Enrollment in the health sciences pre-clinical major has surpassed 2,000 students this fall, making it one of the most popular majors at UCF. Reaching this milestone is all the more remarkable given that the program began just six years ago with 224 students.

Assistant Professor Suha Saleh, who directs the program in the Department of Health Professions, attributes the rapid 10-fold increase in enrollment to identifying a need and meeting it.

“While other majors may include the prerequisites required for admission to graduate programs in health professions, the health sciences pre-clinical major integrates the prerequisites with course work directly related to human health,” Saleh said.

Specifically, the curriculum includes basic science courses and courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology, preventative health care, epidemiology of chronic disease and clinical nutrition. This gives students an opportunity to learn basic science and relate it to clinical practice, she explained.

Prompted by the student demand, the department has increased the program’s faculty from one full-time faculty member in 2006 to six full-time and seven adjunct faculty members this fall.

Saleh joined the faculty as program director in 2010. Since then, she has revised the major to include a more clinically based curriculum, expanded academic and pre-professional advising, and identified opportunities for clinical internships.

Advising is an important component of the health sciences pre-clinical program, Saleh said. “Our advising services help students achieve their graduate school goals and help them devise alternative paths if there is an unforeseen change in their career plans.”

Erik Diaz, a 2012 graduate in health sciences pre-clinical, found great opportunities to become involved in faculty research and help plan events for the program. “The major is constantly evolving and proactively working toward excellence by preparing well-rounded future health professionals,” he shared. “It is a huge asset to the university and the community.”

Now a first-year student in UCF’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Diaz has developed an interest in neuropathology and ways to help people with central nervous system disorders increase their functional abilities.

Lisa Soler, a senior majoring in health sciences pre-clinical, will graduate this fall and pursue admission to medical school. She said she likes “that the core sciences and health-specific sciences are part of the major.” She also noted program’s close-knit atmosphere.

“Even though the major is growing incredibly, class sizes are small and individual relationships with professors are feasible, which adds to a small school feel in such an enormous campus,” Soler said.

According to responses from a recent survey, health sciences pre-clinical alumni have been accepted into graduate programs or have taken off a semester or two after graduation to complete their application materials and clinical experience requirements.

“So far, the program has been a huge success,” Saleh said, “and we will continue to modify it to meet the needs of our students and the communities they’ll eventually serve.”