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Stringent program prepares students
for UConn Medical School
February 22, 1999

They are attending UConn's equivalent of an academic boot camp, and their specialty is carrying a five-course load, including hard science classes in physics, biology, and chemistry.

Formally known as post-baccalaureates, this select group of high-powered students are the beneficiaries of a cooperative program between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Storrs and the Health Center in Farmington, that provides them a chance at medical school they might otherwise not have.

For some students the decision to pursue a career in medicine is made after a bachelor's degree has already been earned. Frequently, these candidates must complete additional course work in the sciences before they are ready to apply to medical school.

Since 1989, the Health Center's admissions committee has admitted between 10 and 12 promising applicants each year into the post-baccalau reate program, to assist them in preparing for medical school, says Keat Sanford, dean of admissions at the Health Center and director of the post-baccalaureate program.

More than 100 other medical schools offer pre-med programs nationwide, but UConn's is specifically tailored to providing state residents with an alternative route to medical school.

"We developed the program during a period when applications to medical school were declining. We saw this as a way to increase our pool of applicants and attract a greater number of non-traditional student groups to consider medicine," Sanford said.

Stressing that the program is not designed to retread pre-meds who don't make it into medical school, Sanford adds that the Health Center Admissions Committee is very selective and the bar to entry in the post-baccalaureate program is very high.

During the academic year these students will have to complete between 18 and 22 credit hours per semester of approved coursework based on their academic needs. All post-bacs (as students in the program are typically called), fall into one of two categories, Sanford says. The "A" group are students starting from scratch, who have taken few if any science courses and are returning to school as a way to have a career in medicine. Students in group "B" include those who have taken pre-med courses, but view the post-bac program as a way to beef-up their science grades, he explained.

The GPA scores of the A group students entering the program average 3.5, with SAT test scores in the range of 1280, he said. After a year in the program, "their GPAs move into 3.9 territory, while on the Medical CAT (the medical school SAT exam), they are in the terrain of 30 total score," Sanford says.

Similarly for the "B" group, entry GPA scores average 3.3 with MCAT scores at 26, he said. After their post-bac experience, the average GPA jumps to 3.7 and the MCAT scores to 29.

"We start out with a very strong group to begin with," Sanford says, "so once they pass through our program, their odds of admission into medical school improve."

Over the life of the post-baccalaureate program, "some 85 percent of our students have been successful and gone on to medical school," he says. "Most have decided to come to the Health Center. We are very satisfied with the caliber and progress of the students over the years."

While the academic work load of the program is difficult, it is other kinds of transitions, which most post-bac students go through, that make their return to campus and student life even more difficult.

"Most of our post-bacs enter the program with professional experiences immediately relevant to their life's goal," observes Debra Kendall, a professor of molecular and cell biology, who is one of two faculty mentors working with the post-bac students at Storrs. Their intense motivation, coupled with the robust academic work load and high stakes to do well, "provides a difficult psychological challenge as well as an academic one. Life becomes like boot camp," Kendall says. "To begin to attend classes again - often large classes of 150 students at a different stage of their life - can often be a difficult transition.

"I give them enormous credit for their dedication,"she says. "The rigor is actually an important part of the post-bac year. It makes sure these students will not be overwhelmed by the challenges they're certain to meet in this profession."

Chemistry professor John Tanaka, who serves as the other post-bac student adviser at Storrs, concurs.

It's important that the students have a lot of "difficult hoops to jump through," says Tanaka. "I want to make sure they are competent; I want to see whether they can make the grade or not. When your life is at stake in the hospital, you want to be able to count on the doctor."

On the other hand, Kendall stresses the tremendous benefit to faculty having post-bac students in one of their classes. "Over and over, I hear professors talk about how the post-bac students stay in labs to help other undergrads get through their exercises, stimulate discussions, raise the level of classroom exchange," she says.

"The postbac program is like a golden nugget that links Storrs and the Health Center in a very positive way," adds Kendall. "They get excellent, well prepared students, and we get the joy of working with exceptional students at the undergrad level and benefit from their maturity and sense of

David Bauman