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The Doctor is In

Dr. Anita Flick can spot them. They’re the students with a future in medicine. “They’re not just bright kids,” she says. “They’re the kids who are going to be great doctors. They have a special quality. I call it the ‘it factor.'”

Flick is director of the Health Professions Advising Center, a program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences open to all NC State students and alumni that’s been remarkably successful in helping students navigate the highly competitive process of applying to – and getting accepted to – the nation’s top medical, dental, optometry, pharmacy and other health care graduate schools.

The center offers an array of resources and support, like this month’s Health Career Expo, to give students the information and tools they need to choose the best academic programs to match their career path. The career expo, an all-day event scheduled for Thursday, March 26, in the Talley Student Center, is open to high school and college students throughout the Triangle. It’s a great opportunity, Flick says, for students to meet with almost 100 recruiters from 74 health care graduate schools, including the medical schools at Duke University, Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio State University, St. Louis University and George Washington University; the dental schools at UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Louisville; five optometry programs, and many more.

Flick says NC State graduates have traditionally done well when applying to medical and other health care graduate programs.

“We have one of the strongest science core curricula you’re going to find,” she says, “and so our students come out of NC State very well prepared for graduate and doctoral programs in the sciences and medicine.”

But, she adds, strong test scores and a high grade point average aren’t enough to guarantee that a student will be accepted to the school of his or her choice.  The medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, receives more than 4,000 applications each year for just 160 slots and Wake Forest receives almost 7,000 for 120 slots.

“The bar keeps getting raised,” Flick says. “It’s like being a beauty contestant in a pageant. You can’t just be a blend master, you have to stand out.”

The advising center helps students do that by focusing on four key areas: academic performance, clinical experience, community service, and social skills. The center’s Web site is set up so students can log on and maintain a portfolio of their classes and activities. They can record test scores, upload letters of recommendation, post grades, report volunteer activities and track their applications.

When they need help, Flick can log on as well, review their progress and offer suggestions.

“Some of them are like mosquitoes, biting on everything but not doing anything well,” she says. “I tell them to pick something unique that sets them apart.”

The center also offers a library of resources to help students prepare for tests and learn about school programs across the country, a conference center where students can take part in weekly health-related events, and programs that give students the opportunity to meet one-on-one with health professionals and medical school representatives.

One of the most valuable tools the center offers, however, is the NC State Health Professions Review Committee, a formal group of five faculty members that reviews many of the students’ portfolios and assesses their strengths and weaknesses.

As a result of the reviews, Flick composes a three-page letter of recommendation for each applicant on behalf of the university. With more than 300 students undergoing the review this year, it’s a monumental task, but a labor of love.

“I know what it’s like to want to get into medical school,” says Flick, who earned her medical degree at Carolina and her Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest. “This is the biggest step of their lives. But only 38 to 40 percent of applicants nationwide get accepted. So this is a big deal. It’s their future, their career.”

Since she took over the center five years ago, Flick says the program has grown and improved each year. This year more than 700 NC State students applied to health-related graduate programs, including almost 300 to medical school and 150 to dental school.

She points to a number of outstanding students this year who have benefited from the center, including Marilia Oliveria, who was just accepted to Duke; Ginny Moye who has her choice of UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia or Emory University; and Meares Green, who will be attending the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, studying orthopedic surgery.

Another student who stands out this year is Andrew Wallace, a senior in paper science and chemical engineering, who hit a grand slam. He’s been accepted to the medical schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, Wake Forest and Johns Hopkins University.

“He’s a cool kid,” Flick says. “He’s been a volunteer firefighter and an EMT. He’s got his heart in the right place. For me, helping students like Andrew reach their dreams and succeed is the greatest job in the world.”