programs play a unique and important role in the successful advancement of underrepresented minorities to careers in the health professions.
Understanding the root causes of the underrepresentation of minorities in the health professions will facilitate the development of effective strategies for remedying the problem. For example, poor academic performance in science and math courses often impedes the advancement of minority students to health professions schools. Because the factors influencing their performance in rigorous science and mathematics courses are complex, the solutions must be equally creative and multifaceted to have an impact. Several studies on the persistence of minority students to the baccalaureate in all majors, particularly in science and math, illuminate the complexity. These studies move the discourse from anecdote to data, giving direction to those committed to increasing the diversity of the health professions workforce, and contributing persuasive evidence of the need for aggressive action by educational institutions, governmental and private funding agencies, and society at large.
The prehealth advising program is a key element in the success of students pursuing careers in the health professions. The quality of prehealth programs is greatly influenced by the level of institutional commitment and external support. The review of successful prehealth advising programs included in this paper is presented in the context of general aspects of the undergraduate experience, with special emphasis on findings related to the performance of underrepresented minorities in science and math. An analysis of health professions advising cannot be uncoupled from an examination of core elements of the undergraduate experience, particularly math and science education. This is important because the majority of minority student applicants and matriculants to health professions schools major in one of the sciences, most often biology (AADS, 1999; NSF, 2000; Van Houten, 2001).
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant number of minority students have expressed dissatisfaction with the academic and/or prehealth advising they received at their undergraduate institutions. Many have perceived their advisors to be unsupportive. Indeed, there are successful health professionals who give accounts of advisors or faculty members who advised them to give up their goal of a career in a health profession (AADS, 1999). It is difficult to know the number of students who were not able to overcome this discouragement. A survey of minority students attending a Student National Medical Association conference was designed to provide a data-based analysis of student perceptions of the undergraduate prehealth advising programs at their home institutions.
An overview of prehealth advising programs and studies on factors affecting the persistence of minority students to the baccalaureate and entrance into health professions schools follows. The paper concludes with recommendations that are a synthesis of the research studies and the recommendations of the participants in the “Sustaining Minorities in Prehealth Advising Programs” workshop at the Symposium on Diversity in the Health Professions in honor of Her-