfort zone to learn more about others on campus and to enter secular society. We encourage pre-professionalism to help students become “more accountable, more altruistic, and more dutiful with greater integrity and honor and a greater respect for others.” This process develops emotionally intelligent individuals who are not only able to understand others but to understand themselves as well.

Pre-professionalism extends beyond the classroom.

Our students develop the capacity to communicate and connect with professionals in their fields of interest. Transitioning to a much broader level, pre-professionalism emphasizes awareness of hidden curriculums that permeate the professional culture and the workplace. Our pre-health curriculum enables students to become more “comfortable in their own skin” as they function in academic, professional, and social settings. Students further nurture their own professional development when engaging in service activities in the growing city of Seattle. This takes shape in service-based volunteering through the John Perkins Center, an organization that focuses on bringing justice, community development, and reconciliation.

We also encourage pre-health students to observe or shadow healthcare professionals in a wide array of community clinics and hospital networks in the Seattle area. Engagements such as these are uniquely supported by coursework that links medical literature with real-world experience. This combination nurtures students who are “sensitive to professional obligations, are motivated to act professionally, exhibit professional judgement, and have skills and knowledge to implement professional choices.”

Written by Max Hunter, PhD, and Christian Pham