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  November 13, 2000

New Program to Offer a Pipeline to Medical,
Dental Schools for Top High School Students

Among last year's applicants to UConn was a particularly talented young woman from a Connecticut high school who had set her heart on a medical career. Based on her outstanding grades and range of accomplishments, she was offered a Nutmeg Scholarship, a full four-year scholarship at the University. Yet she chose instead to go to Lehigh University and pay the fees, because she was offered combined admission to Philadelphia's Hahnemann Medical Center on completion of her bachelor's degree.

Her application came a year too soon. This year, UConn is launching a program that will offer combined admission to the University's Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine for a handful of top students interested in a career in medicine or dentistry.

UConn will join about 30 colleges around the country that offer a combined BA/BSc and MD/DMD program and guarantee admission to medical or dental school for students straight out of high school, provided they meet the requirements of matriculation into the appropriate professional program.

"This is an exciting opportunity for students who are gifted, highly focused, and genuinely interested in becoming a physician or dentist," says M. Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management.

Edward A. Thibodeau, assistant dean for admissions at the Dental School, says, "We're always looking for the most highly qualified students, and this is a way to attract them."

The program, which will be open to students nationwide but will give preference to those from Connecticut, will admit a handful of students who aspire to be physicians or have ambitions to go into dentistry.

"The numbers are small," Evanovich says, "but this is a tremendous opportunity to keep the most talented students in Connecticut."

He acknowledges that over the years UConn has lost a number of highly talented students in the absence of such a program. Last year's loss of a potential Nutmeg Scholar to Lehigh added urgency to arrangements that were already underway, he says.

In addition to the promise of admission to medical or dental school, the program involves a number of academic components. All the participants will be in the honors program. They will take a prescribed series of classes and will be advised by a group that will include an honors advisor, a general advisor, and a faculty member from the Medical or Dental School.

This approach to advising is intended to ensure the students receive a broad-based education, supplemented with research and clinical opportunities on the Storrs campus and in Farmington, Evanovich says.

"There will be special programming to include interaction with physicians and dentists at the Health Center to make sure there is the right fit, maturity, and social consciousness,

for these students to become good doctors," he says.

Keat Sanford, director of admissions at the Medical School, says, "In addition to a strong academic record, we want to see that students have thought seriously about medicine as a career and availed themselves of opportunities for volunteering or shadowing."

Clinical experience and community service are among the qualifications the Medical School looks for in applicants, he adds.

Although some similar programs elsewhere in the country are accelerated six- or seven-year programs, UConn has opted for a full eight-year program.

"A group of us here at the Medical School believe there are benefits to providing students a full opportunity for a liberal arts education," Sanford says. "We do not want to shortchange any developing young professionals of the opportunity to expand on their academic and interpersonal skills while in undergraduate school."

The program will be open only to students entering the University from high school. Other undergraduates who hope to study medicine or dentistry will still be able to join the pre-med/pre-dentistry program and apply the traditional way.

Of the 80 or so students admitted to the Medical School each year, 10-15 percent on average are graduates of UConn. The Dental School admits about 40 students, of whom perhaps two or three may hold a UConn degree.

Sanford says he doesn't expect the new combined admissions program to make medical school any more competitive for UConn students applying in the traditional way. They will continue to be considered along with applicants from other schools in the state and around the country. Both the Medical School and the Dental School give preference to Connecticut residents.

Officials expect guidance counselors to welcome the new program. "High school counselors have been asking us for the past few years to create this type of program," says Evanovich.

Ed Generali, director of guidance at Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, says the program will be an exciting opportunity for students. "The University of Connecticut is already such a popular institution with our students," he says, "and to add the prospect of medical school at the end will be a great draw."

But is high school too early for students to decide on a career? Not necessarily, according to Generali. He says many high-achieving students are very goal-oriented, and "this would take some of the pressures off them four years down the road."

Among those who do eventually go on to Medical School, a significant number had already identified their future career before graduating from high school, says Sanford. "About 50 percent of students who matriculate in Medical School indicate that they made up their minds to pursue a career in medicine while in high school."

Still, he says, the program will not discourage participants from exploring other areas. "We recognize that students are exposed to a lot of new challenging, exciting areas in undergraduate school. If they develop interests in other areas, we're perfectly supportive."

Wayne Locust, director of undergraduate admissions, says he expects the program to have a "halo effect" that will help attract high-achieving students to the University. "A number of students will see that we have this program and apply to UConn because of that," he says. "They may not make the final cut for combined admission, but we will be able to expose them to UConn and maybe keep them interested in us."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu