Prepared Through Pre-Health: Setting the Foundation for Health Professions

It hasn’t been long since Sheryl (Koziar) Rose ’04-’10M sat on the other side of the classroom in Franklin Science Center, planning out her career in lab sciences. Today, she's back in a teaching role, sharing her professional experience with a new crop of eager and determined students in Ship's pre-health professional program. 

“This program prepared me for the real world,” said Rose, who works as assistant administrative director of pathology at Chambersburg Hospital and teaches hematology at Ship. Bringing her education and career full circle, she’s now able to provide students with the fundamentals in health sciences and share her experience from the field.

Sheryl (Koziar) Rose ’04-’10M now teaches in the program from which she graduated and also works at Chambersburg Hospital.

Sheryl (Koziar) Rose ’04-’10M now teaches in the program from which she graduated and also works at Chambersburg Hospital.

The pre-health professional track at Ship prepares students for careers in the health sciences such as medicine, optometry, dentistry, physical therapy, nursing, pathology, and others. The demanding program requires more than a solid GPA, said Dr. David Long, biology professor and director of health sciences. Student are expected to shadow professionals, engage in research, and log volunteer hours. 

"It take a special student to manage their time in this program." Long said.

When done right, the preparation through Ship’s program opens doors to countless career opportunities in health sciences. Jeff Mazzarella ’08, a dentist with Chambersburg Dental Associates, said the challenging courses he took at Ship made his first year of professional school much easier.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the program. The background and courses I took over-prepared me for dentistry school,” he said. “The biggest thing is that you get out of it what you put into it.”

Forward Focused

Jeff Mazzarella ’08

Jeff Mazzarella ’08

When Mazzarella followed his brother to Ship, he also intended to follow the same career path. He started the pre-health professional program through the Biology Department thinking that he’d end up in optometry.

“The pre-professional program was really nice. I saw all the aspects of the professional field and all the different avenues you could take. I thought I wanted optometry, but I moved into dentistry.”

There were always faculty there moving you forward. That was a big thing.
— Jeff Mazzarella '08

The program affords students a strong foundation in biology with the flexibility to choose a professional focus through elective courses. Plus, Mazzarella said biology faculty works with students to determine which professional track is right for them and helps each student to meet his or her end goal.

“The coursework was demanding, but there was always someone to speak to in the department to help get you through it,” he said. “There were always faculty there moving you forward. That was a big thing.”

Jennifer Fuhrman ’07 loved science and wanted to work in health care, but wasn’t sure what path she would take until her senior year. The combination of diverse coursework and guidance from faculty led her to a career as a pathologist’s assistant with York Laboratory Associates.

“When I entered the pre-health professional track, I didn’t really know where it would lead me because of the great variety of health care careers. But the number of different courses available in the various disciplines of biology was definitely important,” she said. “I was hopeful that learning about many different facets of biology and how they could translate into a career in medicine would help me find my niche, and it did.”

There is increased interest in healthcare professions, which means there also is increased competition, according to Long. Having advised the program for twenty- six years, he said the rigor of the biology program in tandem with research opportunities, internships, volunteer experiences, shadowing, or part-time work in the field sets students up for success.

“In a program like this, you have to hit the ground running,” he said.

As an undergrad, Rose partnered with Dr. Richard Stewart, professor of biology, on a research project to test the blood of coyotes for heartworm. “That stood out. That gave me a one-up on my resume, and I’m grateful for that.”

A stellar resume also helped her to land an internship at York Hospital, which provided additional professional experience outside of the classroom. “These experiences get students out into the science field to see what they can do,” she said.

Mazzarella said that the shadowing he did at a dental practice while going through Ship’s pre-health program led to his current job. “I kept in contact with them, they had an opening, and the timing worked out,” he said.

Furhman noted that guest speakers also provide real-life perspectives that helped to point her career in the right direction. Long also has a biennial seminar featuring health-care professionals who discuss different career options and share with students what’s necessary to pursue those positions.

Professional schools value students who show a well-rounded background. Each year, Long and the Health Professions Committee write nearly three dozen successful letters of recommendation for students who continue into professional programs at schools like Penn State, Drexel, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Salus, Thomas Jefferson, Temple, Old Dominion, and dozens more.

