pre-med - Oxley College of Health & Natural Sciences


What are pre-med and pre-health professions?

So, you want to be a physician.  

Or a nurse. Or an epidemiologist. Or a veterinarian. Or a physical therapist. 

You can get into these careers, and many others, through the pre-health professions program at the University of Tulsa. 

What can I do with a pre-med degree? 

Now is an ideal time to consider a health care career. Employment in health care-related professions is expected to grow by 15% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

close-up shot of three people in hospital scrubs with arms crossedAnd while “physician” may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a medical career and a pre-med program, there’s a lot more to health care than being a doctor. If you love working with patients, but aren’t up for four years of med school on top of four years of college (and then residency to boot), you can pursue dozens of avenues that can be just as fulfilling. 

As a student on a pre-health track, your pre-health advisor will work with you to ensure you’re taking the classes you need to reach whatever career you’re interested in. With your degree, you can go on to be a pharmacist, physician assistant, public health worker, dentist, optometrist or many more different health professions. 

Before we go on, let’s clear one thing up: If “doctor” is your dream job, you may be wondering about getting a pre-med major. But at most colleges, there’s no such thing. In fact, whether you want to be a doctor or go into another health profession, you can major in whatever you want as long as you take all the prerequisite courses you need to qualify. Because so many of those courses are science-related, students on a pre-health track often find science degrees attractive. 

If you wanted, though, you could major in accounting or chemical engineering and apply to med school. You simply need to work with your advisors to ensure you meet your degree requirements and the prerequisites for admission to your target health professions school. 

As part of the pre-med program, we’ll start advising you in your freshman year about what courses you’ll need to take. If you do want to go to medical school, our health professions committee will look at your grades to give you an idea whether you’re likely to be a good candidate. Medical schools are notoriously selective; fortunately for you, TU students have had a lot of success getting in. On average, 70% of TU students who apply to med school are accepted. 

A pre-health degree gives you a wide array of options. Some require further education; for some, you can find job opportunities right out of college.  

If you’re on a pre-health track at TU, we recommend you take: 

  • One year of chemistry 
  • One year of organic chemistry 
  • One year of physics 
  • One year of biology (Intro to Molecular and Cellular Biology, then Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology) 

If med school is your goal, you should also take classes in biochemistry, psychology and sociology; if you’re headed to a professional school, a class in genetics may also be required. Certain programs need a year of calculus. Ethics and sociology classes may also be a good idea. 

We know that’s a lot. Yet, in this competitive field, you may want to go even further. Admissions committees love to see students who really got into their work, either by taking as many relevant classes as possible, or by working on a student research project.  

Student research at TU 

At TU, you’ll get the chance to do real, meaningful work in the lab. Undergraduate research is a hallmark of our program. In the past, TU students have won Goldwater and National Science Foundation scholarships and awards. And the experience has served countless students who have gone on to grad schools and beyond. 

Some of these opportunities include: 

Experiences like these do more than round out a résumé. They lead to even bigger opportunities down the road, and give you a head start on finding the health science career that fits your goals. 

Exercise and sports science student and alumnus heading to dentistry school

“Our exercise and sports science (EXSS) program is incredibly versatile in terms both of the material students encounter as well as career pathways after graduation,” remarked Eric Wickel, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences at The University of Tulsa. Approximately 25% of EXSS students follow the program’s pre-med track. Most do so in order to prepare to enter medical school. But becoming a physician is not the only option. Recently, a current EXSS student – Kimmie Koors – and an alumnus – Rowdy Simon (BS ’18) – decided to use their EXSS knowledge and skills to embark on careers in dentistry.

Different journeys, same destination

Koors is a senior in the EXSS program’s pre-med track, minoring in psychology. A hard-working individual, she intends to graduate from TU in May after just three years of undergraduate study. On January 7, Koors was elated to receive word that she had been accepted to study at Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University. She will spend two years in Kirksville for didactic learning, followed by two in St. Louis. “After that, I’ll see whether I stay with general dentistry or possibly pursue orthodontics,” Koors said.

