MUSC, technical colleges partner to increase access to health care education, mentorship and personalized advising

June 18, 2021
Diverse group of young people talking and looking at a computer screen.
Students who want to attend a College of Health Professions program are getting some badly-needed help. iStock

Lauren Gellar, Ph.D., division director for Healthcare Studies at the MUSC College of Health Professions, noticed students applying to the online Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Studies program from South Carolina technical colleges were prepared to continue their undergraduate coursework but frequently were missing key prerequisites for their graduate school aspirations. Gellar recognized the need to provide a clear pathway to a career in the health professions for these students.

In collaboration with the South Carolina Technical College System, Spartanburg Community College (SCC) and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College (OCtech), Gellar developed new pre-health professions transfer tracks, specialized academic advising and a mentorship program to support students and meet them “where they are.” The institutions are excitedly working together to strengthen local communities in South Carolina by providing opportunities for students to live and work within their communities while earning a bachelor’s degree. 

“I think the keywords are accessibility, opportunity and affordability,” explained Jenny Williams, dean of Arts and Sciences at SCC. “Our Applied Associates of Science pre-health professions tracks are going to help them be better students while getting them where they need to be much sooner.” 

Lauren Gellar 
Dr. Lauren Gellar

The BS in Healthcare Studies program was created to increase access to the health professions higher education for rural, first-generation and underrepresented minority students across South Carolina. The program allows students to continue working and supporting their families while advancing their education at the only academic health sciences center in the state. Many students that apply to the Healthcare Studies program have already earned an associate degree or completed the prerequisite courses at one of 16 two-year colleges within the South Carolina Technical College System.

The new pre-health professions tracks at SCC and OCtech enable students to complete the prerequisite coursework for health professions graduate programs while completing their associate degrees. When they’re ready to transfer, they can complete their BS in Healthcare Studies degree at MUSC online and apply to the graduate program of their choice without completing additional coursework. Transfer partnerships like this reduce credit loss and save students money and time. The tracks also help to increase awareness of the many career options in the health professions while providing structured support and academic advising. The first tracks developed are pre-medicine, pre-dental, pre-physical therapy, pre-physician assistant studies, pre-occupational therapy and pre-healthcare administration.

What makes these tracks special is the individual relationships Gellar built with each school to develop and implement different tracks that are most beneficial for the school and its students. “Each technical college serves selected counties within its portion of the state. MUSC recognizes and values their regional focus, diverse students and various academic programs,” said Gellar.

OCtech’s, vice president of Academic Affairs, Donna Elmore, is thrilled about the collaborative effort. “The opportunity to open so many more doors for our students is very meaningful and exciting,” said Elmore. “The way these tracks and the Healthcare Studies program embrace and value the two-year professional degree students already have is such an added value for the state of South Carolina.” 

The pre-health professions tracks have been in development for two years. This is the first year that students have been able to register for one of these tracks, and between SCC and OCtech, there are nearly 60 students enrolled. 

Advisor roles developed specifically for pre-health professions track students

While developing the tracks, Gellar and her colleagues at SCC and OCtech worked together to evaluate how academic advisors can best support students along their educational journeys.

“Having clear expectations and guidelines on requirements from MUSC helped us establish the framework on our end,” explained Stefanie Gadson Brown, dean of Pre-Health Professions and Workforce Development at OCtech. “There’s a constant open line of communication so we can get questions answered.” 

Brown believes that the way they’ve designed their advising models at OCtech will be a game changer for students. “We want students to make sound decisions on what they want to do and explore that so when they leave us, they’re not going into a program they don’t really know anything about,” said Brown. 

Many students enroll with a general idea of what they want to do – for example, working with children – but they don’t know what avenues are available outside of being a pediatric nurse. The advising models help students to explore their options and find their dream jobs. Students who are considering more than one pathway can work with their advisors to select the courses that will provide them with insight and experience in each profession so they can make informed decisions on their futures.

“Students gain exposure to what they might be interested in, both clinical and real-world job experience, that allows them to earn an income and build a resume while they go to school,” said Brown.

SCC has also developed a dedicated advisor role specifically for their students enrolled in the Pre-Health Professions Associate in Applied Science (AAS) program. 

“Our AAS program gives students the empowerment and connections they need to move along efficiently, achieve their dreams and get to work in a much quicker fashion,” explained Williams, the SCC dean of Arts and Science. “The paths don’t guarantee admission, but if students do well, they’re going to solidify their own paths,” she added. 

Additional mentorship opportunities for students

Gellar has always viewed mentorship as an integral part of the academic experience; she also enjoys it. In addition to the transfer tracks and specialized academic advising, she initiated an MUSC faculty mentorship program for South Carolina Technical College students and alumni. 

This past year, Gellar received 15 applicants for the program and is now working directly with five students. They meet monthly to check in on progress, and she guides each student through the MUSC application process. They work on topics that include goal setting, academic advisement, career advisement and soft skills training. 

“To me, the mentorship program really speaks volumes as to how far MUSC is willing to go to help our students and our community,” said OCtech’s Brown[HM2] . “MUSC has really simplified the process, and Dr. Gellar goes above and beyond. Sometimes I forget that we don’t work at the same college. Any time I ask, Dr. Gellar is there. That’s how easy and consistent the working relationship is. I can’t say enough good things about the faculty, student services and admission staff at MUSC.”   

Brown has already noticed the impact that partnering with MUSC has had on OCtech and its students. “We always tried to have pathways set up for students, but I think what was really missing was MUSC,” she explained. Once OCtech changed its tracks name from University Transfer to MUSC Transfer, they noticed a steady uptick in interest from students. 

An opportunity for all South Carolina Technical College students

Gellar is excited about the collaborative relationships she is building with OCtech and SCC. She believes that these tracks can open doors to health care higher education to students throughout South Carolina to improve the health of individuals in the state. With the established systemwide agreement and local partnership programs, MUSC is positioned to expand these transfer pathways, advising and mentorship opportunities statewide. 

For more information about the pre-health professions transfer tracks or to get involved, contact Gellar