Pipeline for undergrads to attend medical school

Joshua Dorsey of Carrollton says he became fascinated with the medical profession when he was still in diapers.

“I was 2 years old when I started saying I wanted to be a doctor,” Dorsey said. “I was too young to know exactly what that meant, but my Mom says I was always very excited to see my doctors. I think my desire to become a doctor has always been there.”

Now, with the help of a new pipeline program that began Aug. 19 at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, 18-year-old Dorsey is on his way toward earning a bachelor of science and a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia in eight years. And plans are already underway to reduce the program length to seven years next year.

Here’s how it works. Georgia Regents University’s B.S./M.D. program targets high-achieving high school students who want a career in medicine and who wish to attend Georgia’s only public medical school. This year, five incoming freshmen have been selected for the program: Dorsey, Keerthana Bathala of Alpharetta, Pradeep Devarapalli of Suwanee, Vidya Medepalli of Gainesville and Matthew Alber of Roswell.

“Students who are accepted into this program must be academically outstanding, effective communicators, and they will show promise to be successful,” said Dr. Paul Wallach, vice dean for academic affairs at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University. “They will have a GPA of 3.7 or above from a rigorous high school program, a math-plus-verbal SAT (score) of 1400 and (be) good citizens in their community.”

Qualifying for the B.S./M.D. program is difficult, but the incentive to do well is a big one. Students who meet certain benchmarks during their undergraduate coursework are guaranteed a seat at the Medical College of Georgia after their fourth year and won’t have to go through the usual admissions process after their third year of college. That’s significant, since more than 2,800 students applied for 230 first-year slots at MCG in 2013 alone.

The required benchmarks, according to Dr. Richard Griner, chairs of the school’s department of biological sciences, include a minimum 3.5 GPA by the end of their sophomore year – two years before entering medical school; at least a 3.6 GPA by the end of their junior year – one year before entering medical school; a final undergraduate GPA of at least 3.7; a minimum score of 31 on the Medical College Admission Test, with no single numeric score of less than 8; completing required research, volunteer work and career shadowing; and successful completion of an interview.

The students will receive opportunities for counseling, MCAT preparation, and other clinical or research experience during their undergraduate years, and they will earn bachelors’ degrees in cellular or molecular biology or chemistry through the College of Science and Mathematics.

Wallach said that other medical schools across the country offer similar programs, but it’s the first of its kind in the University System of Georgia. He helped develop a program at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and believes the B.S./M.D. program is a natural progression after Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities consolidated in January to become Georgia Regents University.

GRU is one of four public research universities in the state, enrolling nearly 10,000 students in nine colleges and schools, including the Medical College of Georgia.

“We are delighted to be offering this program in Georgia,” Wallach said. “There are people who will tell you that there is no way a 17-year-old knows that they want to be a doctor, and I don’t think that’s always true. I was 12 when I felt medicine was the best way for me to impact the lives of others. It was my way of going into the world and making a difference.

“In the end, this program will bring a small number of people into medical school. We don’t look down on people who discover medicine later on as part of their college experience. But, for a small group of students who know at a relatively early age that going to medical school is their goal, this is a great program. It provides an opportunity for goal-directed students to have a clear path to a career in medicine.”

Dorsey agrees.

“I’ve always enjoyed school, and I knew I’d have to be my best in school and take any opportunity I could find to prepare for medical school,” he said.

Dorsey attended Central High School in Carrollton during his first two years of high school, then transferred to the Advanced Academy of Georgia at the University of West Georgia, a residential program that allows high school scholars to take college-level courses. Dorsey had planned to enroll at the University of Georgia this fall until he learned there was an opening in GRU’s B.S./M.D. program.

“I called this my whirlwind summer,” Dorsey said. “All of the programs (at Georgia Regents University) sounded right for me. I applied the same week I heard about the program, applied for financial aid and then I got a President’s Scholarship that pays for everything. I’m really excited about the opportunity.”

GRU officials will expand the B.S./M.D. model to other degree programs. The College of Dentistry at GRU will launch a similar B.S./D.M.D. program in fall 2014. A priority admission program for physical therapy students in the undergraduate honors program is also under development.

Priority deadline for fall 2014 admission to Georgia Regents University is Dec. 1. Students who meet this deadline and who are eligible for the B.S./M.D. program or the new B.S./D.M.D program will be invited to go through the selection process. While the medical pipeline programs are highly selective, any student who is interested in health science careers is encouraged to register for tours of the campus or to go to the university’s website (www.gru.edu/admissions) for more information on admission criteria.