Wisdom from the Advisors of the Year

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Laura Turner

The Health Professional Student Association (HPSA) Student Advisory Council recognizes two advisors as Advisors of the Year each year. These advisors are nominated by the students they support, who submit short essays describing how these advisors have gone above and beyond in helping them achieve their dreams.

The awardees for 2023 were Carol Robinson from Virginia Tech as the Undergraduate Advisor of the Year and Dolores Shupp-Byrne, PhD, from Thomas Jefferson University as the Post-Baccalaureate Advisor of the Year.

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These advisors are busy helping students, but despite their packed schedules, we were able to sit down with them and ask for their guidance. Here’s some of their wise advice for students pursuing healthcare careers.

How do you help your students find clinical opportunities?

Carol Robinson:  “A lot of what we do, in addition to telling them about opportunities here, is coaching them how to find opportunities at their local hospitals or clinics. Because, as you know, every community has a different way of training some of those people. Maybe they have a certification program that you can get, but sometimes, or many times, and particularly for us, they’ll do on-the-job training. It just sort of depends. And if you work in a hospital setting, maybe they will take a certification that you’ve got, but also there’s a clinic setting, and some of our students will work in the clinic, and so they’ll train you in the clinic to do what they need.

I tell students (to) be open to opportunities because they may hire you when you’re a younger student to come in and answer the phones all summer, but if you show them you’re a reliable team member and you’re really excited about healthcare, then they’ll say to themselves, wow, maybe we can train them really well and have them for the next two summers. And so it’s an entry point into what you wanna do.”

…Students can be, should be, open to all different kinds of experiences with patients or with families. It’s not just if I want to be a physician, then I’m gonna go work with that physician in the physician’s office. Or if I want to be a physical therapist, I’m gonna go work in the physical therapy office. And so we have lots of opportunities on campus and near campus. One of the ones I think that’s popular is pharmacy technicians…And our students will do that (because) almost no matter what kind of healthcare they’re interested in later on, every aspect of healthcare is going to interact with the pharmacy.”

What are some of the types of clinical opportunities that students in your post-baccalaureate program participate in?

Dolores Shupp-Byrne, PhD: “Our students can be a cuddler in the NICU. They could be part of the PACU, connecting the patient after surgery with their family using iPads and also volunteering there. They can volunteer in doctor’s offices. They can be part of a geriatric program, where they can go and visit patients. You know, sometimes an elderly individual comes into the hospital and can have psychotic episodes from being away from their home. (It helps) just having someone to visit them during the day, maybe to watch a baseball game or a football game, or just maybe read a book. And many of our students are very talented in the arts and they come in and play their instruments. Some of them go up to the NICU and play their guitar, and it seems to soothe a lot of the babies.”

Why is community service important?

Dolores Shupp-Byrne, PhD: “When it comes to community service…if we don’t go out to our community and work shoulder to shoulder with individuals of all cultures, of all ways of life, ethnicity, of all social economics, we will never know the needs of our community.”

Carol Robinson: “The challenge for our students is to really see and understand that they already are the people that are going to be great healthcare practitioners. Our students are thinking, I need to do this, this, and this. I have to do A and B, I haven’t had this experience, so I need to run and go over here and do that experience. As you well know, they always have a lot going on. Our students are very, very active. I think the challenge is letting them understand that, in my experience, what tends to move them forward in the application process is who they are as a person. What I like to shift is their awareness that it’s not the activities that you’re doing that will get you admitted to your program. Those activities create you as a person… the big challenge is not the task list of what activity you did, but then how has that activity shaped you?”

What traits are you looking for in applicants to your post-baccalaureate program?

Dolores Shupp-Byrne, PhD: “That motivation that this is what they want to do. Sometimes, I have very high-power students, but definitely not sometimes – the majority of them are very high-power students. Some of them have worked very hard to get where they want to be, and they still need to improve their GPA, but they have the drive they have that they’re going to do everything possible. You know, in my office, there’s a saying that time does not matter if this is your passion… I wanna see that drive, I wanna see the motivation. I want to see that they truly want to be a servant of others.

How do you approach conversations with students who may want to consider post-baccalaureate programs?

Carol Robinson: “I don’t ever say to somebody, because you have this kind of an academic record, you’re not probably gonna get in…I would never say that. So what I do say to students is, based on what I’m seeing here, you could increase your chances by doing these other options. And some of them might be doing just post-bacc coursework.”

…The other thing that I talk with students all the time about is, as you think about this one option that you really, really love and you’re invested in, if that one option closes tomorrow and nobody in the world ever again gets to do that one option, you can’t do that option, but neither can anyone else. So, if no one can do that option, what other career options appeal to you?

And I get really interesting answers for that. It might be a practitioner, another practitioner role, or it might be something where they want to run their own business in health wellness, or maybe they want to do research. So when we have that secondary interest, then what you do to help improve your academic record or any other things that you wanna improve to be a competitive applicant, you could be working on that in that second area or that third area as well, so that if you either decide not to do your first choice, or it’s gonna take you too much time to do your first choice, then you might have some other very viable options.”

Want to learn more? The full interviews are available on the HPSA YouTube channel:

About the 2023 Advisors of the Year

Carol Robinson, Virginia Tech

Carol Robinson serves as the Director of Health Professions Advising at Virginia Tech. She attended Sweet Briar College as an undergraduate, focusing on Mathematics, Psychology, and Teaching. She completed her M.A.Ed. in Counseling at Wake Forest University and is a National Certified Counselor (NCC). She has enjoyed serving other people in various capacities, including as an IT manager, family therapist in a psychiatric hospital, career coach, and, most recently, with health professions advising. 

While she has been advising pre-health students for many years, she has been Director at Virginia Tech for the past 10 years. She loves serving this fascinating group of students, and says, “I want to encourage each person on their journey, and provide the support and care needed as each person learns to share the details of their story in their application process. I listen to many stories about people’s hopes and dreams, and their deep desire to positively impact others through a future as a healthcare professional. I want to provide this extraordinary group hope, and steps to move forward successfully!”

Dolores Shupp-Byrne, PhD, Thomas Jefferson University

Dr. Shupp Byrne serves as the Program Director for the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Professional Program at Thomas Jefferson University and as an Assistant Professor of Urology at  Sidney Kimmel Medical College. She received her BS in Biology from Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA. She earned her doctorate in Gross Anatomy and Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 

The student who nominated Dr. Shupp Byrne highlighted how helpful she was to non-traditional students. “As career-change students, the idea of leaving the work we know to start a whole new career in medicine can be daunting. Dr. Byrne not only is a teacher and program director, but also an advisor to many of us postbac students. You can tell during every meeting with her that she cares about us and gets to know our stories. … As adult learners, having someone like this on your team is vital as we go through stresses that are unique to our age groups, such as worrying about finances as the primary supporter of your household, concern about if we can still pursue our dreams at our age, and even how to manage having a family while going through classes. As I myself move into positions of leadership as an incoming medical student, my one goal now is to be the type of mentor that Dr. Byrne has been for us throughout my time at TJU.”

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