One of the best decisions I made as an undergraduate was creating and running my college's allied health professions club on campus with some of my friends. There are so many perks to becoming more than just classmates/ curve competitors with the people in your science courses. Really great things can be created by like-minded individuals with common goals and aspirations. The club was started in April of 2013. I was just finishing up my freshman year at Rutgers. My friend Matt and I were so discouraged every time we would go to club meetings for the numerous medical-school based clubs on campus. One club was more medical school focused than the next. We went to countless meetings and events that were just not applicable to us as pre-PAs. Eventually, enough was enough. We just couldn't attend one more club meeting about MCAT courses or shadowing doctors. Matt looked at me after one of those meetings and said, "Jordan, what if we created our own club? Like a pre-PA club." The rest is history. Our club was born! (After a ton of conversations, meet-ups and organization of course). I was so 100% on-board with the idea. It was the answer to all of our complaints. It would allow us to create the content and open the doors to all of the other pre-allied health professionals out there that were feeling equally as left-out and frustrated. If something is broken, fix it yourself! And that's exactly what we did.
What was it like to start your own club on campus?
Starting a college club is HARD. Way harder than we originally thought it would be. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of grit to actually see it through. Talking about it is one thing, but actually doing it takes time and energy that busy and tired science majors don't always have. There are a ton of hoops you have to jump through to even become established on campus. Here's a quick glimpse: You need a statement of purpose explaining what you hope to accomplish, how you will serve your college and its students, how you are distinctly different from other organizations on campus, how students can support the club, and how you are a part of a larger organization or cause. Our club was going to be vastly different from the other medical clubs on campus, so this was an easy one for us. You need a club constitution outlining how your club will be identified (name, acronym, logos etc.), how to maintain active membership, how to vote during meetings, and what kind of officers will be on your executive board/ what will their respective roles be. We had to take the time to select the rest of the students we wanted on our e-board. This meant finding other students who we believed would be just as motivated and driven as we were to help get the club started. It's crucial to pick people who are not just your friends or students who want to put something on their resume, but instead people who are leaders with enough time and energy to allot to "club stuff". You need a faculty advisor/ staff mentor who has the knowledge and resources to help your club flourish. Luckily, our biology lab TA, Camille, was more than willing to help get our club off the ground and help everything run smoothly. It can be quite a challenge to find a mentor that is both willing and enthused about your club purpose. We really lucked out with Camille. In addition to all that, you need a bunch of technical odds and ends that are more annoying to deal with than they are actually worth, but alas have to get done to start (registration forms, provisional status paperwork etc.). It doesn't sound too unmanageable on paper as I'm typing this all out, but it's a little deceiving looking back on all of the meetings we had to have and all of the work we had to do on our own in order to get all of this completed in a timely fashion. This isn't meant to scare or discourage anyone from creating their own club on campus, but to inform.
What is the Rutgers Allied Health Professions Club?
Spoiler alert! We ended up naming our club the Rutgers Allied Health Professions Club (AHP club). Direct and to the point to eliminate any confusion! Our club was mainly composed of wanna-be physician assistants, physical therapists, registered dieticians, and various types of medical techs. Our club hosted monthly meetings for our members to discuss and sign-up for upcoming events that we were hosting that month. We also gave our members a chance to tell us what they wanted to see and get involved with. We often had them brainstorm event ideas together and create committees to make those events a reality. It was a great way to help make our members feel more involved. It was also a great opportunity to just make new friends majoring in the sciences, find new study buddies, swap study guides, and offer advice for people taking the same classes.
What was your club's mission statement?
The Rutgers University Allied Health Professions Club (AHP club) was created in order to help spread awareness about the multitude of professions in the medical field other than the well-known role of a physician. Our purpose is to educate students about the array of different pathways available to those interested in becoming a medical professional and to demonstrate that there is no one path that a student must follow to accomplish their goal of entering the healthcare industry. Unlike other pre-health clubs at Rutgers University, the AHP club will shift its focus away from MD/DO programs and instead emphasize less known careers within the medical field such as physician assistants, physical therapists, registered dietitians, and much more. Our organization strives to help students learn of the tremendous amount of options and choices that await them within the health care field and to break any preconceived notions that the physician path is the only real gateway into a rewarding career in medicine. We hope to unite and create an alliance of all the prospective students interested in the allied health professions at Rutgers University in order to help achieve the common goal of a career in medicine.
