Last Updated on November 6, 2023 by Laura Turner
Applicants greatly rely on the perspective of peers who are a few years further along in their education when it comes to making decisions on a career path to pursue or a school to attend. Pre-professional students, such as pre-meds and pre-dents, usually encounter student leaders in the form of peer advisors or pre-health club officers. Additionally, many successful professional students become voices for their programs as student ambassadors. See these short “get to know me” Q&A’s as examples – maybe you can see yourself in their stories.
What Makes a Great Student Leader?
Great peer or near-peer mentors can be a huge asset in the application process. If you are looking for a mentor, or considering becoming one yourself, here are some of the characteristics of very effective pre-health peer advisors and admissions student ambassadors that you should look for in your peer mentors:
1. They are open about their path to where they are
They connect their “Distance Traveled” with their “Journey Forward.” The most effective peer advisors and ambassadors share their personal history, struggles, and moments of transformation with their audiences.
2. They are open about any academic challenges they faced and how they found success
While they have been a successful student academically, they have benefitted from using campus resources to help them address their concerns or overcome their struggles. If the Career Services office at their undergraduate program or the Student Services office at their professional program provides mock interview preparation, leaders and ambassadors can reflect on how the staff helped them and helped their peers overall. After an unexpected low grade “wake-up call,” the student leader or ambassador could discuss how the campus learning services office, counseling services, student deans, or peer tutoring programs are structured to help students succeed.
3. They model inclusive interprofessionalism
Leaders address everyone by their properly pronounced names and utilize preferred pronouns (and gracefully apologize whenever they make mistakes). They have professional confidence in talking and walking around, always with proper eye contact with the audience. They even avoid bringing their cell phones with them or get distracted by notifications on their smartwatches. As a representative of the program, they validate how everyone belongs and is welcomed as a community member. Furthermore, they discuss interprofessionalism and never disparage any other programs. Remember: the students in other programs will become your colleagues as well!
4. They are conscientious
They are always reliable with tasks and meetings and make the extra effort to connect with students. Every leader arrives before their expected times (when possible) to comfortably meet and greet each new person. If they know of a schedule conflict or an unanticipated exam or circumstance, they always notify other organizers and help them make adjustments. They always send follow-up notes to students they meet (text, phone, video chat), especially after an interview day or a post-interview visit.
5. They are comfortable talking to different groups and receiving feedback
They are comfortable with parents, administrators, and faculty hearing their messages, and perhaps even getting some feedback. They are role models to children who aspire to be healthcare professionals and to alumni who look to them as the future of the profession.
Great student leaders can impact not only themselves but others that they inspire to become leaders.
How Can You Become a Leader?
If you are interested in taking on a student leadership or ambassador role but are concerned you don’t have “the right stuff,” understand that leadership is a skill that can be developed. Here are some tips to improve your leadership competency:
1. Start small
Most leaders don’t take on a major role in their first outing. They start with a smaller role as a member of an organization and then gain skills and experience through participating in activities and volunteering to take on projects.
2. Identify opportunities for learning
The AAMC has identified a commitment to learning and growth as a core competency for pre-meds. Be on the lookout for ways that you can build your skills. Your college or university likely has specific courses that relate to leadership, such as public speaking. Clubs and organizations may offer brown bag seminars or workshops on leadership topics. HPSA, the publisher of the Student Doctor Network, offers the self-paced Becoming a Student Doctor course where you can work on these skills. You can also review classic leadership texts like The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership to help determine where your natural areas of leadership strengths lie and identify ways you can strive to improve them.
3. Reflect on leadership qualities
One common suggestion for pre-health students is to keep a journal about their activities, which can help with personal statement development when it comes time to apply. Your journal is also a great place to reflect on leadership, both how you have seen it displayed in others and traits you want to improve on personally. And don’t overlook the benefit of negative leadership examples – sometimes it can be very illuminating to identify traits we want to avoid as well as those we want to emulate.
Student leaders are torchbearers, guiding the path for those treading the journey behind them. Whether they’re peer advisors, pre-health club officers, or student ambassadors, they can help you with your path to becoming a healthcare professional. And with hard work and dedication to ongoing growth, you can join their ranks.
Emil Chuck, Ph.D., is Director of Advising Services for the Health Professional Student Association. He brings over 15 years of experience as a health professions advisor and an admissions professional for medical, dental, and other health professions programs. In this role for HPSA, he looks forward to continuing to play a role for the next generation of diverse healthcare providers to gain confidence in themselves and to be successful members of the inter-professional healthcare community.
Previously, he served as Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Director of Admissions at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, and as a Pre-Health Professions Advisor at George Mason University.
Dr. Chuck serves an expert resource on admissions and has been quoted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).