Campuswide mentoring program pairs pre-med, medical students for matched success

December 18, 2017

While he’s no stranger to hitting the books, Wayne State University School of Medicine student Don Zeolla finds that learning comes a bit easier when he’s teaching others.

“In the health and medicine fields especially, it’s vital to stay current and be constantly learning,” he said. “Working with those who are earlier in that journey allows for very rewarding personal and professional growth.”

That’s part of the reason Zeolla, a fourth-year medical student, co-founded Wayne State’s Campuswide Pre-Medical Mentoring program. The program, which is led collaboratively with Amanda Horwitz, Pre-Med and Health Sciences Center’s academic advisor, connects pre-med undergraduate and post-bachelor’s students with medical students for a mutually beneficial relationship.

“The program fosters a culture of teaching, mentoring and support among the medical and pre-medical student community,” he said. “The medical school experience can be a stressful one, and being able to identify with a peer who is facing those same challenges can make a huge difference for both students.”

Pre-medical undergraduate and post-bachelor’s students are paired with medical students one on one for coaching, study and time-management tips; test preparation; support and guidance as they prepare to apply and be accepted to medical school. Both participants — who communicate electronically and via monthly coffee talks — are encouraged to share their questions, challenges, accomplishments and insights throughout their journey as future physicians. The program also offers a buddy system in which upperclassmen undergraduate pre-medical students are matched with freshmen.

“Wayne State is in a unique position. Not every university has a medical school in its immediate vicinity, let alone one of the best in the nation. It makes sense to tap into that resource,” Horwitz said. “We want to help our students achieve their dream of becoming physicians and attending the medical school that’s the best fit for their needs, and this program offers additional support through that process.”

Each year, between 500 and 600 of Wayne State’s incoming students identify as pre-medical. Horwitz said interest in the program was immediate. Since its launch in January 2017, the program has matched 325 pre-med students with 235 medical students. The program, which serves as a supplement to traditional advising, is free and open to all pre-medical and medical students.

“Everyone’s journey to medical school is different – there’s no one perfect way to do it and there’s no master checklist that guarantees success,” Horwitz said. “Having a mentor who’s been in your shoes to help guide you through the experience is huge, and the program is designed to allow each mentor-mentee pair to customize their relationship.”

Lena Bazzi, a junior majoring in biological sciences who plans to attend medical school, said the program has helped her become a more confident, well-rounded student. Bazzi, who is the first in her family preparing to attend medical school, serves as one of five Campuswide Pre-Medical Mentoring program ambassadors, serving as a liaison between students and program coordinators.

“For me, there was a sense of liberation when I realized that there was no one ‘typical’ pre-med student,” Bazzi said. “Your entire world doesn’t have to completely revolve around medical school, and pursuing other passions — like service-learning or volunteering — can make you an even stronger applicant.”

Bazzi hopes that in the future she’s able to support others on the same path.

“Everyone who participates in the program is an inspiration. The mentors and advisors give so much of their time and they offer invaluable perspectives,” she said. “I’m better off for having this network of support and, if I’m able, I plan on doing the same a medical student.”

For Zeolla, and other medical students, the unique mentoring opportunity often serves as a reminder of the challenges he faced in the not-too-distant past and the ultimate goal of earning a medical degree.

“In many ways, the transition from pre-medical student to medical student is quite similar to the transition from medical school to residency,” Zeolla said. “By helping these pre-medical students prepare for the rigors of medical school, we’re refreshing our own skills and grounding ourselves in the perspectives and values that led us to medical school in the first place.”

To learn more about the Campuswide Pre-Medical Mentoring program or to sign up to become a mentor/mentee, visit the program’s website.

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