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Q&A with Dr. Ashley T. Martino – Director of MS in Health Sciences at SJU


Dr. Ashley T. Martino is the Director of the Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) program at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. His career has taken him from the U.S. Air Force to research in AAV gene therapy, as well as helping to train a new generation of healthcare professionals. We talked to him about what makes the MSHS unique, and how his program helps students prepare for medical school, clinical research careers, and other health profession programs.

Q: Tell us about the University – what sets you apart as an institution?
A: St. John’s University (SJU) boasts 150 years of education in the center of Queens, NY, which is considered one of the most diverse communities in the world. A primary mission of St. John’s University is to provide academic opportunities for underrepresented individuals who have had challenges in pursuing college level education from a well-respected institution. SJU’s student body represents a large range of socioeconomic backgrounds and is in the top 5% of universities for diversity. Additionally, SJU provides an academic profile that is centered around emphasizing social responsibility. The overall goal of SJU is to provide a large array of strong academic programs that will produce diverse, competitive, and compassionate graduates.

Q: Tell us about your faculty – what makes them special?
A: St. John’s University has a diverse faculty who work closely with their community to assist in socially responsible programs. In addition to their role as educators, most of our faculty have active research projects and have a large range of collaborations by leveraging their location in New York City.

Q: Tell us about your program – what is it and what does it do for students?
A: The Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) program is unique within the New York and tristate area. It offers an alternative pathway toward admission to post-baccalaureate medical professions and health-related research programs. It is designed for students who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine, clinical research, and other advanced health professions, the Master of Science in Health Sciences degree program is deeply rooted in medical education and heavily mirrors the first year of a Liaison Committee on Medical Education-accredited medical school.

With a robust curriculum that can effectively increase science competencies, the master’s in Health Sciences program comprehensively prepares students for the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®) exam or other admission exams, as well as the early years of medical school or other health-care-related programs.
Ultimately, the master’s in Health Sciences program empowers a cohort of culturally diverse students who are underrepresented in current medical professions and health-related research. It offers an innovative solution for increasing diversity within the health sciences—which aligns the program goals with St. John’s mission.

Q: What are you most excited about in offering the program?
A: This program gives students an alternative pathway into advanced health care programs and provides an opportunity for underrepresented students or students that have encountered challenges during their academic history to achieve their dreams of being a health care professional.

Q: What do you feel are the most unique features of the program?
A: MSHS students can benefit from St. John’s University’s academic partnership with Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU). This partnership includes an expanding health education and medical career networks with accredited medical schools and other health science-related institutions. Through the connection with PHSU, the students are able to maximize their career opportunities and have access to PHSU’s medical school instructors, technology, medical education material, MCAT prep and consultation.

Q: How does the program’s delivery method enhance the student experience?
A: The program employs a hybrid academic approach to maximize student success. This transformative hybrid model includes extensive independent or group study during which students review prerecorded video lectures from medical specialists. After the video lectures, students participate in interactive in-class sessions guided by expert faculty members. In these sessions, utilizing cutting-edge technology to collect student data through classroom polling, professors deliver focused lectures to reinforce the knowledge taught in the prerecorded videos and answer student questions. Through this unique educational approach, students can learn in an engaging environment and achieve their academic goals with the assistance of real-time data.

Q: How does your program differ from similar programs?
A: St. John’s University’s MSHS degree differs from traditional post-baccalaureate “bridge” programs offered at other institutions because it ends with a multi-disciplinary Master’s degree that can be used to improve entrance into a wide range of clinical career opportunities.

Q: How is this program different from other pre-med and post-bacc programs?
A: Traditional pre-med programs are bachelor’s degree which do not have the same level of preparation as this advanced Heath Sciences Master’s Degree. Therefore, the MSHS program better prepares students for entry into advanced health care programs when compared to other pre-med programs. The same comparison can be made when compared to other post-bacc program. The curriculum of this MSHS program largely reflects the first year of medical school. Additionally, the MSHS degree employs advanced data metrics that predicts a student’s performance on medical licensure exams therefore we can identify students early who may underperform and provide additional support to improve their predictive outcome.

Q: How would you describe the rigor and pace of the MSHS program?
A: This is an accelerated 1 year Master’s degree program and is therefore quite rigorous.

Q: Who is best suited for your program?
A: This program is best suited for individuals who are interested in advanced health care degrees such as Medical, Veterinary, Dental, Chiropractic etc. or clinically relevant research.

Q: What is the next step for graduates of this program?
A: Graduates from this program will likely pursue an advanced health care degree such as Medical, Veterinary, Dental, Chiropractic etc. or possibly a doctoral medical research degree. In regards to entry level careers with this MSHS degree, graduates would also be qualified for a lab position at a biotech company as well as a public health or health care administration career.

Q: What do you feel makes this program ideal for students who are looking to gain entry into an MD program?
A: This program has been engineered to improve a student’s chance of entry into medical school and has multiple layers to achieve this goal. This program has a direct partnership with a US accredited medical program. The curriculum reflects the first year of medical school and the partnership with Ponce medical school provides an opportunity for taking an MCAT prep course. The Ponce medical school partnership provides prerecorded lectures and other academic resources prepared by medical specialists. Finally, this program utilizes data metrics to predict the student’s performance on medical licensure exams which is used to identify students early who may underperform and provide additional support for those students.

Q: Aside from students who are interested in moving on to medical school, what advanced degree programs do you feel graduates of the program are most prepared for?
A: Dental, Veterinary, Chiropractor, Podiatry, Physician Assistant and Doctoral degrees.

Q: Does your University offer any of those (next step) programs? If not, what linkage opportunities are available to graduates of the program?
A: Yes our University offers A PA program and Doctoral degrees.

Q: How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in medical and health sciences?
A: The Master of Science in Health Sciences degree program is deeply rooted in medical education and is very similar to the first year of a Liaison Committee on Medical Education-accredited medical school. The curriculum will increase health science competencies and comprehensively prepares students for the MCAT exam or other admission exams and subsequent licensure or certification exams. Additionally, this program will likely increase the student’s performance in the early years of medical school or other health-care-related programs.

Q: For students who are interested in the program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
A: The SJU website provides detailed information regarding minimal requirements. To meet these minimal requirements, students need standard course and degree prerequisites that most medical schools require. The GRE or MCAT maybe waived depending on the applicant’s overall GPA. If an admission exam is required because the undergraduate GPA is not high enough to waive them, we suggest the applicant take the GRE if they have not taken any. When medical schools look at MCAT scores, they will look at all the MCAT exams (if taken multiple times). Since this program will likely improve performance on the MCAT the applicant should wait to take MCAT exam until after the completion of this MSHS program. However, if the applicant has already taken the MCAT they can submit those scores for their application and would not have to take the GRE.

Q: For students considering a graduate medical degree like yours, what would you recommend they keep in mind?
A: Entrance into advanced health care academic programs like medical school or similar programs is very competitive. This requires students to take advanced steps to improve their likelihood of getting into these programs. Additionally, when a student finally gets into medical school or dental school etc., they must complete the program and take the licensure exams that follow. As such, students need to look beyond getting into medical school or dental school etc. Therefore, if the student is interested in post-bacc programs that prepares students for entrance into medical school, the student should also look to see if the program prepares them for completion of medical school and for passing the licensure exams. This MSHS program prepares the student for all of this.

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