Passing Knowledge Down the Line
Idaho WWAMI Pre-Med Mentoring Program Fosters Relationships Between Medical Students and Undergraduates
Getting into medical school takes grit.
Aspiring doctors must prove themselves through a rigorous application process that requires preparing a strong application, mastering medical school interviews and acing the MCAT. The process can be overwhelming and stressful.
But there’s no reason not to ask for advice.
Pre-med students throughout Idaho can gain insight about the application process from a current medical student through the Idaho WWAMI Pre-Med Mentoring Program (PMMP). This “near-peer” model pairs first- and second-year medical students at University of Idaho with pre-med juniors and seniors throughout the Gem State to share resources, recommendations and encouragement.
A Near-Peer Mentor Program for Medical Students
Megan Schlussler, a fourth-year Idaho WWAMI Medical Education student from Sandpoint, and Liz Bryant, director of the N. Idaho Area Health Education Center introduced PMMP in 2019. As the former Pre-Health Professions Program Coordinator at U of I, Bryant was staff advisor for the Pre-Med/Pre-PA Club, which helps Vandals interested in a medical profession form study groups, find community service opportunities and locate research experience on campus.
“The pre-med club benefitted me by providing direction around strengthening my medical school application,” Schlussler said. “We also participated in volunteer events with Idaho WWAMI students, which gave me a chance to relate to people who knew what I was going through and how challenging it is."
Schlussler was accepted to WWAMI, a 5-state regional medical school that spans Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho and is part of the nationally ranked University of Washington’s School of Medicine. Every applicant accepted to Idaho WWAMI is an Idaho resident and takes medical school classes at U of I. It was at the Moscow campus that the “near-peer” mentor program she experienced with the pre-med club translated to current medical students mentoring pre-med undergraduates.
“There’s so much more involved in applying to medical school than people realize,” Schlussler said. “I’m passionate about helping people that are on the same path as me, and a mentor program seemed like a good way to share niche knowledge.”
Communicating Through COVID-19
In 2019, with Bryant’s help, the PMMP matched 12 Idaho WWAMI medical students with 20 pre-med undergrads. Participants were paired to ensure a mentor’s experience would align with a mentee’s need, with acceptance priority going to applicants with historically underrepresented and/or disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Mentors can help review applications and help keep mentees competitive,” Schlussler said. “But what makes this program stand apart is the fact that we are med students; we can describe what it’s actually like to be in med school and what helped get us here.”
Prior to the pandemic, the PMMP was open to pre-med students in northern Idaho, including students from Lewis-Clark State College, North Idaho College and U of I. But as the world went virtual in response to COVID-19, the mentoring program followed suit. By Fall 2020, pre-med juniors and seniors across the Gem State could apply, so Idaho WWAMI students began mentoring undergraduates from as far away as Pocatello and Boise.
‘Knowledge to Impart’
Gillian Glivar ’22, who grew up in Eagle and graduated from U of I with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Sciences, participated in the PMMP for two consecutive years.
“As a junior, my mentor kept me laser-focused on the application requirements for medical school admission and began preparing me for how demanding the curriculum would be. He helped set my expectations,” she said. “As a senior, my mentor looked over my application and gave me valuable advice regarding best interview practices. I relied on my mentors for very different things but received so much out of the program both years.”
Glivar, who is part of the incoming Idaho WWAMI class, is excited to share her medical school application experience with pre-med mentees.
“I definitely hope to serve as a mentor in this program,” she said. “I am excited to share my experience with prospective students now that I have knowledge to impart.”
Schlussler, who is applying to residency spots for general surgery, will graduate from medical school in 2023. She’s proud that this program – recognized as a service learning activity through WWAMI – will be maintained after she graduates.
“Being a mentor helped me improve communication skills that I can use as a physician,” she said. “You get information from your mentee and come up with a game plan together. Ideally, with patients, I’ll be able to talk with them about the condition they have and they, in turn, will understand our treatment plan.”
This year marks WWAMI’s 50th anniversary in educating and training future physicians in their home state. The state’s only publicly funded medical school, Idaho WWAMI helps increase the number of primary care physicians, especially in underserved areas, and provides students with opportunities for unique, community-based medical education.
Byline: Article by Lindsay Lodis, WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho.
Photo Attribution: Photos by University Visual Production.
Published Date: Published August 2022.