Aliyah Quintero still has vivid memories of her time in the emergency room at the age of 17. She was scared and uncertain, until she met a nurse whose friendly demeanor and emotional support left a lasting impression on Quintero. At that moment, she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

“My interaction with that nurse is the reason why I want to be an emergency room nurse myself,” Quintero said. “I was inspired by her to not only want to heal people from illnesses, but to support them emotionally, as well. I’ve always been the type of person whose had the heart to help someone. I want to make sure everyone is ok, in body and spirit.” 

Quintero is one step closer to her goal and she credits the College of Health and Human Services’ Pre-health Program for giving her a solid foundation. The Pre-health Program is a three-semester program that provides support to students exploring careers in the health and human services professions, and is primarily focused on students interested in nursing, kinesiology (exercise science), health science (community health) and social work. 


Now in her third semester, Quintero was matched with the nursing major in consultation with the College of Health and Human Services’ Advising and Career Development Center. This means she will continue on in the nursing pathway and begin taking the necessary prerequisite courses for the nursing program, and is hoping to apply for admission in spring 2023. 

The highly popular nursing program is one of the most impacted at Fresno State. Of the hundreds that apply each year, only about 120 will be admitted, said Robert Pagesmith, lead coordinator and academic counselor in the College of Health and Human Services’ advising center. Helping students find their best fit, particularly for those in impacted majors, is one of the main priorities of the Pre-health Program. 

“Our goal is to help students stay on track and graduate in four to six years,” Pagesmith said. “Research says that students change their majors two to three times before they find their fit. We want to reduce that. For the thousands of students we see, our hope is to give them the right information to empower them to make the best decisions for themselves.” 

Pagesmith was among the core team members who launched the idea of the program five years ago. He helped develop the program, while the team of academic counselors have been helping to guide the students along their journey. This is coupled with individualized meetings and pre-health workshops focused on each specific pathway. 

“I can easily say that the counselors and faculty are the only reason why I’m achieving what I have,” Quintero said. “They are constantly making sure that we are on top of things and emailing us when events are happening. I actually felt like I was behind, but they assured me that I am on the right track.”

Karen Markland, a lecturer in the Department of Recreation Administration, is the lead instructor for the career exploration courses, meaning she creates the content and curriculum, and meets regularly with the program’s 10 instructors. 

The three semester program blends lower division general education courses with the pre-health courses. Students take HHS 18A in their first semester, where they learn about each of the majors within the college, providing them an opportunity to explore and understand each major. This includes majors not offered within the Pre-health Program, including physical therapy, communicative sciences and deaf studies, recreation administration and other option areas within kinesiology and public health.

“We walk the students through each program and what degrees are offered, as well as what careers to expect,” Markland said. “Even if students don’t see themselves in that field, we tie in the collaboration aspect. If you think you’re going to be a nurse, you need to know that as a nurse, you’re going to work with an audiologist, a social worker, a public health professional, etcetera. You need to know that this is your treatment team and this is who you’re going to be working with.”

During the second semester, HHS100T, students are assigned their unique strengths and complete a series of career assessments to learn about future career opportunities. Finally, in their third and final semester, the students apply to and are matched with a major and begin taking the necessary prerequisite courses. 

Through the Pre-health Program, students learn from alumni.

During the inaugural semester of the program, nearly 700 students were enrolled in the pre-health pathway. Now in the last semester, 300 have been matched with one of the four major areas or with another major across campus. 

“We always have attrition,” Pagesmith said. “We found that within those four separate majors we lost about 50% – students that changed their major within the first year or dropped out and those who don’t meet the minimum GPA.”

First-time freshman, Noucy Vang, is currently in her first semester of the program, and is excited for what’s to come in the next three semesters. Like Quintero, her goal is to work in the medical field and hopes to pursue nursing, but knows her options are far and wide. 


“Through my pre-health course, I’ve learned a lot about different careers,” Vang said. “I didn’t think there would be that many related to the medical field, but this program really gives me insight on the different professions that are a good match for me, other than being a nurse. I was pretty amazed by that. If I can’t get into the nursing program, I do want to pursue another career in the medical field, like becoming an OB-GYN or pharmacist, so I may pursue the biology major down the line. I’m very dedicated to helping others and making an impact in people’s lives, and the health field really helps me do that.”

Markland said that is one of the hallmarks of the program. It prepares students mainly for careers in health and human services, but allows them the freedom to discover other majors and careers along the way. Students are encouraged to consider two major options while in the program. 

“Karen really helped me figure out who I want to be as a health professional,” Quintero said. “Earlier this semester, I was thinking I should be realistic and really consider a plan B, so that I have options. As I was researching and talking with Karen, she made me discover that I can still use my emotional support skills as a social worker or even a therapist. It’s the perfect parallel.” 

Markland herself credits the discovery path for her own academic journey. In the late 80s, while a student at Fresno State, she explored a variety of majors, before discovering the Recreation Administration major simply by walking by the department office and asking for more information. Since then, Markland has led a long career as a recreation therapist and now gives back her time to her alma mater, where she has taught part-time for the past 12 years. 


“Being a product of a discovery major myself, I’m just really passionate about making sure that students have a great experience,” Markland said. “One way we do that is by having each faculty teach the same set of students for one full year. This way, they can build relationships with the students and it allows them to be one person the students are comfortable with. I always tell them ‘you just need to be that one’.” 

Quintero, who is from the small northern California town of Gonzalez, said being part of Fresno State and its inaugural Pre-health Program has been exciting. 

“The moment I stepped onto campus, I just fell in love,” Quintero said. “I just felt like I belonged here and when I’m here, it’s like I never left home.” 

To support students like Quintero, and programs within the College of Health and Human Services, please consider making a gift to our ‘Student Success Fund’ on the Fresno State Day of Giving on Nov. 4 at