What were the pros and cons of making your club pre-allied heath vs. pre-PA only?
We went back and forth on whether or not our club should be strictly for pre-PAs or if we should broaden our audience to all of the overlooked allied health professions. We ended up including everyone in order to widen our member audience and reach more people on campus who also felt like a leftover. I refer to our club as a pre-PA club in this post at times because it’s a PA-related blog and the majority of our members did end up being pre-PAs, but at the end of the day it wasn't just a pre-PA club. There were definitely pros and cons to this decision and I'd love to share them here. In terms of pros, we had a lot more members when we started than we would have if we only opened our club up to pre-PAs. Word of mouth is your friend! Six years ago, becoming a PA was not quite as popular as it is today, so our club definitely wouldn't have been as large as it was. We also built so many more connections with high level executives at the Rutgers School of Health Professions given that our club wasn't strictly PA-based. I'll talk more about all the networking opportunities the AHP club provided us below. In terms of cons, it was difficult to please everyone. Certain speaker panels we hosted only applied to one particular profession at a time. It was overwhelming and often difficult to appeal to everyone in the club. It would have been much easier and more manageable to host only pre-PA events all the time, but easier is not always better. If you are looking to organize a similar club on your campus, keep these things in mind when choosing an audience. In retrospect, a pre-PA club probably would have eliminated a lot of our headaches and meeting discussions, but at the same time I don't know if I would be where I am today if it wasn't for the higher level connections that were built. Nevertheless, something to think about.
What kind of events and opportunities did your club provide for members?
One of the things I'm most proud of is all of the helpful and creative events we came up with and brought to fruition. I'm sure there are a thousand other great ideas out there by now, but here are some of the things we did:
Speaker Panels: Hosting a ton of speaker panels was the easiest way to spread valuable information to multiple different interest groups. We were able to host some really important figures such as practicing PAs, professors from the Rutgers PA Program, the head of the Rutgers DPT Program, the head of the Rutgers Dietetics Program, the Dean and the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs of the Rutgers School of Health Related Professions (SHP is the branch of Rutgers that contains all of the various medical degree and certificate programs), to name a few. Speaker panels allowed our members to gather together, eat some free food, gain knowledge directly from the source, and ask questions/ network with some very well-respected individuals afterwards.
PA Mentoring Program: In my opinion, this was probably the BEST thing about our club. We were able to set-up and partner with the Rutgers PA Program to have a PA Mentoring Program. Students from the Rutgers PA Program were able to volunteer to be paired with pre-PA students from our club. Once we got a roster together, we randomly paired people together. Having a PA mentor to email back and forth with was both informative and fun! This gave our members the opportunity to ask for advice and connect with Rutgers PAs directly. And we were able to set-up the exact same mentoring program with the Rutgers PT students as well for our pre-PT club members!
Mentor Meet & Greets: The best part about the mentoring program was that we would organize one or two meet-ups a year! Everyone from the mentoring program got to sit down and talk in person. The PA students are super busy during the school year obviously, so getting to sit down with them and pick their brains, even just for an hour was so incredible. It was a win-win for both parties considering you need community service hours as a PA student at Rutgers anyways! I remember taking every last word everyone had to say in for the full hour not wanting it to end, idolizing them and their spot in the PA program. There's something so motivating and inspiring about sitting down with people who you aspire to be like someday. Plus, that chemistry exam I was stressing over at this time felt a little less stressful after getting a glimpse of what life could be like in the near future.
Pre-PA Clerkship Informational: We had a pre-PA clerkship company come in and speak about how to join their program and increase your chances of joining the small 6.7% of students that are accepted into a physician assistant program. In one of my future blog posts, I will talk more about what clerkships have to offer.
CASPA Survival Guide Seminar: Our club had experts on the CASPA come in and help our members who were in the process of filling out their applications. Any way to help alleviate anxiety over the whole thing Q&A style was a big hit.
GRE Practice Exams: We had Princeton review host an event where our members could take a practice GRE exam with an exam debrief/ exam-taking tips and tricks session afterwards.
Personal Statement Prep: Writing a personal statement can be a daunting and challenging task when applying to grad school. We wanted to alleviate some anxiety with this aspect of the application, so we had a group come in to help discuss how to write the perfect personal statement. See my blog post on writing a personal statement for some pointers.
Suture Clinic: We had Princeton Review host a suture clinic where our members were able to practice different types of suturing techniques with appropriate medical instruments and simulation skin blocks. Who doesn't want to be one step ahead before you have to do the real thing in the OR on real patients during rotations?
