Culture of Care Newsletter

Pre-Health Edition: February 2021 Vol. 4 (3)

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Student Spotlight

In each newsletter, PHPL Advising highlights an accomplished UCF Pre-Health student or alum who has demonstrated the highest level of initiative, skill, and resourcefulness. Our student spotlight this semester features Jonathan Joseph (see picture). He is a recent graduate from UCF with a degree in Biomedical Sciences. The PHPL Advising office has asked Jonathan a few questions about his Pre-Health journey.

1) How did you pick your major?

Once I transferred to UCF, I had a fairly difficult time choosing a major. At UCF there were so many more choices that I felt overwhelmed. When I came across the Biomedical Sciences, I thought that it would align more closely with my interests and prepare me well for the MCAT and medical school.

2) What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to undergraduate

pre-med students?

I think the most important advice I could give to a pre-med student is to not compare yourself to others. Although I knew I wanted to go to medical school when I left high school, I did not realize what it took to make a competitive applicant. When I got to UCF I met so many wonderful and impressive people that I started to feel inadequate. At the end of the day, everyone brings a unique perspective to the table and no one else has your story. It’s more important to find things you enjoy doing and get to know yourself during these years than it is to try to “catch up” to those around you or check boxes.

3) How did you prepare for the MCAT?

Around the same time that I started to plan for my MCAT, I received an email from PHPL regarding the MCAT prep course scholarship they were offering. I was lucky enough to be one the students selected for the scholarship and chose to apply it to a Princeton Review in-person course. It was right after I had graduated, and I was beginning my gap year, so I left my job and had the time to study full-time for the entire summer. I was in the class 4 times a week for 3 hours at a time and would stay in the library for 4-8 additional hours M-Th studying both before and after the class. Every Friday I completed a full-length practice test to continue to gauge my knowledge and how I was retaining the material. Most importantly, I took the weekends off to recover so I did not get burned out.

4) What activities were you involved in?

Before I arrived at UCF, I played Division II college football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. I was also a part of the Black Student Union there. While at UCF I was a member of Neg Kreyol, Inc., volunteered at Give Kids the World, TA-ed for Microbiology and QBM, and participated in the UCF Surgical Internship with Dr. Gideon Lewis. After graduating and completing my MCAT, I worked full time in the QBM lab during my first gap year and continued to volunteer, shadow, and complete my research on evenings and weekends.

5) What do you feel you did to “stand out” in the application cycle?

I think my background in sports was something that helped me stand out this cycle. Admissions committees recognized the time commitment that is required to play sports at the collegiate level and how difficult it can be to do that and maintain your grades. I also think that leaning on my sports background was a good way to show how dedicated I am to the things I am passionate about. Even after leaving my first college and no longer playing collegiate football, I joined the IM leagues at UCF so I could continue playing as well as began coaching in my nephew’s league. Overall, I credit a lot of my success this cycle to my background in sports and how unique it made me as an applicant.

6) Why did you choose Medicine?

I decided on medicine when I was in high school after a conversation I had with my mom. We were talking about my grandmother who had passed away from breast cancer when I was in the second grade. She was telling me stories about her upbringing and about my grandma and mentioned that through all her suffering, she always had family and friends surrounding her until the very end. While she was telling me this, she also talked about how she remembered the kindness that my grandma’s doctors showed her and our family and how appreciative she was of them. Hearing my mom’s thoughts really painted the picture in my mind of what it was to work in the healthcare field and what it was to be a physician. After that, I told myself that I wanted to be the kind of person that could make that kind of an impact in other’s lives too.

Increase Your MCAT CARS Score: How I Went from the 23rd to the 90th Percentile!

My name is Michael Greenberg, and I am an alumnus at the University of Central Florida. I graduated with Honors in Biomedical Sciences this December. I spent my time being a Teaching Assistant for classes such as Biology 1, Medical Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology 1. When not in the classroom, I was probably in Dr. Gerasimova’s lab, on the Rugby field, or in the gym. I first took my MCAT in the summer of 2019, and that is when I met my arch-nemesis: the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section. I scored a 122 (23rd percentile) for that section. Despite my success in the other sections, I knew I was going to retake the exam. I took prep-courses and read CARS help books left and right. Most of the tips I read were gimmicky and led to no improvement. With not much time to spare before my scheduled MCAT exam, I discovered some tips that ACTUALLY helped me. Ultimately, I scored a 128 (90th percentile) for the CARS section, and I’m confident that I would have continued to increase my score with more time. I wanted to share some of those tips with you so you, too, can be happy with your MCAT score.

