A combined bachelor’s degree and medical doctorate program offers a direct path from high school to medical school

As the eldest daughter of immigrants from Ghana and Jamaica who met at medical school, Jada Ohene-Agyei knew from an early age that she wanted to be a doctor.

“I think it goes back to my parents being in the medical field. I spent a lot of time with them and their colleagues,” she says. “And since I was always into mathematics and science, [medicine] It was like a natural path for me. “

Inspired by her parents’ experiences in attending accelerated bachelor’s degree and physician assistant programs, Ohen-Agyei applied to several higher education institutions that combined (and in some cases accelerated) undergraduate and medical school programs.

Now 23 years old, Ohene-Agyei is a fifth year student in the six-year Bachelor’s/Med program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Medicine. In fact, she’s currently completing her master’s degree before completing her final year of medical school, which begins in July.

Ohene-Agyei will join a small portion of physicians entering the combined bachelor’s degree and MD program. In 2022, he’ll be just 3.3%, according to the AAMC’s medical school graduation survey, but in 2018 he’s up slightly from 2.8%.

More than 40 medical schools nationwide offer these combined degree programs, and their approaches vary widely. Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island emphasizes obtaining a liberal arts undergraduate education before beginning the medical school curriculum, and there are many approaches in between.

However, they all share a similar purpose. It’s about making the path to medical school smoother for young people who are confident they want to become doctors.

Acceleration program for outstanding students

Programs that shorten undergraduate and medical colleges to six or seven years are particularly competitive and target a specific class of high school students who are ready to dive headlong into medical education.

“[Some of] said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., Ph.D., dean and alumnus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. “This program requires a high level of maturity and concentration from our students. And not only have they worked on it and been successful, but honestly, I’m blown away by their brilliance.I have a freshman now, and if you look at her resume, she I can assure you that I am a teacher.”

At UMKC, one of the few six-year programs in the country, the application process is more rigorous than undergraduate. In addition to requiring a good ACT score, GPA, volunteerism, and a strong personal statement, prospective students undergo a series of mini-interviews that test their maturity, problem-solving skills, and empathy, Jackson said. say.

“We have a lot of really talented students,” she adds.

However, even if the person accepted is a student with good grades, the course load can be difficult.

Ohene-Agyei recalls how she and her fellow students had to adjust in their first year, which took more than 20 credits per semester and continued studying over the summer.

“It’s a lot,” she says. “And it was the first time most of us went without a summer vacation, so it was an adjustment. You go through a lot together.

Ohine Agiei moved out of the dormitory into her apartment in her second year and was fully immersed in medical school in her third year. To help them adapt, students are assigned a physician mentor who leads a group of about ten students in a clinical setting and teaches them about patient care, professionalism, and healing.

It’s a system that prepares graduates to excel in medical careers, Jackson said. She remembers her first week as a resident after completing her six-year program on her own in the late 1970s. At the time, co-residents and senior her residents were amazed at how quickly she handled multiple complex cases.

“Part of what I call the ‘secret sauce’ was the early introduction into clinical medicine,” says Jackson.

Ohene-Agyei admits this trail isn’t for everyone. She knows many successful medical students who wanted to explore different fields during her undergraduate years before devoting themselves fully to medical studies. But for some students like her, it just fits.

“In my case, a six-year program [gives me] I was able to capitalize on my research interests by getting two extra years that many people don’t get,” says Ohene-Agyei. “[I was able to] You can go back and finish your last year of medical school after you get your master’s degree, but I’m a year ahead of people who graduated from high school. While you’re at it, you’ll have everything you need to be a good doctor. “

reach underrepresented people

Several accelerated programs, including UMKC, were established, at least in part, to recruit the brightest students from the region. These students expect to continue providing care in their home country after graduating from medical school.

About 70% of students accepted into UMKC’s accelerated programs are from Missouri, and about half of them eventually go on to primary care specialties.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) School of Medicine, located near the southernmost tip of Texas, began an early medical school acceptance program three years ago. This is especially offered to students in South Texas. According to Guillermo Canedo, program manager of UTRGV’s Pathway program, some students have already enrolled their first class in medical school because they have completed the undergraduate requirements in his third or second year.