Long said the pre-health program is a very individualized approach. “It’s about where they are, what they can achieve, and what their goals are,” he said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together—there are big pieces like a GPA and smaller pieces like shadowing or standardized exams. It’s all about getting the information to students for their health-care focus.”

A Team Approach

For biology seniors Maria Peluso, Maura Nolan, and Anastasia Goerl, the skills that they convey on the volleyball court are equally beneficial in the pre-health program.

Their teamwork, dedication, competitiveness, and focus have led all three to acceptance in post-baccalaureate health science programs once they graduate in May.

(From left) Seniors Maria Peluso, Anastasia Goerl, and Maura Nolan worked closely through the pre-health program.

(From left) Seniors Maria Peluso, Anastasia Goerl, and Maura Nolan worked closely through the pre-health program.

If you keep focused on the future and put your all into each class, you will be completely satisfied with what the program has to offer and the experiences that you will encounter along the way.
— Maria Peluso

Peluso will attend Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine for pharmacy, while Nolan and Goerl will continue at Salus University for optometry.

“The human body is really amazing,” Nolan said. When researching colleges in high school, she was interested in health professions, but also wanted to play volleyball. She said the “stars aligned at Ship,” providing her with the opportunity to do both. Her schedule is demanding, but she said it has made her a better student.

“I don’t think I’d have it any other way,” Nolan said. “The professors are extremely willing to work with you, if you’re willing to work with them. ...They’re interested in your well being and want to help you.”

Her teammates and classmates also help to keep her on track. “The challenging thing is figuring out your priorities. I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am without Annie and Maria. We always help each other out.”

On the volleyball court, Peluso, Goerl, and Nolan helped the team earn its first PSAC championship in 2015.

On the volleyball court, Peluso, Goerl, and Nolan helped the team earn its first PSAC championship in 2015.

Time management, planning, and balance are definitely key, Goerl said. “I truly think that playing volleyball helped rather than harmed my schoolwork. It forced me to have a schedule and to make sure that I was on top of my assignments,” she said.

Peluso appreciated the hands-on experience she received in the program. “Because of small class sizes, it was easier to get more time with each specimen, and also more time with the professor.”

Although the workload can get stressful, she said the professors always were willing to help. “If you keep focused on the future and put your all into each class, you will be completely satisfied with what the program has to offer and the experiences that you will encounter along the way.”

For Goerl and Nolan, the pre-health program allowed them to visit Salus and meet faculty before applying. Because of the existing relationship between universities, students from Ship are known at Salus for coming well prepared. “Getting your foot in the door is definitely an advantage that I and other Ship students have,” Goerl said.

Nolan felt comfortable speaking with admissions counselors. “They even asked me about Dr. Long.”

As their senior year winds down, the teammates and classmates are preparing for the next challenge. Thanks to the pre-health program, they said they feel ready for the work that lies ahead. Long is amazed by what the trio has accomplished. “They represent a group of students who have done everything right.”

Health Minded

Whether pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, in the lab, or elsewhere in the health-care field, students in Ship’s pre-health program are in it to help others.

“Dentistry is hands on. I get to work with people,” Mazzarella said. “If someone is having a bad day, if they’re in pain, I can fix it for them.”

We’re helping the patient get what they need. And we’re getting students acquainted with other views of the science field and what they can do with it.
— Sheryl Rose '04-'10M

In her adjunct teaching role in the program, Rose enjoys sharing with students the variety of jobs in health care that can touch a person’s life. “In the classroom, I bring in different aspects of science because I switched fields,” she said. “The bottom line is, we’re helping the patient get what they need. And we’re getting students acquainted with other views of the science field and what they can do with it.”

For as long as they can remember, Peluso, Nolan, and Goerl have been naturally curious about the body and how they can translate that interest into a profession that helps others. Through the pre-health program, they have each discovered their niche and are prepared to pursue health professions. “I love working with people and always had a passion for helping others,” Peluso said. “Since high school, the plan was to follow a track to become a pharmacist. Once I visited Ship and met the professors in the Biology Department, I knew that it was the perfect fit.”

Health care is a great profession to get into, Long said. Jobs are available, and the field is constantly evolving. Those who are willing to work as a team, put in the hours, and stay focused find successful and fulfilling careers.

“A lot of hard-working students go through this program,” Long said. “It’s a testament to them. It’s really neat to hear back from them and see where they go.”