Oct 15, 2019

As Director of Pre-Professional Health Advising, Kara Rettig-Pfingstag dedicates her days to helping an estimated 400 students each year follow their dreams into different health fields. She provides support for students throughout the medical school application process, meets with prospective students and works with Xavier graduates who take time off before applying.

Her dedication has proven especially helpful for students entering the medical field. Just this past year, 92 percent of Xavier students who applied to medical school were accepted—the highest rate of acceptance for Xavier students in recent years.

The increase, Rettig-Pfingstag said, is the culmination of not only her own efforts, but also that of the Health Sciences Committee and the dedication of the students.

“It takes a village to raise a pre-med,” she said.

The Health Sciences Committee, made up of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, write letters of recommendation for students, provide practice interviews and teach an MCAT course each year. 

Thanks to a generous, anonymous donor, the MCAT course is offered at a significantly discounted rate to students—and is free to those in need. Last year, a student who took the course received a perfect score on their MCAT exam.

Additionally, the strong advising relationships Rettig-Pfingstag builds with each student open the door for her to become a reliable source of advice, even after a student has graduated. She remembers getting a call from Rachel Krevh, a 2019 graduate. Rachel, who was overseas in Slovenia and just days away from enrolling into medical school, received notice she was offered late acceptance to a medical school she originally preferred. Unsure what to do, Rachel called Rettig-Pfingstag. “I sought advice from Kara because she has been with me every step of the way to my journey of getting into medical school. She knows what kind of doctor I want to be and where I would best thrive in medical school.”

“You’ll bloom wherever you’re planted,” she told Rachel.

By encouraging students to embrace opportunities as they come, Rettig-Pfingstag creates an environment supportive of a variety of paths into health-focused careers. More common now is for students to take a year off before entering professional school. This growth—not gap—year allows students who may not be ready to apply during their senior year to gain other experiences that benefit their applications. Many students enroll in one-year, post-baccalaureate programs to improve their academic credentials, such as GPA, or gain work experience in the health field as medical scribes, EMTs, or research assistants. The trend toward a growth year contributed to the higher 92 percent acceptance rate for last year, exceeding Xavier’s five-year average acceptance rate of around 85 percent.

Another way Rettig-Pfingstag supports her students is through regular attendance at the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) and the Central Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (CAAHP) Regional Conference. Here, she networks with other health advisors at schools in the Midwest region and hears directly from different medical and health professions schools in the area. Rettig served a three-year term as an elected Member-At-Large of the CAAHP Board. As a result of her dedication to the CAAHP, Rettig-Pfingstag was elected this past year by fellow CAAHP members to serve on the Planning Committee for the 2021 Regional Conference.

Though excited for the success of Xavier grads now entering medical school, Rettig-Pfingstag and the Health Sciences Committee have another focus: the 8 percent of dedicated students who will reapply in future years. Rettig-Pfingstag promises to continue on this journey with her students, even after they graduate. For her, this role is more than helping students get into medical school. Rather, it is about helping students figure out “what it is they’re meant to do in this life.”

By Jade Martinez, communications specialist in the College of Arts and Sciences

Read more about Xavier's pre-health advising program.

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