New program accelerates medical education

UH has partnered with two leading Texas medical schools to create a program to shorten the time it takes for students to become doctors.

University of Texas Medical Branch and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will join UH in an effort to guide medical students on a fast-track path that reduces their time in school to seven years from the usual eight.

“There are several programs that some universities have like this already, so Dr. Khator decided we needed to create one of our own, so we did,” said professor Simon Bott, director of Undergraduate Affairs and Advising for the Department of Chemistry.

The program will allow 10 hand-picked students to earn credit hours toward a Bachelor of Science degree at UH as well as a doctorate of Medicine from one of the two collaborating medical schools. These students will spend three rigorous years at The Honors College preparing to enter medical school during what would have been their senior year. The first class is set to start in fall 2013.

“We pretty much know already who those students will be because we interviewed some of the candidates at the start of Spring Break,” Bott said. “Most students are not the ones who would think about staying in Texas for med school. These are students of the caliber to go off to Ivy League schools.”

“We are attracting that kind of person to stay in Texas, and the way we do it is by saying, ‘Hey, you come here and bust your butt, and we will make absolutely sure you get to med school faster.’ You can’t say that to too many people.”

In addition to taking rigorous science and math courses, the students will enroll in a two-semester capstone honors course called The Human Situation, which will provide an open conversation about the most important issues for human beings, according to a UH press release.

Students will also minor in the Medicine and Society program at The Honors College. This will support an interdisciplinary understanding of health and health care through academic courses, research, student internships, scholarly and public conferences, visiting speakers and fieldwork that will include domestic travel and opportunities to study abroad, according to the release.

During this time, they will be able to get exposure to medical school from the moment they enter the program.

“We will be interacting with these students from day one,” said Dr. Latanya J. Love, assistant dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at UTHealth. “They will have the opportunity to come on to our medical school campus, interact with our medical students and faculty and also to do preceptor shifts with some of our faculty members in the medical center starting from their first year of undergrad. That is what makes this program a little unique.”

Love said the program’s initiative is to get hardworking students to become doctors faster and realize the great local schools and opportunities they have, especially since there is a health care shortage in Texas.

“Our hope is that we are getting some of the best and brightest students at UH,” Love said. “It will get them out in seven years, and it will be nice to get physicians working in less time but with the same quality. One of our goals in the medical school is to produce doctors who ultimately will want to practice in our great state of Texas.”

A condensed medical education in less than eight years is something generally accepted around the world, and the U.S. is jumping on the bandwagon, said Steven Lieberman, vice dean for Academic Affairs for UTMB.

“We are excited about this joint program with the University of Houston as it helps to open a career in medicine to students who might have been deterred by longer, more expensive schooling,” Lieberman said.

The program benefits UH by not only attracting extremely bright students to participate, Bott said, but also will ultimately help students who are not enrolled in the program.

“An awful lot of our students go on to medical school,” Bott said. “The more relationships we can build with the medical schools close to us, the better it can create opportunities for the rest of our students in the future.”

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