Pathway to success

Nevada's accelerated med school admission program benefits the state

Pathway to success

Nevada's accelerated med school admission program benefits the state

Troy Shields was set on a business career. Until the day in high school he shadowed a surgeon. That one experience instantly changed his mind and set him on the path to become a physician.

After completing the majority of the requirements for a bachelor of science degree in biology in just three years, Shields entered the University of Nevada School of Medicine this fall as part of the first cohort of medical students admitted under the new "BS-MD" program for accelerated admission.

The innovative BS-MD program offers a seven-year accelerated pathway for a small number of motivated, mature high school seniors intending to pursue a career in medicine. The ultimate goal of the BS-MD program is to keep Nevada's brightest and best high school students in-state for their higher education by offering an accelerated incentive: complete both degrees in seven years instead of the usual eight.

"We have seen these types of exceptional students for a long time, but there hasn't been a mechanism for them to get what they want beyond the undergraduate degree," said Jeff Thompson, dean of the University's College of Science. "They came here wanting to get their medical degrees and we've taken a year off that process. This is a wonderful opportunity for us as these kids could've gone anywhere in the country."

Thompson added that since Nevada was losing these exceptional high school students to other states, he got together with former deans of the School of Medicine and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources to try and stem the "brain drain," and thus conceived the BS-MD program back in 2007.

Students accepted into the BS-MD program complete the first three years of the required undergraduate curriculum at the University, followed by the traditional four years of medical school. Students are awarded their bachelor degree after successful completion of the first year of medical school (credits earned in the first year of medical school are transferred back to complete the bachelor degree) and are then awarded the medical degree after completing all medical school requirements.

The BS-MD program extends to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this fall with the first group of students entering the biological sciences undergraduate major.

Shields, Emily Huang, Ashley Gray, Matt Klippenstein, and Stacy Wong are the first group of University of Nevada, Reno students who completed their undergraduate studies through the BS-MD program last spring. All but Klippenstein, who will take an additional year to earn a minor in business, matriculated to the School of Medicine this summer as part of the Class of 2015.

Shields, who graduated from Douglas High School in 2008, is excited about becoming a physician, because the career offers what he enjoys: a fast-paced, hands-on opportunity to use problem-solving skills.
"It is everything I want to do," he said. "The light bulb just went on that first day in clinic with Dr. Jeff Cummings of Tahoe Fracture and Orthopedic Medical Clinic."

So why choose the University and the School of Medicine? For Shields, the decision was easy: he wanted to stay local. He participated in the "best and brightest" tour where he learned that the BS-MD was being offered at the University to biology and biochemistry undergraduate majors. He knew it was for him.

"They are setting you up for success at medical school," he explained.

Neuroscience and chemistry have since been added to the undergraduate programs eligible for the BS-MD track at the University.

Gina Sella and Ann Diggins, director of recruitment and student services, coordinate the BS-MD program for the School of Medicine. Sella said all the BS-MD students are very strong on paper (top 10 percent of their high school graduating class); have exemplary SAT, ACT and MCAT scores; are mature and motivated toward medicine and displayed patience as the program evolved and grew with them.

She said the BS-MD students have all had Advanced Placement, honors or International Baccalaureate coursework in high school. They competed on high school athletic teams, played in the band, are fluent in foreign languages and completed extensive community service and volunteer work prior to college. Among their ranks are a National Merit Scholar, a mechanic, a professional figure skater, a black belt and a presidential campaign worker.

Sella serves as the students' pre-med advisor setting up their clinical shadowing experience which is required for medical school application, and helping students with issues ranging from professionalism, ethics and cultural diversity to academics. Ranna Nash, a learning skills specialist at the School of Medicine, tutors these students and prepares them to take the MCAT exam.

Sella collaborates with undergraduate major advisors and credits Christie Howard, associate professor of biochemistry; Carol Ort, emerita faculty in the biology department; Elena Pravosudova, associate professor and vice chair of biology and Tamara Valentine, director of the honors program, for their help in ensuring the academic progress and success of the BS-MD students.

This fall, there are 32 students enrolled statewide in the BS-MD program between the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

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