College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

The Rise of Health Professions

model of heart

A student in Dr. Carol Britson’s biology lab labels the model of a heart.

Over the past decade, the health-care sector added jobs month after month, even when jobs were disappearing elsewhere in the economy. The field is projected to add many more in the coming decade, so it makes sense that the number of students majoring in health-related fields rose sharply. Roughly one in 10 college graduates now gets a health-related degree. Training students for the health professions pipeline is the focus of The View from Ventress special section this year.

During Health Professions Day last winter on our campus, Chancellor Dan Jones discussed the responsibility of UM and the UM Medical Center (UMMC) to prepare the next generation of Mississippi’s health workforce. As former Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine at UMMC, Dr. Jones is particularly interested in this issue. “We want to be leaders in research and in taking care of patients,” he said. “We want to provide the very best healthcare and we want to be on the cutting edge of science.

“There are large racial differences in health outcomes and much of that is a vestige of the years of injustice around racial discrimination in our society, in our country, and in our state. It is an important goal of our university to be a part of improving healthcare for all Mississippians and to do our best to move the needle forward on solving the issue of health-care disparities.”

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The UM Health Professions Advising Office (HPAO) hosted the event to focus student attention on the variety of occupations in a thriving health-care economy and the many academic programs available. In the past year, Lucile McCook, director of HPAO, lecturer in biology, and curator of the Pullen Herbarium, and the HPAO staff provided information and guidance to 1,758 students (including prospective students) considering careers in the health professions. “Our challenge is making students aware of the opportunities,” McCook said. “We serve all students on campus. There are lots of different health professions and no single path to any one.”

Indeed. There is a common misconception that there is a “pre-med” major. Instead, the HPAO advises students on a wide range of degree programs. Some health professions require a baccalaureate degree prior to entry to the professional program—dentistry, medicine, optometry, physical therapy, physician assistant, and veterinary medicine. Students may select any baccalaureate while completing the prerequisites for the health profession. For example, out of the 36 UM students accepted to medical school at UMMC last year, 10 different majors were represented, including the expected biological science and chemistry but also philosophy and Spanish.

Other programs do not require the baccalaureate. Students typically spend several years at UM taking prerequisites and then apply to professional school to complete the degree: cytotechnology, dental hygiene, health informatics and information management, medical laboratory science or medical technology, nursing, occupational therapy, and radiologic science. These highly competitive programs allow flexibility because, while not required, students may choose to complete a baccalaureate for more career options. The newest option was just launched by the UMMC School of Nursing—an accelerated program that students may complete in Oxford.

“The hard work and commitment of time is amazing among our successful pre-health professions students,” said Sovent Taylor, HPAO assistant director. “They must balance coursework, community service, professional observation hours, and independent research. The professional schools want students to observe (multiple) working health-care providers and to take the initiative to sharpen their critical thinking skills through significant research projects.”

Chancellor Jones challenges students to consider health professions. “The most important reason to consider: the personal fulfillment. It provides, in my view, the most tangible way for someone to live a life of service. Think about what a fulfilling life it can be to commit yourself to a life in healthcare.”

The stories in this newsletter special section highlight the students and alumni who have made that commitment and the various ways the College of Liberal Arts works to make those students successful.

Healing Broken Hearts: Dr. James Cox  |  Doctor’s Orders: Dr. Bill Primos  |  Alumni Profile: Dr. Demondes Haynes

VIDEO: Rural Physicians Scholarship  |  VIDEO: STEM Education & Minority Achievement  |  Hugh Bateman Scholarship for Pre-med Students