After a year of hard work and careful planning by a group of student volunteers, the UC Davis Pre-Health Student Alliance is in preparation to host over 8,500 people at the 12th annual Pre-Medical and Pre-Health Professions National Conference this coming October.
Every year, the conference exhibits a large selection of around 300 specialized workshops and over 1,200 professional speakers in health-related fields across the United States. From university deans and professors to pharmacists, physicians and nurses, the conference presenters represent a wide range of industries.
“The goal of the conference is definitely to prepare students,” said fourth-year psychology and neurobiology, physiology and behavior double major Axana Rodriguez-Torres. “This year our goal is to inspire each one of the students — to make them believe that they can do it. A lot of people have what it takes, but they lack that self-confidence, and they’ll find that here.”
This year marks Rodriguez-Torres’ fourth year being involved in the conference, working her way up from volunteering a four-hour shift at the beginning, to becoming a staff volunteer and a Medical Programming coordinator, to finally working as director of Medical Programming for this year’s event.
“The med program is a lot of responsibility, a lot of talking, maturing. As freshmen and sophomores, not everyone has the skill of talking to a dean on the phone,” Rodriguez-Torres said. “For that part, it’s really a growing experience. Being part of the conference at any role is very empowering.”
Some features of the upcoming conference are considered staples, and include neurology and emergency medicine workshops, university deans’ panels and medical school admission speakers.
“[Doctors] are doing these workshops about how they got there, how life is once they’re there, and in general what the field is about,” said recent graduate Harvinder Kaur who double majored in psychology and neurobiology, physiology and behavior. “For questions that people usually post on our website, we try to ask them out loud in front of everybody, ensuring that they are getting the correct information.”
This year, the conference has expanded to include fields such as optometry, physician assistance and veterinary medicine.
“I’m really excited for all the new attendees who’re going to see that we’ve added these new fields and there’s a place where they can find this information,” Kaur said. “I want to see that feedback. I’m excited to see what we can change and what we can improve next year. To see how the things we’ve added are going to affect people and see how they’ll react is exciting.”
Like Rodriguez-Torres, Kaur started off as a freshman volunteer working a four-hour shift, and worked her way up to becoming chief of logistics for this year.
“I think it’s amazing that [some of] these speakers have won Nobel Prizes. Others are surgeon generals, and they are interested in coming here and speaking to people,” Kaur said.
For second-year biological sciences major and Pre-Nursing Programming Coordinator Nene Takahashi, this year’s conference serves as her first experience being involved with the conference.
“You have your workshop assigned to you, and then you have to find speakers for the workshop,” Takahashi said. “During the conference, you’re [the speakers’] source on campus, so you have to take them to whatever locations they need to be in, know their schedule and things like that.”
Apart from being in a program coordinator position, there are various ways of being involved with the conference, including working as a staff volunteer, a director or executive board member.
“[The conference] is a great leadership opportunity — anyone that wants to go into health should try to be part of it,” Rodriguez-Torres said. “It gives coordinators the opportunity to interact with speakers that will be their decision makers at admission places.”
Third-year biochemistry and molecular biology double major and chief of programming Katsumi Watanabe believes that she has gained a tremendous amount of confidence and leadership skills during her three years of conference participation.
“Every week I address 70 people on a podium and make agendas and voice my opinions,” Watanabe said. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t be able to voice my opinions with 20 people in a room, let alone 70. That is really empowering because I’m the youngest of four, and my family usually talks over me when I’m talking — and when you come here you learn to empower yourself.”
The first ever conference started off small, with about 230 attendees at the American River College. By 2013, the conference had already moved to UC Davis, and also expanded its numbers to approximately 7,000 attendees.
“I’m excited for the conference in general because it’s what we work really hard for the whole year, and everything comes together,” Takahashi said. “I’m excited to talk to the speakers too, and get to know them.”
Not only does the conference serve as a channel for medical and health students to get a taste of what their future career paths might hold, it also works to reach out to underrepresented populations in science-related fields.
“We really try to target the underserved population — the population that’s not really representative in the health field,” Kaur said. “Some people might not know that there’s information out there and we’re trying to get them connected to the proper resources and tell them where they can find these resources and who they can talk to.”
For Watanabe, the most difficult part about the planning process of the conference has been adapting to the changes that occur throughout the full year of preparation.
“The hardest part of my job is adapting to all the changes that happen on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis — from a speaker not being able to make it, to a coordinator sending out an email that has completely wrong information that has now changed the plans,” Watanabe said. “But it’s like any group, you have to have trust in who you’re working with.”
Two-day general admission conference tickets can be purchased for $35. For more information, please see www.ucdprehealth.org.
ELLIE DIERKING can be reached at email@example.com.