“The point is for them to come back and give back to the community,” Canedo says. “South Texas has diabetes and obesity problems, and RGV will always need good doctors.”

Launched in 2016, the City University of New York School of Medicine (CUNY Med) seven-year BS/MD program is also proud to recruit and serve New Yorkers. Additionally, the program specifically reaches out to students with underrepresented backgrounds in medicine.

Over 60% of CUNY Med students come from underrepresented racial groups in medicine, 85% come from low-income or disadvantaged families, and 80% speak a language other than English said Carmen Renée Green, MD, president of CUNY Med. .

“All of this affects student development,” says Green.

In 2023 Match®, 100% of the class qualified for the residency program, more than 50% of them qualified for a primary care specialization, and 75% stayed in the New York City area.

“We’re a New York City medical school. We sit here among many private medical schools that do a great job, but we’re the only public medical school,” Green says.

“We are committed to serving New Yorkers and their neighbors and closing inequalities in education and health care. It’s about changing the face of medicine in New York City by addressing both the social determinants of health,” Green adds.

Encouraging a humanitarian approach to medicine

About half of the nation’s early-entry programs allow students to complete both degrees in eight years.

As the only Ivy League institution to offer an early acceptance program, Brown University encourages students to focus on the liberal arts during their undergraduate years before transitioning to a science-focused medical curriculum.

Students enrolled in Brown’s Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) do not need to take the usual required premed courses, or even MCAT®. Instead, students are already enrolled at Brown University’s Warren-Alpert School of Medicine, so they can focus on fully understanding their liberal arts undergraduate education.

“The idea behind the PLME program is to give students access to an open curriculum here at Brown University,” said B. Starr Hampton, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education at the School of Medicine. “Hopefully they can use the time and mental space they have been given by not having to concentrate. [the sciences and premed studies] Before entering medical school [to focus on] In addition to exploring and discovering what drives them and what motivates them, self-care and balance, and their health. “

Her hope is that students enter medical school with a humanistic approach to medicine and a more complete understanding of the world through liberal arts studies.

Of course, the admissions committee is of a very particular kind: academically high-achieving, well-rounded, with a deep interest in the liberal arts, but also serious about becoming a doctor. looking for a student of And it’s a very competitive program. Last year he was admitted to just 87 out of 3,516 applicants.

admit a setback

Early admission and accelerated Bachelor/MD programs have been successful for many students. But they are not for everyone. Nor is it always successful in all institutions.

Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) School of Medicine recently paused their accelerated programs.

UNR paused to reassess the benefits this program brings to students and its alignment with the school’s mission.

The program was originally designed more than a decade ago to stem the “brain drain” of bright young Nevadans who left Nevada to attend medical school and practice medicine elsewhere, said a UNR medical school admissions assistant. Dean Aaron Dieringer, MD, explains. Initially he was a seven-year program, but in 2017 he was changed to eight years by the school administration.

“What we discovered during that time was that in terms of personal growth, students were limited in what they could experience at university in three years,” says Dieringer.

Some students said they were unable to make the most of their undergraduate experiences, such as studying abroad or researching electives, while others said their compressed schedules took a toll on their mental health. said.

About two years ago, the university leadership stopped accepting applications for the program, reconsidering how best to serve students and its mission to keep doctors in the state.

“Being a doctor requires a lot of professional development,” says Dieringer. “When is the best [for students] “I want to be a doctor. I did that research.’? … At what stage are students actually making that progress to show that they are ready to make that commitment?”

He acknowledges that the answers to these questions are likely to vary from institution to institution and student to student.

But for the few students who are confident in their mission to medicine, early acceptance into medical school can take some of the anxiety and uncertainty out of the process of making their dreams come true.

Ohene-Agyei advises high school students considering applying for the early acceptance program.

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