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Paving Paths for The Underrepresented In Health Professions

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The UTRGV School of Medicine's pipeline programs, Vaquero's MD and the Joint Admissions Medical Program (JAMP) welcomed an estimated 30 students for their summer program. (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez) 
The UTRGV School of Medicine’s pipeline programs, Vaquero’s MD and the Joint Admissions Medical Program (JAMP) welcomed an estimated 30 students for their summer program. (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez) 

Mega Doctor News

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By Saira Cabrera 

EDINBURG, Texas – Through two pipeline programs – the Vaqueros MD Early Assurance Program formed by UTRGV and the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) created by the Texas Legislature – the UTRGV School of Medicine increasingly is recruiting talented and diverse students to learn more about medical careers and grant them the opportunity to attend medical school. 

Both early assurance programs eliminate the added stressors of the acceptance process, and the School of Medicine is working to encourage and provide resources for highly qualified and diverse students to pursue a medical education. 

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“Anybody who wants to apply to medical school should really feel that they can,” said Dr. Cristel Escalona, M.D., UTRGV School of Medicine division chief and assistant professor for the Department of Pediatrics. “The pipeline programs are good because you don’t have to be one of 7,000 applicants. It’s great to have that early assurance that if you are a good student and keep your grades up, you have an accepted seat into a school of medicine without being one of several thousand.” 

SUMMER 2022 

During the 2022 Summer Semester, 29 undergraduate students participated in the Pipeline Summer Program session, with 20 JAMPers and nine Vaqueros MD participants.

That means nearly 30 students have assurance that they can attend medical school if they meet the criteria for admissions when they graduate. In addition, the students receive the added resources of scholarships like Luminary Scholars, free summer lectures to prepare for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Tests), UTRGV Tuition Advantagefinancial aid, preceptorships, shadowing and internships with UTHealth RGV physicians, and access to other services in the Honors College.

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Guillermo Canedo, program manager for Student Affairs at the UTRGV School of Medicine, shared the difference between the two pipeline programs. The most notable is that JAMP is funded by the state, and student participants get to decide what medical school they want to attend when they graduate, versus Vaqueros MD students, who have an assured seat specifically at the UTRGV School of Medicine. (Those who participated in the summer program have yet to graduate from their undergrad studies.)

“The 20 JAMP students in the summer program get to decide what medical school they want to attend. Usually, at the UTRGV School of Medicine, we could get three or four of the many students in the JAMP program. Ultimately, the JAMPers will decide where they want to attend among the 13 participating Texas medical schools,” Canedo said. “For the other nine Vaqueros MD students in the summer program, they do get a guaranteed seat, if they meet all the requirements, at our school of medicine.”

VAQUEROS MD 

Most of the students in the pipeline program applied because it allows them to learn more about medical careers and grants them the opportunity to attend medical school without the added stressors of the acceptance process.

For many of the Valley students who are part of the Vaqueros MD program, the convenience of being close to home is essential. 

Aisha Sharif, a UTRGV biology major and a Vaqueros MD participant, finds it necessary to serve the Harlingen community where she was born and raised.

Aisha Sharif, a UTRGV biology major and Vaqueros MD participant (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez) 

“In the Valley, we see high rates of diabetes and obesity, and that’s what drew me to medicine,” Sharif said. “What better way to give back? I can train in the place where I plan to stay, and through a career in medicine, I can impact my community and advocate for preventive medicine.”

Like other Vaquero MD students, Sharif believes giving back and staying close to home is of great importance. 

 “I know that the process of going through medical school is challenging, with a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Sharif said. “Having my family, my support system, close is important to me.”

JAMP

Jeremiah Crowder, a native of Tyler, Texas, and a junior biochemistry student at the University of North Texas, applied to JAMP because it provided the means to pursue a career in medicine, and the resources to learn about the field and get accepted to medical school.

Jeremiah Crowder, JAMP participant and junior biochemistry student at the University of North Texas (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez)

“I joined JAMP because of the support system I would get. Andthat’s what JAMP is for – to serve the underserved and provide resources that help when applying to medical school,” Crowder said. “I now have this resource to learn from great people and go to different medical schools. I wouldn’t have had that if I were not part of this program.” 

Like Crowder, JAMPer Jedidiah Feyisetan, a native of Lancaster, Texas, and a nutrition and human science sophomore at Texas Tech University, feels the program is key to getting an assured spot in medical school.

Jedidiah Feyisetan, JAMP participant and nutrition and human science sophomore at Texas Tech University (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez) 

“I joined JAMP because it’s an opportunity for me to get into medical school and reach the career I want to get into,” Feyisetan said. “It’ll be hard work, but also a lot of fun. Mostly, it’s a chance to learn many different things about this career path. I feel like this is the best way to go as a path to the medical career I want.”

CLOSE-KNIT GROUP 

Being part of a close-knit group, where students know their professors and mentors at a closer level, also resonates with students in the pipeline programs. 

“The faculty here are very engaged. They know every student by name,” said Jake Lanoue, a UTRGV biology major and a Vaqueros MD participant matriculating in 2023. “I walk in and they know me. They see you right away and answer every question you might have.”

Jake Lanoue, UTRGV biology major, and a Vaqueros MD participant who will be matriculating in 2023. (UTRGV Photo by Raul Gonzalez)

With overall smaller class sizes at the UTRGV School of Medicine, instruction opportunities are much more personalized.

“I think if your faculty knows you, it makes it easier to receive assistance and guidance,” said Lanoue said, who was born and raised in Harlingen. “Being more one-on-one helps, and it can ease those students who might be away from home for the first time. It’s a feeling of being at home, given the hospitality the faculty can provide.”

Escalona said that, the UTRGV School of Medicine’s class sizes in general were designed to be small. 

“We can get to know everybody when we are small. We get to know all our students extremely well,” she said.

The student participants agree that being part of the programs grants opportunities for those who may have thought medical school was out of reach.  

“Everyone should apply. You get straight into med school,” Lanoue said. “Try your best to apply, because it helps in the process of becoming a doctor. This makes it more accessible.” 

The online application for the 2023 cohort is now open, with the closing date set for March 3, 2023. 

For more information on the School of Medicine early assurance programs, visit Vaqueros MD and the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP)

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