The first thing you should know about CARS is that it is a reading comprehension test. To do well on the questions, you must have understood the things you read. I don’t know about you, but I don’t comprehend as much when I’m thinking, and I’m reading simultaneously. Research supports this idea, too. It has been shown repeatedly that humans actually stink at multitasking, even when they think they are really good at it. So, given the research that supports this claim, on the most important test you have ever taken, why would you multitask? If you have a thought pop into that big brain of yours, move your mouse over to the last word you read, pause, and let yourself think. The more you think about what you just read, the better it will stick with you. And by pausing, you make sure you don’t read over anything important. As I began to use this technique in my studying, I paused more frequently but answered the questions faster and more accurately.

See the thing about the CARS section is that reading the passages is not the time-consuming part. Each passage contains 500-600 words, and there are 9 passages. 9 * 550 words = 4950 words in a section. An average person’s reading speed is about 200 words/min. Doing the math: 4950 words ÷ (200 words/min) = 24.75 minutes. You are given 90 minutes to complete this section. If you are an average reader, you could read everything in less than 25 minutes. So, where does all the time go? The time is usually spent answering the questions. If you pause to think about what you’re reading, you may slow down your reading speed, but you will breeze through the questions, almost like they are too easy for you. I used to just barely finish all my passages on time and occasionally had to skip the last passage altogether. In the very first practice exam with this particular technique, I finished with 10 minutes to spare. For the first time ever, I had enough time to go back and look at harder questions again, and I fixed several mistakes. From here on, I never struggled with the timing of the CARS section again because when I read a question, I often knew the answer right off the bat. This was a powerful feeling.

The next piece of advice I have is especially vital for STEM majors. As scientists, we read everything objectively and without emotion. So much so that it can be detrimental in this section. The AAMC knows this fault, so they choose articles with authors who write subjectively and with strong opinions. The authors of these articles care SO MUCH about their topics. Many of these authors are professionals in their fields, whether it’s photography, history, art, you name it. They write these articles with as much excitement as you feel when talking about a new cancer treatment. The authors are so passionate when writing it, does it make any sense to read it in a monotone voice? Of course not. The way you should be reading these passages is if the author is sitting right there with you and having a conversation with you. You would be able to hear the enthusiasm in his/her voice, the deep concern for the issues covered. Imagine you are in discussion with the author. Anyone who is convincing in the slightest will speak passionately to convey pathos in their argument and help convince you that they are right. Reading with enthusiasm makes it easy to retain the supporting details of their case, and more importantly, you will remember their main idea.

The way I started practicing these techniques was by first reading-out-loud and thinking-out-loud. By doing this, you are already practicing the pausing technique because you are saying everything out loud. As you read, pretend that you are the one who wrote this article and that you are trying to convince someone. Listen to your voice. If you catch yourself putting yourself to sleep, chances are that you aren’t really picking up the tone and main idea of the passage. After a week or two of regularly practicing this technique, now practice by reading to yourself and thinking-out-loud. This step is just as important because you must have comprehended what you read to express your thoughts out loud. This intermediate step reinforces these skills as you get closer to simulating the real thing. After another week or two, you should switch to reading and thinking to yourself, but make sure to still pause and allow yourself to think about what you just read.

Studies show that by developing vocabulary, students increased their reading comprehension and other linguistic skills. This was a tremendous insight to me while preparing for my exam. Increasing my vocabulary was one of my most profitable changes leading me to success in the CARS section. The more time you put into this advice, the more benefits you will reap on the day of your exam. So how did I begin doing this? After every passage or practice exam, start a review process. What you should do is skim through the article. Look for words that you got tripped up on or terms you’re unfamiliar with. Before doing anything else, read the sentence over again and see if you can figure the words out with context clues. Using context clues is a skill you have to develop. Even if you think you’re already good at it, you can get better, so you should practice. Once you think you figured the word out, Google it because you’re about to make a flashcard. I would suggest using Anki because typing flashcards is more straightforward than handwriting them. Anki uses algorithms to improve long-term retention. With these flashcards, you could spend just a few minutes at night every couple of days to stay on top of your vocab without taking away too much time for practice.

Living La VITA Loca: Learn about the AAMC’s VITA (Virtual Interview Tool for Admissions) for MD Schools

Note: At the time of publication of this newsletter (February 2021), the AAMC and MD schools do not yet know if some the MD schools will require the VITA this next application cycle.

What is the AAMC’S VITA?

The AAMC’s VITA (Video Interview Tool for Admissions) is a free, one-time, one-way video-recorded interview designed to help MD schools assess applicants’ pre-professional competencies important for success in medical school. VITA is currently used only by some MD schools.

What is the format and structure of the VITA?

The VITA will have online, text-based questions that will require you to provide a verbal, video-recorded response. The VITA consists of 6 questions and could take up to 24 minutes of total interview time. VITA interviewees will get 1 minute to read the question and up to 3 minutes to respond to each question. You get one chance to answer each question and you can choose to take breaks between questions.

VITA questions will fall within three categories:

· Behavioral: Describe previous experiences to demonstrate your level of knowledge and skills or extent of experiences

· Situational: Describe what you should or would do in a hypothetical situation to demonstrate your knowledge and skills or extent of experience

· General: Describe yourself broadly (questions revolving around your journey to health professional school consisting of your experiences, attributes, and/or metrics)

Who completes the VITA?

Only applicants who receive an interview invitation from a medical school that chose to use the VITA will need to complete the VITA. If you do not receive an interview invitation, you will not be asked to complete the VITA. Check here for an up to date list of participating schools.

How many times can you complete the VITA?

One time! Even if you receive multiple interview offers from VITA-using medical schools, you only need to complete the VITA one time. Only medical schools who invite the applicant to take the VITA will have access to their VITA responses.

How will the VITA responses be used?

1) VITA could be used as a step between completion of the secondary application and a live virtual interview. In these cases, the medical schools will ask an applicant to complete the VITA and review it prior to offering a live virtual interview. Not all applicants invited for a VITA will be invited for a live virtual interview.

2) VITA could be used alongside a live virtual interview. In these cases, an applicant could be invited for an interview and asked to do both the VITA (by a certain date but on their own time) and a live virtual interview (on a scheduled day/time with a real person asking questions).

How can I prepare for the VITA?

We highly recommend you use the interactive VITA Practice Interview and the VITA Sample Questions on the AAMC VITA website to help you prepare. You should also read as much about the VITA as you can on the AAMC’s VITA website and from online applicant feedback which can be found on certain websites. Additionally, you should read through our office’s “Tips for Self-Recorded Video Interviews” document too. Finally, for a fee, websites like (which also has an app) provides video lessons and training for virtual interviews.

How does the VITA differ from something like the CASPer?

Similar to some of the questions you may receive with the VITA, the CASPer presents realistic, hypothetical situations potentially asking the test-taker what they would do in that specific situation and an explanation as to why. Many health professional schools and programs use the CASPer test to assess for non-academic attributes such as communication skills, collaboration, equity, professionalism, problem solving, empathy, motivation, and ethics.

Unlike the VITA, the CASPer is completed within a 90-minute timeframe which includes approximately 65 minutes of questions and an optional 15-minute break at the halfway point. Also unlike the VITA, the CASPer is a written assessment where you type your responses rather than video record your responses. The scenarios you are asked to respond to may be presented as a video or written scenario but your responses will be given as a written response. Test-takers are given 5 minutes to respond to 3 open-ended questions for each scenario. Check here for a list of schools and programs requiring the CASPer.


ADEA Interview: Applying to Dental School during the Pandemic with UCF Pre-Dental Student Kyle Harvey

Kyle Harvey is a dental school applicant who is currently studying Health Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Kyle was one of the few students in the country featured in a series of videos by ADEA (American Dental Education Association) about applicants who applied to dental schools this past Summer during the pandemic.

Click on the YouTube video below to find out Kyle's journey applying to dental schools during a pandemic.

Applying to Dental School in a Pandemic with Kyle Harvey

Let's Talk About Chiropractic Medicine

“The word “chiropractic” comes from the Greek words cheir and praxis meaning hand and practice.” – Johns Hopkins Medicine

Chiropractic care is a health care discipline that utilizes hands-on therapy to treat and diagnose health issues related to the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. A core value of Chiropractic care is the ability of the body to heal itself, without the intervention of medication or surgery. Treatment plans primarily address the relationship between the body’s structure and function, with the goal of restoring optimal function!

Chiropractors typically work in an office style setting and have a 40-hour work week. If desired, Chiropractors can choose to work additional hours in the evenings or weekend, or even own their own practice!

Chiropractors earn an average annual salary of $70,000.00 - $90,000.00 and have a positive job outlook, with projections for growth on pace with the national average over next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The first step to becoming a Chiropractor is completing a bachelor’s degree, and then applying to Chiropractic programs. If accepted, Chiropractic programs are typically 3-4 years in length. Upon completion of Chiropractic school, graduates earn a Doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine (DC). If desired, Chiropractors can choose to specialize in areas such as pediatrics or orthopedics. Specializing would require an additional 2-3 years of chiropractic residency.

If you are interested in learning more about Chiropractic medicine check out the sources below and come speak with an advisor in our office!


Celebrating Diversity in Health!

Helen Rodríguez-Trías, MD

Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías was a public health expert and women’s rights activist. She served as the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association. Her understanding of how social and economic inequality shapes people’s health guided her career.