The desire to be a dentist is longstanding for Koors. “Ever since I was little, I feel like it’s been an innate thing in me to want to become a dentist,” she recalled. “When I was young, I used to brush my teddy bear’s teeth. Then I started brushing my dog’s teeth before I went to bed. By seventh grade, I was convinced that dentistry could be a perfect career for me. Shadowing my dentist, Dr. Casler, made it clear I could be a dentist too. My goal is to improve people’s quality of life by giving them great dental care.”


The year 2020 started off on a high note for Simon, too. Originally from Vian, Oklahoma, Simon heard in January that he had been accepted into the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry doctor of dental surgery program. Unlike Koors, however, the idea to pursue dentistry arose rather late to Simon.

When he was a student at TU, Simon followed EXSS’s general rather than pre-med plan (he also earned a minor in psychology). During his undergraduate years, Simon thought he might like to become a physician. Through EXSS, he was able to shadow two orthopedic surgeons at Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center. “I enjoyed these experiences,” he said, “but I still wasn’t sure a career in medicine was right for me. I therefore began researching various occupations involving patient interaction. Dentistry was brought to my attention, so I started shadowing my hometown dentist. I fell totally in love with the dental field. I suddenly knew this was what I was meant to do: become a dentist.”

Building on a firm EXSS foundation

Reflecting on the preparation the EXSS pre-med track has given her, Koors underscored the variety of disciplines to which she has been exposed: “You’re getting to work with physical therapists, occupational therapists and others. And that prepares you for dentistry, where work involves collaborating with periodontists, endodontists, orthodontists and other specialists. I also really loved learning about exercise and health. Having an EXSS sports science background has allowed me to learn about the entire body, and that’s really important not only for medical school but also for dentistry.”

Golden Hurricane football player Rowdy Simon running with a football
Rowdy Simon during his Golden Hurricane days

During his years at TU, Simon balanced his EXSS studies with playing football for the university’s Golden Hurricane team. “My professors were so willing to accommodate my student-athlete schedule and to help in any way possible,” he recalled. For example, his advisor was able to help Simon organize a heavier course load in the spring and a lighter one in the fall, which helped with the demands of football season.

“The EXSS courses themselves were always informative and applicable to real-life scenarios,” said Simon. “And the faculty – in particular, Greg Gardner and Ron Walker – were nothing but attentive and caring from the minute I set foot on campus. I never had a super-high GPA or was the smartest student in the classroom. You could even say I had a kind of ‘walk-on’ mentality. My professors all gave their absolute best and were passionate about the program and their students’ success. That dedication empowered me to lay a solid academic foundation for my future in dentistry.”

Koors also credited her EXSS professors for her great experience in the program: “The instructors are so motivated to help you learn. They know everyone’s name. They know everyone’s goals. In the labs, our instructors help you apply the knowledge from lectures and they give you that hands-on experience you need to work with patients and clients. On the research side, they urge us to explore topics we’re interested in. For example, I was able to deepen my knowledge of dental cavities as well as Achilles tendon tears and ruptures in athletes.”

From classwork to patient care

After graduating from TU, Simon completed pre-requisite courses for dentistry school at Tulsa Community College and Northeastern State University – Broken Arrow. He then began working as a registered dental assistant (RDA). Simon also took the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and he is currently employed as an RDA in Fort Smith, Arkansas. “This practical experience,” he said, “is reinforcing my passion for dentistry and desire to help others.”

In addition to her coursework, Koors gained experience by spending several summers and two internships shadowing Dr. Casler, as well as by volunteering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma’s (CCEO) dental care division. Every Tuesday evening, she assists the dentists who provide services to CCEO’s clients. This community-service experience has reinforced in Koors a desire “to bring dental care to individuals that might not otherwise have access for financial or location reasons. I am particularly interested in someday working in a rural community.”

Are you interested in exploring all the stimulating learning and career options TU’s exercise and sports science program offers?

