Pre-Professional Health Sciences 

PPHS Program Staff

PPHS Program Co-Directors

Cara Wall-Scheffler, Ph.D. and Jenny Tenlen, Ph.D.

Faculty Advisors

  • Cindy Bishop, DVM
  • Wade Grabow, PhD
  • Ben McFarland, PhD
  • Charlotte Pratt, PhD
  • Derek Wood, PhD

Program Coordinator

  • Levi Clum

The PPHS Program

The Pre-Professional Health Sciences (PPHS) program at SPU offers specialized advising and coursework to prepare students for graduate-level professional training in all areas of health care. Our graduates become physicians, veterinarians, physical and occupational therapists, physician assistants, dentists, pharmacists, genetic counselors, podiatrists, and optometrists. Over the last five years, SPU students have achieved an acceptance rate of 75% for admission to medical schools, compared to a national average of about 40%.

SPU believes that students applying to professional schools should demonstrate academic competence, a willingness to serve others, and a familiarity with the demands of their chosen profession. Accordingly, the PPHS program helps guide students to succeed in appropriate academic coursework, to commit to volunteer service, and to observe professionals at work. Above all, students are encouraged to use their entire college experience as a time to develop a strong sense of vocation and to be able to clearly articulate their professional and personal goals.

PPHS Coursework

The formal component of the PPHS program consists of a series of unique one- and two-credit courses that provide instruction as well as inspiration and peer support. These courses offer opportunities for self-reflection to complement the mentoring by knowledgeable faculty and clinical professionals. Students take PPHS 1200 (Introduction to the Health Professions, 1 credit) during their first year in order to learn more about the wide variety of health care professions and to explore narrative medicine and social justice issues that impact health care systems.

Students enroll in PPHS 1800 (Health Care Career Seminar, 1 credit) during their second year. The PPHS 1800 seminar delves more deeply into the process of vocational discernment. Both the 1200 and 1800 courses include reading and writing assignments along with presentations by practicing clinicians who can offer an insider’s perspective. The courses also provide practical guidance for students initiating volunteer work and clinical observations as part of their active professional development.

During the first two years, each student’s faculty advisor meets regularly with the student to monitor their progress in all academic subjects. Students are expected to choose courses that are both challenging and of personal interest. Low grades during the first year are not career-ending, but it is important for a student to achieve an upward-trending grade-point average over the course of their college studies. It is possible to repeat a course and take a similar upper-level course in order to demonstrate mastery of the subject.

Most PPHS students major in Physiology, Biochemistry, or Applied Human Biology, which include the coursework typically required for admission into different types of graduate training programs. However, pre-professional students may major in any discipline they choose, provided they enroll in additional courses to fulfil specific pre-requisites for admission to a professional school. All students are expected to explore the humanities and social sciences in addition to biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Competent and compassionate care providers must develop skills to communicate effectively with patients and understand their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.

PPHS Advisors

In their third or fourth year, students planning to apply to medical, dental, or veterinary medical schools are assigned a PPHS advisor, a faculty member who works alongside the PPHS program director and supplements the guidance of the student’s regular faculty advisor. The PPHS advisor provides individualized coaching for students preparing for the competitive application process. By this point, students must have achieved an acceptable grade-point average (GPA) and have accumulated a significant number of hours volunteering and job-shadowing. Note that 3.0 is the minimum GPA for most graduate programs; medical schools require a GPA of at least 3.5.

PPHS Application Workshop

Pre-medical and pre-dental students who have completed PPHS 1200 and PPHS 1800 enroll in PPHS 3400 (Application Workshop, 2 credits) in the autumn of their third or fourth year. Students pursuing other types of training are also encouraged to enroll in PPHS 3400. The workshop is an opportunity for students to compose a personal statement, to request letters of recommendation from professors and nonacademic mentors, and to assemble other application materials.

Students typically apply to professional schools in the spring of their final year at SPU or one or two years after graduation. Graduates can continue to take advantage of the PPHS advising system even after they leave campus. For many applicants, a “gap year” or two between application and matriculation at a professional school is a valuable time for further personal growth. Some professional schools favor older applicants with meaningful work experience, which puts early applicants—those applying at the end of their third college year and not taking a gap year—at a distinct disadvantage. The PPHS advisor helps each student to craft a competitive application and choose an appropriate timeline for applying to professional schools.

PPHS Committee Interview

A key part of the PPHS process for applicants to medical and dental schools is the “mock interview,” where the student is questioned by a panel of SPU faculty and staff and receives formative feedback to consider in advance of an actual interview at a professional school. Following the mock interview, the committee chair (often the student’s PPHS advisor) writes a letter on behalf of the interview committee to summarize the student’s accomplishments and readiness for training in medicine or dentistry. A comprehensive committee letter supplements the assessments provided in individual letters of recommendation and is considered to be an excellent mechanism for conveying each student’s potential for success as a health care professional.

Only students who have participated in a formal committee process, such as the one followed by the SPU PPHS program, are eligible to include a committee letter as part of their application to a professional school. Full participation in the PPHS program, starting in the first year at SPU, gives pre-professional students all the advantages of the committee letter as well as the support and guidance of the PPHS advisor and the entire PPHS curriculum. All PPHS students—not just pre-medical and pre-dental students—also receive administrative assistance in submitting letters of recommendation to the relevant admission portals for schools in their chosen discipline.

Specific Program Requirements

The path toward a graduate training program differs for each student and for each profession. Some key features of the most common pre-professional pathways are summarized in the links below. Please visit the PPHS website for more detailed information about the pre-professional program.

Eaton Hall

PPHS advisors at SPU

Your pre-professional coordinator and faculty advisors attend annual meetings of the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.

They also meet with admissions counselors and deans from professional schools to ensure that you are competitive for these professional programs.