Pre-Health in the time of COVID: An Unexpected Gap Year

By James Henderson ’22

Hear how James Henderson ’22 spent this past year battling the pandemic on the front-lines on and off campus. 

For students aspiring to a career in medicine, the guidance that you can find on the internet seems quite simple: take certain science classes, participate in research, get clinical experience, take the MCAT, and finally apply to medical school. When I matriculated into Oxy, I, too, thought these were the only necessary steps to achieve my goal. An easy task, I thought. I had plans to be a Biology major, planned to start research with a Biology professor, and had already obtained licensure and begun work as an EMT through UCLA’s renowned Center for Prehospital Care. I figured I was well on my way.

When I went through Orientation, I stopped at the info sessions put on by the Office of Pre-Health Advising (OPHA), expecting to largely hear that I was already on the right track, but I quickly learned that there was a lot more to getting into medical school than I had expected. One of the best decisions I made was immediately signing up for a meeting with the then-director of the OPHA, Angela Wood. Angela set me straight: while I had laid a decent groundwork, there were a lot of factors I was entirely oblivious to. How to select classes and when to take them, what studying for the MCAT really entailed, and how to demonstrate various personality traits to an admissions committee. With her guidance, I was able to develop a plan that would hopefully conclude with my acceptance to medical school. For two years, it worked great. But even as the COVID-19 pandemic caused my oh-so-perfect plan to be completely upended, with the excellent guidance of the new OPHA director, Kat Wang, I was able to segue my intended after-graduation gap year to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and still graduate on time.

In the past 18 months, I have had the privilege to fight the pandemic in a number of different roles. Through my lab experience in the Biology department, I gained a position last year in Abbott’s Rapid Diagnostics division, where I contributed to the development of the now-commercially available BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test. During the 2020 winter surge, I volunteered for a State disaster deployment to the Central Valley, working 90-hour weeks in a State-run field hospital. That deployment turned into a critical care role in Riverside County, an area overwhelmed by critically-ill COVID patients. Working in the ICU, I cared for the sickest patients, including serving as a member of the code team responding to cardiac arrests (“codes”) and other emergencies throughout the hospital. I also participated in Oxy’s spring vaccination campaign, administering Moderna and Janssen vaccines to my classmates and professors, and now serve as the COVID Operations Administrator for Oxy, working diligently to prevent the spread of COVID among our community. While it has been a lot of work, I am proud that I have been able to directly impact others in a very positive way, from preventing COVID in the first place through vaccination all the way to resuscitating those experiencing critical COVID illness.

As my transposed gap year comes to an end and I start preparing my application materials for submission this coming cycle, I am deeply appreciative for the guidance that I have received from Kat Wang and the OPHA. For any incoming students considering a career in medicine or the allied health professions, my advice is to make OPHA your first stop. By reaching out early and keeping in regular communication throughout your time at Oxy, you will be sure to start off on the right foot and avoid the potential pitfalls that may arise. Make sure to stop by the Pre-Health Students Association (PHSA) club table during the Involvement Fair, too! 

Contact Admission & Aid
Collins House

1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041