From T-shirts to white coats: Exercise and sports science alumni begin medical school journeys

Students in The University of Tulsa’s exercise and sports science (EXSS) program have a broad range of career goals. Some want to become athletic trainers. A good number want to work in fitness centers. Others go into teaching or rehabilitation. And, a healthy proportion wants someday to become a physician, physician assistant or some other sort of medical professional.

“Currently, nearly a quarter of EXSS students follow the program’s pre-medicine track,” said Eric Wickel, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences. “This plan includes the required prerequisites for medical school and it provides students with hands-on application in courses such as Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics. Many EXSS students taking the pre-medicine track also participate in faculty-led or student-driven research projects focused on understanding human movement.”

Two such students are recent EXSS graduates Madeline Lyons (BS ’18) and Kelson Goins (BS’19). Both are now in their first year of doctor of medicine studies – Lyons at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa and Goins at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Goins sees his medical future in orthopedics. Two options he is considering are surgery or sports medicine. For Lyons, a career as a pediatrician is the goal.

Real-world training and clinical knowledge

Even though it’s still the first semester of med school for these TU alumni, they are already reaping the rewards of their EXSS studies. “Kinesiology and the prevention and treatment of sports injuries are extremely important to the gross anatomy course I’m now taking,” said Goins. Lyons echoed these insights, adding that completing anatomy and physiology courses (plus anatomy and physiology labs) during her undergraduate studies gave her a head start when she got to medical school.

“I also learned a lot about biomechanics from Professor Roger Kollock at TU, and that is proving useful when I’m dealing with movement and musculoskeletal exams,” Goins continued. “Overall, I’d say it’s the functionality and practicality of the EXSS program – its emphasis on real-world understanding and clinical knowledge – that is proving most valuable. Those dimensions don’t get emphasized as much in some of the more common pre-med majors.” Lyons added, “it’s the clinical correlations skills you get in EXSS that make such a difference when you arrive at med school.”

Research opportunities

An important component in a person’s application to medical school is research experience. During her time at TU, Lyons was involved with Kollock’s Biomechanics Lab for over two years as part of the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). “That lab has all the equipment – such as a myoMOTIONTM machine, force plates, functional movement screen equipment, an accelerometer – needed when running various biomechanics and exercise physiology tests. The experience taught me the fundamentals of research as well as how to prepare a presentation. In addition, you want to have a very competitive résumé when you apply to med school, and through TURC I was able to accomplish that too.”

Exercise and sports science alumnus Kelson Goins
Kelson Goins (BS ’19)

Goins has a similarly positive regard for the research component of his EXSS studies. Working closely with Professor Davis Hale on his hydration-methods project, Goins noted, “not only looked fantastic on my résumé but was invaluable when talking to med-school admissions committees.” Goins’ main tasks were setting up testing sessions, running participants through the trial and managing and compiling data. “Taking part in experiences like these not only helps you grow as an individual but also helps you stand out in the applicant pool.”

Looking at it from the professorial side, Hale remarked that his former student “was instrumental in the conceptualization of our hydration pack configuration study. Goins’ ability to work closely with human subjects confirmed his potential for personalized care in a clinical setting. I know his TURC experience will benefit him during his medical school training.”

In addition to engaging in research, Goins also recommends actually working in health care while on the EXSS pre-med track. For his part, over the course of three years Goins accumulated approximately 2,000 hours of direct patient contact by working as a surgical assistant in a hospital. “I still had ample time for classwork and a social life,” he noted, “and the experience of working first with patients first hand showed me where I want to be in the future.”

Do something you genuinely like

“This program prepared me better for medical school than any other could have,” Goins observed. “EXSS is a great option for someone looking at going into medical school,” added Lyons. “The EXSS program not only set me up well for my classes in med school, but also for getting the science GPA you need and for taking the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®).

“But it was also a major I genuinely liked, and one of the things they tell you when you’re thinking of becoming a physician is that you can major in something you enjoy. EXSS fits the bill. It’s fun. It’s interesting. I loved it.”

As Eric Wickel noted at the outset of this article, EXSS has a track specially designed for people whose sights are set on medical school. Find out more about this energetic, forward-looking program and see whether it’s right for you.