Helen Rodríguez Trías was born in 1929 in New York City to Puerto Rican parents. She grew up in both Puerto Rico and New York. In the United States, Rodríguez Trías faced discrimination at school because she was Latina. School administrators placed her in less advanced classes despite her good grades and English fluency. Only when a teacher noticed her intelligence was she moved to higher-level classes.

Her education set her on a path to medicine. She recalled that being a doctor “combined the things I loved the most, science and people.” Rodríguez Trías studied at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. She became involved with the Puerto Rican independence movement. After graduating in 1960, she completed her residency in pediatrics at University Hospital in San Juan and then began teaching at the medical school there. She also established Puerto Rico’s first infant health clinic. The results of her work were immediate: within three years, infant mortality at the hospital had declined by fifty percent.

In 1970, Dr. Rodríguez Trías returned to New York and took a job heading the pediatrics department at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. The 1970s were a turbulent time for the hospital. It served mostly Black and Latino patients. Community leaders and activists frequently criticized the hospital for public health violations, crumbling facilities, and negligent care. In 1970, a radical Puerto Rican civil rights organization called the Young Lords staged occupations of hospital buildings. They demanded better care for their community. During her tenure, Dr. Rodríguez Trías worked to train her staff on the needs of Puerto Rican community members. She aimed to find points of agreement among the Young Lords and the other groups who had a stake in the hospital.

Dr. Rodríguez Trías’s work and personal experiences made her pay attention to the ways poverty, inequality, and racism led to poor health. During the 1970s, she brought that understanding to the growing women’s health movement. The women’s health movement had grown from the larger feminist movement of the 1960s. It fought for women’s reproductive rights and to end sexism in healthcare.

Dr. Rodríguez Trías first joined the movement in October of 1970, when she attended a conference about abortion rights at Barnard College. With other women of color, she worked to move the mostly white women’s movement toward a broader conversation around social and economic justice. The “important issues,” she remembered, were “about equity…about getting economic power, about ending violence against women.”

Dr. Rodríguez Trías pursued a broad vision of women’s health justice. She wanted women to be able to choose when and whether to have children, and to get the best possible care either way. She recognized that this looked different depending on a woman’s race and class. Middle-class white women often had to fight to get the birth control they needed. But many poor Latina and Black women had become victims of sterilization abuse. In Puerto Rico, government programs promoted sterilization as a simple and effective method of birth control. These programs were partly driven by concerns about “population control.” While many women chose the procedure, health authorities pressured many others—especially working-class and poor women—to agree to it or falsely told them that it was reversible. Similar programs targeted poorer Black women and girls in the American South. “While young white middle class women were denied their requests for sterilization, low income women of certain ethnicity were misled or coerced into them,” Dr. Rodríguez Trías explained. She argued that the women’s health movement needed to respond to all of this. To work on these problems, Dr. Rodríguez Trías founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse.

In the 1980s, Dr. Rodríguez Trías worked as medical director of New York State’s AIDS Institute, advocating for women and children with HIV. She co-founded the Women’s Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA). She later became the first Latina director of the APHA.

President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Rodríguez Trías the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. She died later that year in Santa Cruz, California of complications from cancer. In 2019, New York City announced that it will honor her with a statue installed in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx, near the site of the old Lincoln Hospital.

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Health Tip Of The Day!

Eating Healthy During the Pandemic

During these anxious and tense times, it’s easy to opt for more comfort foods or emotionally eat. Healthful foods are essential not just in terms of protecting us during a pandemic, but also continuing to help protect and optimize our overall health. It’s hard to keep the same routine when you have to physically distance from others, especially if you’re at higher risk of getting really sick from the virus. That makes preparing meals a special challenge. Here are some tips that can support you and your household both physically and mentally:

1. Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables.

They’ll be handy for a longer stretch and compare well with fresh when it comes to nutrition. Frozen berries can be tossed into a yogurt smoothie or thawed quickly for a sweet treat. Also consider canned vegetables and shelf-stable packaged fruits.

2. Check with your doctor about nutrition and dietary needs specific to your health or condition.

That’s a given and can help you avoid junk science and fads that aren’t good for anyone.

3. Avoid “inflammatory foods.”

The Mayo Clinic provides a list of recommended foods, which include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

4. Rethink snacks.

Think of snacks as opportunities for nutrition. Try combining two food groups in a snack, typically one protein and one carbohydrate.

5. Find sources of enjoyment that aren’t food.

By sticking to a list when doing an online grocery order, you’ll control the foods that are most available to you. Then focus on finding fun and engrossing activities that keep you from eating out of boredom.


For any questions, please contact Pre-Health and Pre-Law Advising in Trevor Colbourn Hall

(TCH) 205 at 407-823-0101 or