Lindsey Finch has a difficult task ahead of her: complete all the premed science classes, take the MCAT and apply to medical school in the span of one year.
“The classes are really challenging but doable,” she said. “I hadn’t taken quantitative-type classes in a while, so I started by going back and reviewing basic math principles.”
Finch, 32, is a student in the University of Miami’s postbaccalaureate premedical program. The program is intended for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to complete the core science and math classes for entrance to medical school.
Students who successfully complete a year of introductory biology, a year of general chemistry, a year of organic chemistry and a year of introductory physics, while maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher, are awarded a certificate from the prehealth advising office.
Prehealth advising makes sure that each student schedules their classes accordingly and connects them to community service projects, physician shadowing and research opportunities at the Miller School of Medicine and the nearby UHealth complex.
“We provide them with the same services we provide our undergrads,” said Tiffany Plantan, assistant director for prehealth advising.
Finch is one of 10 students in the program this semester. Postbaccalaureate students must not have taken two or more of the pre-med classes in college, and financial assistance is limited and available only as student loans. They normally pay the standard undergraduate tuition rate.
The prehealth office also does not offer any specific scholarships or aid to students in the postbaccalaureate program, according to Plantan.
Besides the cost, Plantan also stresses that students need to be ready to handle the “rigorous” course load and realize what it takes to prepare for medical school.
“You need to make sure you’ve done the research,” she said.
From Hong Kong to Miami
For Finch, the program represents the first step to becoming a doctor. Her past educational and professional experiences, though sometimes different from medicine, helped her solidify her decision to begin preparing for medical school.
In high school, Finch was interested in medicine after working as a doctor’s assistant in a village in Ecuador. She then developed a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in medical health for the village.
But when she enrolled at Yale University in 1999, she became interested in Chinese and Japanese history. She graduated in 2003 magna cum laude, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and earned distinction in her major.
“I wanted to keep an open mind,” she said. “I really fell in love with history and focused on Chinese classes.”
After Yale, Finch completed a one-year graduate-level program with the Center for Chinese and American Studies, a partnership with John Hopkins University and Nanjing University in China. The program was conducted entirely in Mandarin and focused on Chinese politics, economics, law and foreign relations.
Finch is also fluent in Japanese and Spanish, and has some working knowledge of Portuguese.
Her background in Mandarin Chinese allowed her to work in Hong Kong and Tokyo as a corporate attorney, representing international corporations and investment banks. She graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007.
“I learned a lot, had a great experience and traveled all over the world,” Finch said.
Despite all the globe-trotting, Finch felt that the legal perspective did not give her a complete picture. When she returned to New York after working in Hong Kong, she did some pro-bono work with domestic violence survivors and noticed that there was more to their stories.
“There was medical care and psychiatric care,” she said. “How could I become more well rounded?”
When she moved to Miami with her husband, she began to look at postbaccalaureate programs throughout the U.S. She finally decided on UM’s program in order to be close to her husband, and she liked that she could be integrated with UM’s undergraduate student population.
“Some other postbac programs had students separated from the student body,” she said. “It’s very fun to be back in school. To be able to study with great professors and motivated students is an absolute joy.”
Before beginning the program last summer, Finch took an MCAT Kaplan course to get used to the exam’s types of questions and become acclimated to a more quantitative mindset. She still has two summer sessions and two semesters of classes left.
Finch does not mind the challenging courses and wishes she could remain in school a while longer. She enjoys her physics class and the lab components of the lecture classes because they help her understand the material.
“Physics is my favorite class because it’s the foundation of the other sciences,” she said. “But looking at how a physics problem applies to biology – that integration – is really what I love about what I’m studying.”
When she is not in class, Finch runs a consulting business called 8 Gate Consulting for international students who are interested in studying in the U.S.
Though a postbaccalaureate program can be expensive and time-consuming, Finch visualizes herself as a physician every day and that helps pull her through tough days. She is also grateful to have the support of her family, husband and the prehealth office.
“This has been a dream of mine,” she said. “To have the chance to pursue that dream changes your perspective. I discourage people from going into medicine or law for the money. You have to do it because it’s the only career you see yourself doing.”
Finch also shadows a primary care physician and sees herself pursuing that realm of medicine or possibly as an obstetrician-gynecologist. She will begin applying to medical schools next fall.