IV & Airway Clinic: We had volunteers from the US Army come in and give a seminar on airway access and IV line placement. They brought in mannequins and medical equipment to help learn and practice hands-on. They were also able to provide information about what it's like being a provider in the military and how to get involved. This was very appealing to both our emergency medicine fans and our military fans!
Basic Life Support Training: We hosted a full basic life support (BLS) training course for our members because it's always cheaper in a group setting! It's a great thing to put on your resume no matter what field of medicine you want to go into, so this particular event was appealing for a majority of our members.
Volunteer Work: A lot of our members were in the process of building up their resumes to apply to the graduate program of their choice, so we tried to host as many group volunteer opportunities as we could. Below are examples of a few volunteer events we hosted.
Blood Drives: What better way to gain community service than by doing something medical-related! We partnered with the "New York Blood Center" who helped us host a donation truck on campus. We had volunteers from our club help organize and run the event and spread the word around campus. There's something heroic about donating blood, and we all know college students love being heroic (sometimes in bad ways rather than good) but regardless, hosting a donation truck on campus was a huge success. "Feel-good" events are my favorite.
Bone Marrow Drives: We partnered with "Be the Match", which is an amazing organization that manages the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world. They work every day to save lives through connecting patient's with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma to willing individuals who are a match for a bone marrow transplant procedure. We had our members run a booth on campus to increase the number of people on that registry list by encouraging people to sign up with just a simple cheek swab. It was a really inspiring event for community service hours!
Relay for Life: Rutgers hosts a large event for Relay for Life so our club decided to make our own relay team to raise money for cancer! Cancer affects so many people personally, so this was a really important event for a lot of our members. They voiced an interest and we made it happen!
Rutgers Day: Rutgers Day is a big outdoor fair spanning multiple campuses with hundreds of booths for all the different organizations, programs, congregations, and clubs on campus. Our club had a booth to spread the word on joining our club. Luckily, the school puts medical booths in the same general area to keep like-topics together so our booth was right next to the PA, PT, dietetics, and SHP booths! It was a great opportunity to talk about what our club does to gain more members as well as network with the students, faculty and executives at other booths.
Medical Debates: From vaccinations to designer DNA, medicine can be quite a controversial topic. We had tons of fun hosting debates and discussions for our members. Debates are a great way to learn about science hot topics and a great way to gain insight and appreciate differing perspectives.
Body Worlds Museum Trip: Not all of our events were strictly educational! We liked to have fun too! I'd say the most fun and involved event that we planned was a trip to the Body Worlds Museum in NYC. We rented a bus and spent the day in the city together as a group. The museum was amazing. I wish we were allowed to take photos inside because some of the exhibits were truly remarkable.
Social Events: From holiday parties to small social gatherings outside the classroom, there are always perks to having friends in science. Never feel that you are too above another person, you can always learn something from someone else. You just have to be willing to listen!
Fundraisers: And last but not least, we held fundraisers! Bake sales were a great way to raise money to help fund all the club events I just mentioned. Making pricier events like the museum trip or the BLS training cheaper for our members was important to us. Rutgers provided us with some funding in the beginning of the year as a student organization which was great, but a little extra spending money allowed us to cater all of our speaker panels. What kind of college student doesn't appreciate a nice free meal here and there? Just another perk for our members.
What kind of leadership opportunities did your club have to offer?
Most school organizations have some type of executive board to help keep things running. Being on an executive board is a great way to show you have strong leadership skills. When we created this club, my colleagues and I all just sort of fell into our respective titles given that we all had something different to bring to the table interest and talent wise. Naturally, Matt was the president given the club was his idea in the first place. I took on the role of vice president. One girl was really good with digital multimedia (the social media manager seemed like a fitting title). Another was a really fast note taker (the secretary) etc. Being on an executive board gave me a lot of added responsibilities, but they were all pertaining to something I was so passionate about that it didn't seem like just another thing on my to-do list. In addition to e-board positions, my club also offered leadership positions for our general members. For each of our events, we tried to appoint a committee chair to take charge. This helped our members feel more involved and helped take some of the easier responsibilities off of us. It really was a team effort creating and running this club, and I'm so thankful we were able to bring all of our ideas to reality. One thing is for sure, I felt both accomplished and proud to talk about role as vice president and my club involvement during my interview. Providing professors with specific examples of a time your character traits and personal qualities really shined will ALWAYS be better than just coming out and bluntly self-describing. Saying it and doing it are two different things. Show them you are a problem solver and a good critical thinker without flashing your GRE score or your GPA. Show them you are dedicated and passionate enough to start something new. Show them you are a hard worker. Show them that you can be the one everyone wants on their team but can also step-up and be the independent leader when you have to be.
What kind of connections were you able to build through your club?
Not only is being on an executive board a great thing to add to your resume, but it also gave us a lot of opportunities to connect with "higher-ups" in the medical community. We reached out to the SHP Dean of Student Affairs to discuss ways to become more involved with SHP as a whole. From there we set-up a meeting with him to discuss our organization and our goals. We were then invited by that Dean to a career fair event at the Liberty Science Center. There we were able to meet the Dean of SHP while running our booth at the fair! This was a big deal. After talking with her about our club at the fair, she invited us to attend her next large board meeting! This board meeting ended up changing our lives in my opinion. It was both rewarding for our organization in building connections with other program heads, as well as for us as individuals trying to enter into one of those programs one day. My point is, one connection so easily leads to another. If we hadn't reached out to that first dean of student affairs we wouldn't have made it to the career fair. If we hadn't gone to the career fair, we wouldn't have met with the dean of the school. If we were never invited to that board meeting, we wouldn't have been able to meet face-to-face with the department heads of the PA/PT/dietetics programs. If my friends and I did not take our biology lab as seriously as we did, maybe our TA Camille wouldn't have agreed to be our club advisor. And without an advisor, there would have been no club. It's VITAL to treat every person you come in contact with in this field as you would the person on the other side of the interview table. In my next post, I'll talk a little bit more about how vital these types of relationships can be to ultimately getting that acceptance letter to PA school.
What advice do you have for students looking to start or join their own pre-PA club?
If your college already has a pre-PA club on campus, get involved. Put your time in. Join their executive board to take your involvement to the next level. If your campus does not have a pre-PA club, create one just as we did! When you see a problem, fix it. When you have a good idea, run with it. See it through. Like I said, it wasn't easy, but it was worth it. Stay committed when things get tough. Use some of our club events as ideas or points of reference for your own club. One of the best parts is that you can design your club exactly how you want it to be. Everything in school is so structured and out of our control as students. This is something you CAN control. Creating your own club gives you the flexibility to host the events that are most beneficial to you. Whether it's informational speakers or hands-on workshops, you have the power to chose. Be creative. Have fun. It shouldn't feel like a chore and if it does, you need to re-evaluate what you're doing and why you're really doing it. I can honestly say I really enjoyed every aspect. Your passion for your future should outweigh your time and effort or you're going into medicine for the wrong reasons.
What is the club up to now and what can I take away from all of this for the future?
Yes, the RU AHP club is still a thing! I'm not sure what the club is up to now, which is why this post is all in the past tense. No longer being an undergraduate on their e-board, it's hard to know exactly what's next for them, but I'm hoping all good things! Leaving a legacy behind on campus makes me proud, honored, and hopeful for the future of prospective PAs. What will you leave behind? Create something brand new. Be a part of something you can look back on and be proud of. Organize something you are super passionate about. I can only hope that by starting this club, students after me will have just a tiny bit of an easier time gaining exposure, getting involved in new experiences, and getting that acceptance letter than I did. That in itself is a success to me! Be brave. Be unique. & Be bold.
How did creating a pre-PA club help get you into PA school?
Ultimately, creating a pre-PA club helped all of our founding executive board members and many of our members reach their career goals or discover their path in some way. Matt is currently working as an emergency medicine PA in Philadelphia. One is finishing up her 2nd year of PA school at Rutgers. Another is finishing up her 3rd year of PA school at Rutgers. One went to PT school. One went to nursing school. One is currently a 3rd year medical student at NYU (did you hear about that free tuition?? Woop-woop!). And I am currently working as an orthopedic surgery PA in NYC. Now, was it the club itself that really got us accepted or did starting a club just attract a bunch of go-getter personalities? Who really knows. One thing is for sure, we were all very determined to get where we wanted to be. And being passive certainly isn't going to get you there. Take aggressive steps towards your dream job. Put yourself out there. Join groups that share the same interests you do because great things can happen when passions collide. And if the group you want doesn't exist yet, make it happen yourself. You are your own vector for change and the holder of your own future.