Advising network opens doors to health careers

The new Office of Health Professions Advising is part of a pan-University effort to improve students’ awareness of their options.

Students working in health care fields.

Each fall, nearly 3,000 undergraduate students identify as being on a pre-health academic track. Most want to become doctors and dentists. They don’t know much about other health care jobs such as human movement scientists, researchers in epilepsy labs or social workers who help people with traumatic brain injuries.

But no longer.

A new Office of Health Professions Advising and a network of advisers at Carolina and beyond will expand students’ knowledge of health care and training opportunities and put them on the best academic path toward a rewarding career.

Meg Zomorodi, associate provost for interprofessional health initiatives, led the creation of the office. Students will benefit from the office’s connections to the College of Arts and Sciences, Career Services, Carolina’s schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work, and other campus offices such as the health sciences department. Off-campus partners are a part, too.

By late 2021, three faculty members who had been volunteering as advisers to hundreds of students interested in health professions recognized the urgent need for a new and improved advising system. They were Janne Cannon, professor emeritus in the UNC School of Medicine’s microbiology and immunology department; Jean DeSaix, teaching professor in the College’s biology department; and Peter Gilligan, professor emeritus in the School of Medicine’s pathology and laboratory medicine department.

The three brought the need to Provost and Chief Academic Officer J. Christopher Clemens, who tasked Zomorodi, a champion of interprofessional collaboration, with improving health professions advising. She convened a group from health professions schools and other advising units to study how peer universities advise students and suggest ways to restructure how it’s done at Carolina. Zomorodi said that the group asked “What is this need and what could we build?”

Their benchmarking showed that if advising is not owned as a pan-university initiative, some students fail to plug into the system and lose their way. The group committed to developing a better approach — a network of partners working closely together to help students.

Zomorodi describes that network as an “umbrella.” It includes three new advisers and an advisory board made up of representatives from a broad range of groups: Carolina’s health professions schools, Honors Carolina and advising hubs; workforce development organizations such as NC AHEC and the College Advising Corps; and Campbell University and NC State University.

“Health professions advising is a great example of how we can serve students and external stakeholders,” Clemens said. “Demand for health professionals is accelerating, as is student demand for pathways to work in the health professions. With the right people and processes in place for connecting those dots, we can create incredible opportunities for our students and our state.”

The office’s three advisers bring plenty of relevant experience:

  • Kayela Buffaloe graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2019, then earned a master’s degree in college counseling and student development. She worked in Wake County Technical Community College admissions as a recruitment officer, in student affairs as a leadership development program coordinator and as an orientation leader.
  • Amanda Gabbard has a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education and has worked as an academic adviser, student organization faculty adviser and leadership coach. Most recently, she served in Carolina’s Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice supporting collaboration among students from different health affairs programs.
  • Amy Oyos-Yatrofsky holds master’s degrees in clinical mental health and in health and wellness. She worked as an academic adviser at Central Piedmont Community College and was a laboratory technician in the U.S. Air Force.

Students can schedule appointments with them through the health professions website.

An email listserv is a key tool. The 3,000 students interested in health professions or with undeclared majors will automatically be added to the listserv to receive news of programming, shadowing opportunities and events focused on health professions. Some programming will allow students to earn campus life experiences under the IDEAs in Action undergraduate curriculum.

The umbrella structure presents other opportunities to students through partnerships with organizations represented on the advisory board. The board also will broaden students’ awareness of pre-health programming. “Instead of, say, the Gillings School of Global Public Health producing an information session only for their network, they will partner with us and open the session to all of these pre-health students for much more exposure,” Zomorodi said.

One of the structure’s core elements is a reciprocal connection between offices. For instance, Career Services advisers will send students seeking more information about health professions to the new office. Health Professions Advising will route students who need advice about resumes and applications to health professional programs to Career Services.

Students can learn about health care schools from across the U.S. at an information fair March 28 noon-3:45 p.m., Frank Porter Graham Student Union Great Hall.

Zomorodi and Chloē Russell, associate dean and academic advising director in the College, are developing a referral system. The College’s Thrive Hubs advisers, who interact with undergraduate students from the time they receive acceptance letters to graduation, will refer students who are interested in a health career to a health professions adviser. “We help them think about finding joy in a career and tell them about career fields they might not know about, then we send them back to partners like Thrive advisers to create a plan of study,” Zomorodi said. Health profession advisers will also come to orientation sessions for entering students.

The effort to build the network is already paying off.

When UNC Hospitals needed students to sit with patients, keep them safe and be extra eyes for nurses, it reached Zomorodi through a partnering office. Advisory board members checked with some medical schools and confirmed that being a sitter counts on a medical school application. The listserv promoted the opportunity and 212 undergraduates volunteered.

“We need students everywhere as nurses, as pharmacists, in public health, as social workers,” Zomorodi said. “It’s not just one path, so it’s our job to help students explore the many facets of health out there.”

Read more stories on faculty and staff at TheWell.UNC.edu