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Dr. Susan Whittemore Named Pre-Med Advisor

Dr. Susan Whittemore
Dr. Susan Whittemore

Is there a doctor in the house? In future years, more Keene State alumni might be stepping forward to answer “yes” to that question, now that the College has named Dr. Susan Whittemore pre-med advisor.

A biology professor noted for involving students in undergraduate research, Dr. Whittemore was a logical choice for the position, given that she had worked informally in that role for many years. “People have been sending me students from around campus to talk to me about medical school or related fields for quite some time,” she said. “There was an interest, so last spring they asked me to design my own position.”

“I think the science departments have supported students who have had a goal or a desire to attend pre-med school or medical school for a number of years. A lot of work they’ve done has been in the background on a case-by-case, student-by-student basis,” said Pat Halloran, director of Academic and Career Advising at Keene State.

“Susan is a wonderful teacher and is committed to helping students determine their paths in a number of different areas, so I think she is just a natural fit for this position,” Halloran added. “I worked with Susan and other science faculty for a number of years in supporting students in pre-med and I think this is a great opportunity to reach out to more students. So we’re really excited.”

After receiving a BS in wildlife biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Dr. Whittemore worked as a wildlife technician at Cornell University for four years. She then earned an MS in wildlife biology, studying coyotes at the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Predator Ecology and Behavior Unit at Utah State. She obtained her PhD and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in physiology at Dartmouth Medical School.

Named the College Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 2012, Dr. Whittemore, a native of Lancaster, NH, joined the Keene State Biology Department in 1993.

Dr. Whittemore expects to be working with a wide array of students, from incoming freshmen all the way to alumni as well as those in a variety of majors. “I think students coming from a liberal arts campus with diverse backgrounds can find their path to medical school because of the activities they can do and the ability to find their passion,” she said. “I think that’s important because a lot of them think they have to be biology majors.”

“Keene State doesn’t have a pre-med track and I tell student they’re lucky because I think that’s narrowing down too soon,” said Whittemore. “You come to a school like this to expand your horizons; otherwise, why not go to a school that has a pre-med track?”

Begin pull-quote…I think students coming from a liberal arts campus with diverse backgrounds can find their path to medical school because of the activities they can do and the ability to find their passion. …end pull-quote
– Dr. Whttemore

Whittemore also points out that students often change their career paths in college. “They might come in thinking they want to be doctors and then decide they’d rather do research,” she added. “I like staying with them during that time while they are figuring this out and making sure they have back-up plans.”

Handling her course load in addition to her work as pre-med advisor, Whittemore has enlisted the help of Dr. Andrew Wilking, a retired physician now living in the area who spent 25 years on the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Still feeling things out, both Dr. Whittemore and Dr. Wilking think they shouldn’t limit their focus to medical school, but try and gather and make information available to students aiming for other careers in the health sciences, like physician assistant certification, dentistry, and optometry.

“I’m hoping I can be helpful and between the two of us we can come up with some things that the students will find helpful,” said Dr. Wilking, who went to med school at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and specialized in pediatric rheumatology.

Regardless of their eventual career paths in medicine, Whittemore stresses the need for Keene State students to prepare for the future, asking them: “What are you going to do this summer that’s going to help you become more competitive and show your passion?”

The Importance of Connections

Whittemore also emphasizes the importance for students to form connections with faculty and other people who can write them recommendations. “A lot of students will wait until their senior year and then say they have no one who can speak to ‘who I am,’ she said. “So I encourage students to really get to know their professors or other people in the community that can write and account for their integrity and their goals.”

Still deciding on the parameters of the advising positon, determining what health professions to include, as well as developing relationships with schools and programs primarily in the region, Dr. Whittemore, working with the College’s Academic and Career Advising Office, hopes that more students interested in medical-related fields will start to come forward.

Over the years, KSC has sent several students to med school, including recent grads Jason Beckta ’08, a third-year med student at Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Catherine Avener ’04, who attended medical school at the University of Vermont and is currently practicing in Florida. “This creation of this position formalizes a role I’ve been doing for a while and I can’t wait to get started,” said Whittemore.

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