Dual med school degree coming

The University of Nevada School of Medicine will launch a program this fall to attract more students into the field and give them an opportunity to complete undergraduate work one year earlier than usual.

Developed for ace biology and science students, the goal of the bachelor of science/doctor of medicine program is to produce highly qualified medical doctors in a shorter period than it would take to complete the two degrees separately, said Dr. John McDonald, School of Medicine dean.

The program is also an effort to bolster the number of students enrolled in the School of Medicine, and the number of practicing physicians in Nevada, he said.

In May, 52 students graduated from the School of Medicine. Officials hope to double that number in the near future by increasing the undergraduate medical school class to 100 students.

Cheryl Hug-English, associate dean of admissions and student affairs, said the School of Medicine has already increased its class by 20 percent in the past two years.

Under this accelerated program, students will complete three years of undergraduate course work and then move on to complete one year of medical school. They will be awarded a bachelor of science degree after successful completion of that first year of medical school, she said.

The students will then earn a medical degree after completion of three additional years of medical school.

Nevada’s medical school has teamed with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ and the University of Nevada, Reno’s biology and biochemistry departments for the program, Hug-English said.

The School of Medicine is Nevada’s only public medical school.

“Our focus is to attract bright and talented students at the preliminary stage — in high school,” she said. “We want to get them sooner rather than later because many might be considering medical school at first, but then decide later into their undergraduate program that it might be too daunting to continue on into medicine.”

Hug-English said some students need a taste of what medical school is like before they make their decision to go.

More than 40 medical schools across the nation offer dual undergraduate/medical degrees, including the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Erin A. Quinn, associate dean of admissions for USC’s medical school, said the institution’s Baccalaureate/M.D. dual program was started about 15 years ago and has proven successful for a number of reasons. First, she said, it gives students whose parents have forced them to go into medical school an opportunity to get an undergraduate degree in another field such as journalism, the arts or history.

Also, it gives students an “ace in the hole,” in the event they don’t get accepted into another medical school.

“They know coming into their undergraduate programs that they are already accepted into our medical school,” she said. “Our seniors are free to send their applications to other medical schools across the country, but there’s still a place for them here.”

USC’s program is not accelerated. Students accepted into this program must complete four years of undergraduate courses and four years of medical school to earn the dual degree.

Quinn said the school accepts 30 to 40 students into the program each year and encourages students interested in the humanities.

“You really want people who are well-rounded and able to communicate,” Quinn said. “That’s one of the reasons the program isn’t accelerated. It’s not meant to speed things along.”

Quinn said the Keck School of Medicine receives roughly 500 applications from interested high school seniors each year for the dual-degree program. About 100 are brought in and interviewed by a subcommittee. That number is eventually trimmed to about 40 students being accepted, she said.

The University of Toledo College of Medicine offers a dual program that’s similar to the Nevada program, said Scott Molitor, associate professor and undergraduate program director. Toledo’s B.S./M.D. program started in fall 1998 through its bioengineering department.

Students graduated from the undergraduate program in spring 2002, then entered the College of Medicine in fall 2002. They graduated with their medical degrees in spring 2006, he said in an e-mail.

The school’s B.S./M.D. program in the arts and sciences started in fall 2006.

“The benefit of this program is that we provide students a nearly guaranteed admission to medical school,” Molitor said. “For the community, this attracts some very talented students to apply and enter our medical school. The hope is that they will remain here for residency and for full-time practice once they are board- licensed.”

Hug-English said the School of Medicine plans to open its program to 12 students this fall — six from UNLV and six from UNR.

Depending on how well the program is received, it could be expanded.

Interested high school seniors will have to meet certain academic criteria and undergo an interview by a subcommittee of faculty and medical school students.

Hug-English said the School of Medicine will begin sending information about the B.S./M.D. program soon. That includes an application form that is being finalized.

Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0283.

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