What happens when two innovative universities join forces, each contributing strengths and resources, to support undergraduates in their pursuit of a career in health care? The Pathways Honors program. 

A few years ago, DePaul and the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFU) began talking about ways they might collaborate. From those conversations came the Alliance for the Health Sciences and, through the Alliance, the Pathways Honors program for highly qualified and motivated students in the College of Science and Health.

Pathways Honors students receive special guidance and preparation for graduate healthcare education. One of the program’s features is the Early Opportunity program, which gives select students provisional early admission to RFU graduate programs, including medical school.

“While the students aren’t guaranteed a place at Rosalind Franklin—whether to become a doctor, a pharmacist, a podiatrist, a physical therapist, a physician assistant or a pathologist assistant—their chance of success is greatly enhanced,” says Patrick Knott, an RFU professor and liaison to DePaul for the Alliance.  

It’s good for Rosalind Franklin.

For RFU, the Pathways Honors program means getting the right students, says Knott.

“Each year, our medical school alone gets 12,000 applications for 190 seats. On the surface that looks like we don’t need a pipeline program. But those big numbers make it very difficult to select the very best students: Everyone looks the same on paper. So, we’re forced to make big decisions without much to differentiate candidates,” he explains.

“With Pathways Honors, on the other hand, we know exactly who we’re getting, and they are exactly who we want. If I get a letter of recommendation from any faculty in the College of Science and Health, I am 100 percent confident in the student’s ability. No one at DePaul is going to promote a student who isn’t exceptional. Even more important, we get to know the students in the program, so we know they’re more than smart; they also care about what a health profession stands for. The missions of the two universities are complementary, and DePaul students are a good fit here.”

It’s good for DePaul.

For DePaul, the Pathways Honors program gives students an advantage in pursuing health professions, without the university building multiple graduate programs from the ground up.

“Students enrolling in science are often already thinking about medicine in one form or another. But DePaul was at a perceived disadvantage because we don’t have a medical campus,” says Phil Funk, associate professor of biology and associate dean for external relations.

“So that was DePaul’s objective: Create a real path for our students who want to pursue a profession in health care—a path that’s even better than the one they imagine exists at universities which share their names with a medical school.”

It’s good for the students.

Pathways Honors students can opt for an accelerated pace as undergraduates, with their last year at DePaul and first year at RFU overlapping (the 3+ option). Of course, they can also stay at DePaul through their senior year (the 4+ option).  For those in the Early Opportunity program, provisional acceptance to medical school or other professional programs at Rosalind Franklin can come as early as the end of freshman year (MCAT or GRE tests are not required), assuming they meet the admittedly demanding criteria.

While Pathways Honors students are required to maintain a high GPA in a rigorous academic curriculum, they do have a lot of support, including focused advising from faculty at both universities, opportunities for research and professional shadowing, exclusive pre-professional workshops and participation in a small learning community with cohorts.  “This isn’t a ‘flunk out’ program,” says Funk. “We designed Pathways Honors to help our students succeed.”

Students are also educated about the many careers in health care and about what’s required to succeed in each (see the related story at http://resources.depaul.edu/distinctions/featured-stories/Pages/Careers-in-Health-Care.aspx).  “By the time they graduate, our students can say ‘Here is the career I want, and this is why,’ ” Funk adds. “Pathways Honors isn’t just a fast track to medical school.”

Monika Cieszynski, a junior who will be enrolled in the physician assistant program at RFU next year, says that the Pathways Honors program was attractive because she “knew what she wanted, and wanted it as fast as possible, without cutting corners.” She found the program motivating: “Being in Pathways Honors made me more competitive, and being in the 3+ program pushed me to work hard to get to the top of the class and stay there. Everyone has helped me succeed from the first day; I’m really happy with my decision to be part of this.”

Paige Skorseth, a junior majoring in bioscience, says that early acceptance into the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine at Rosalind Franklin has freed her to focus on research during her last year at DePaul: “I had a lot of guidance in the application process, from creating a portfolio of my qualifications through interviewing at RFU. Before I applied, I had spent two summers shadowing doctors, which were opportunities I would not have had without the program. Pathways Honors is the best deal ever—I expect it will be the single greatest factor in my future success.”

Alexa Zajecka, a junior who will begin medical school in August, already has an RFU tee-shirt: “I’m ready to go! I had planned to finish college in three years, so the program worked well for me.  And the Pathways Honors advisors worked hard to make sure we were getting what we needed. For example, they helped me plan my class schedules, prepared me for the intense interview process, and found me a shadowing opportunity. Not having to take the MCAT was really nice.”

Finally, Knott sums up the value of the Pathways Honors program to one critical stakeholder: “Parents are looking at colleges in a new light: ‘If my kid goes to your school, what kind of advantage will he gain? What kind of job will she be prepared to pursue?’ From a parent’s perspective, this program makes a lot of sense, because we’re looking out for the student, making sure he or she stays on track,  and giving the student a way to succeed that’s faster, less costly and less stressful.”