Some high school students opt for early admission into university medical programs.

Standout high school seniors who are passionate about medicine can potentially avoid the stressful post-bachelor’s degree medical school application process, and instead gain tentative entrance into medical school programs straight out of high school.

Combined BA/BS-MD programs are steadily gaining popularity throughout the U.S., as colleges and communities become more concerned about addressing the evident national shortage of health care professionals and the impending wave of baby boomers reaching retirement age.

During the 2000-01 academic year, the University of Connecticut at Storrs was among the first wave of universities to introduce a BA/BS-MD program it calls the Combined Program in Medicine (CPiM). Interested candidates are required to complete a medical school application in addition to the standard undergraduate application, report competitive grade point averages (GPAs) and SAT/ACT scores, and must exhibit a strong desire to enter in to the medical field.

After completing an undergraduate education on the Storrs campus, CPiM students head to the Farmington campus, home to the School of Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center, to complete their medical degrees.

Dozens of other U.S. universities also offer this option, include the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico. Though critics of the combined programs say that students might be limiting their options by setting their sights on medical school so early, program participants agree: The unique benefits and opportunities often outweigh these concerns.

UConn’s CPiM receives approximately 200 to 300 applications each year, of which 30 to 40 candidates are selected for interviews at the medical school. Connecticut residents receive special consideration, and the final 25 candidate selections are alerted by the admissions office.

“We were one of the last to join a group of about 30 universities with similar programs nationwide,” said Aida Silva, associate director of admissions. “The reason to join was the advantage to cultivate interest for such a talented group of students in the medical field at such an early age and strengthen our undergraduate education for the selected students.”

Silva highlighted the importance of gaining connections through networking opportunities and working in medical facilities.

“By connecting [CPiM students] with the professional level early in their education and allow[ing] them to build connections and networking, [CPiM students can] advance in the professional schools,” said Silva.

“We do encourage [CPiM students] to look if they have that time available for summer fellowships, and very often these fellowships can be arranged at the medical school,” said Keat Sanford, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Sanford said that the clinical exposure that students gain through these fellowships and other activities is indispensable. CPiM students can spend multiple weeks in different departments, gain first-hand experience and exposure, and gain a better understanding of what field of medicine they most enjoy.

The first class to enter UConn’s CPiM as freshmen in 2000 are just finishing their medical residencies.

“At this point, they are in the professional level, and the medical school keeps track of them and their progress and they all do very well,” said Silva. “This is the reason for the program to have continued.”

According to rankings from U.S. News and World Report, the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus is currently the fifth-best Primary Care school in the country, the third-best for students specializing in Family Medicine, and the seventh-best for students specializing in Rural Medicine.

The University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) established a BA/BS-MD program in 2010 that was modeled after the successful University of New Mexico combined BA/MD program. With the help of a $1.88 million grant provided by The Colorado Health Foundation, the BA/BS-MD program helps economically disadvantaged students who aspire to medicine fulfill their dreams. CU Denver and the Colorado Health Foundation’s partnership aims to address the heightening concern of physician scarcity in Colorado counties; it is not uncommon for residents to travel far to locate a doctor.

“We wanted to create a pipeline program that would encourage the best and the brightest students in Colorado to work hard and focus on the University of Colorado medical school as a goal,” said Dan Meyers, communications director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Our goal for this program is to encourage [Colorado] students to stay in this state, which has a shortage of physicians in many counties and in neighborhoods within urban and rural counties.”

The BA/BS-MD program at CU Denver is open solely to Colorado residents. Similar to the University of Connecticut at Storrs, CU Denver has strict admissions standards. Interested applicants must have a 3.5 or higher GPA and have a Colorado Commission on Higher Education index score of 110 or greater. Once admitted into the program, students are required to participate in seminars and summer programs at the Anschutz Medical Campus, similar to a traditional medical student’s responsibilities.

“Students in this program are required to attend monthly co-curricular seminars throughout the academic year on the Anschutz Medical Campus taught by faculty, professional staff, residents or medical students from the School of Medicine,” said Meyers. “The idea is to weave medically-focused information into the regular class work.”

A wide range of seminar topics are available, and include: the History of Medicine, Medical Ethics, What is Public Health, An Overview of Anatomy and the Art of Dissection, What is Global Health, Community Service Learning, and Intro into Problem Based Learning.

Zane Sternberg, a current sophomore in Colorado’s BA/BS-MD program, is excited about the unique opportunities that the prestigious program offers him.

“I have lived on a small ranch outside the rural town of La Veta my entire life,” said Sternberg. “Many people have asked me whether or not I was ready to ‘narrow down’ my career choices so early in life. But when I think of going into medicine, I feel as though more doors are being opened than closed: It is such a diverse field. I could teach, volunteer, and work in a large hospital or even practice in a small town—like my parents.”

Meyers, a passionate advocate of Colorado’s BA/BS-MD program, believes that serious Colorado students could greatly benefit from all that the program has to offer.

“It is a great opportunity for a young student from Colorado who wants to become a physician and contribute to the healthcare needs of Coloradans to get into the pipeline to medicine early,” he said. “The program offers a rigorous academic track with additional learning opportunities in research and clinical care and other aspects of medicine. Participants in the program get the advantage of learning with their peers and more—engaging with the diverse college community at the University of Colorado Denver and medical students and others at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.”


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