ACPHS In The News

Panther Profile: Dr. Elizabeth Brookins

Dr. Elizabeth Brookins in a Panther Profile frame
April 15, 2024

Panther Profiles are Q&A interviews that highlight Panthers of all stripes -- students, faculty, staff, alum, board members and anyone else in the campus community. 

Dr. Elizabeth Brookins joined ACPHS in 2018 to create the Pre-Professional Pathways program, and to teach anatomy and physiology. She later developed the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences, a one-year degree to enhance students’ academic records for medical school. She is now working to expand the MSBS online.

Dr. Brookins was recently named president-elect of the National Association of Advisors of Health Professions, beginning in August 2024. The position is a six-year commitment, with two years as president-elect, two years as president and two years as past president.

Tell us about launching the Pre-Professional Pathways program.

It was an opportunity to start a new program essentially from scratch. I reached out to contacts in the health professions advising world and started conversations about how ACPHS could develop new affiliation agreements for students to pursue a health professions degree after earning their bachelor’s at ACPHS. Then I branched off to expand pre-professional advising; we updated and expanded our Medical Professions Advisory Committee, composed of faculty and staff from across different programs. Students now have a more formal application and interview process for a committee letter sent on their behalf to health professions schools.

In addition, to help students develop their best application of themselves, I developed a workshop-based health professions class for undergraduate students. This was then expanded into a two-semester sequence for the master’s in Biomedical Sciences program.

The MSBS program is highly customized to the student. Why is that important?

That master's is an academic record enhancer for students who want to strengthen their med school application. The students all need to do similar things, but where they are in their journey is slightly different, so we offer individualized advising.

They all need to work on their personal statement, but some of them have already done it and need to revise. Others have never started it. Likewise, with the MCAT, the entrance exam for medical school: Some students have taken it and don't need to retake it. Other students need to retake it. So, we talk about how are they going to change their study patterns, what did they do last time, how can they improve? And then we have some students who have never taken the exam: how do they develop a study plan?

The goal is for students to build the best application of them. There is no perfect application, but it's their best version of themselves, which takes a lot of customization.

How did ACPHS decide to create an online option for this program?

We have had the in-person program since January of ’21. It's a one-year program, and students move to Albany from different parts of the country. Last year, we started thinking, maybe we're missing some students who would really benefit from the program but can’t move to Albany for a year.

Since the MSBS classes don't have labs, online students will not miss out on any hands-on component, so the classes easily adapt. It would also allow students to continue their health care volunteer experience wherever they are in the United States.

How do you maintain the individualized focus in an online program?

Great question. Faculty are working with instructional designers. We've all taught online, with the COVID pandemic, and we all learned how to increase student engagement, so our faculty are working to develop the best online courses we can with both asynchronous and synchronous content. We’ll continue to have individual meetings and office hours available through Zoom, just like I do here in person. Students will have weekly synchronous class meetings and activities as a whole class, and some small group activities. Individualized advising will continue to be a main component.

How will the online program be different from the in-person MSBS?

Our goal is for the online and in-person programs to be the same. It's the same program, students still have the same advising and resources available at their fingertips; it's just going to be through a screen rather than across the desk.

Students will have all of the same classes, the ability to take the MCAT and the entrance exam prep courses. They will have all of ACPHS’ Center for Student Success services, from time management to study skill workshops, and they will have access to peer tutoring, professional tutoring and Writing Center support.

ACPHS is known for its tight-knit community. How do you replicate that online?

One of the wonderful things about the MSBS program is students instantly form these connections, they instantly form these study groups and comradery. It's not, for lack of a better term, cutthroat. Students come in and they see it as, let's work together, let's all reach our goal.

We're going to have an orientation for the online students, do some icebreakers, get them to know each other and work together, even if they're virtual. Try to have them build the same kind of connections with their peers that in-person students form.

How does your own experience inform the way you advise students?

As a pre-med (biochemistry major) and Division I student-athlete in college, I know what it’s like to manage a lot and reach your goals. I talk about things I found valuable, such as time management, balance and goal setting.

I was one of the very small percentage of people who got into med school and chose not to attend. I decided a Ph.D. would fit what I wanted better, because I enjoyed advising and teaching students. When I am working with pre-med students, I know what they're going through; I understand the application. I also understand when students change their mind. I have had students who say, “I want to do medicine” for years and then in their fourth year, they choose dental medicine, and that’s okay! 

What do you do to take a break? Where might we find you off campus or offline?

Typically, you will find me on a sports field with my one of my three kids. This past weekend, we had a baseball tournament, a diving meet, a basketball tournament and gymnastics.

But even when I am at a sports field, I have been known to work on students’ personal statements, writing notes or even taking a Zoom call from a student between the action.

ACPHS is enrolling now for both the in-person MSBS and the online MSBS option