On to Medical School 

First Students in BA/BS-MD Program Arrive



By Mark Couch and Vicki Hildner

(November 2014) This summer the School of Medicine enrolled its first group of students from the University of Colorado Denver’s special BA/BS-MD program.

The matriculation of these seven into the School of Medicine is a milestone in the school’s continuing effort to attract students who have been underrepresented in the medical profession.

“These students are smart and passionate about serving others,” says Charles Ferguson, PhD, director of the Health Professions Programs in the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They understand this program has been a phenomenal opportunity and they have run with it. I have to run to keep up.”

In 2010, the school was offered funding support by the Colorado Health Foundation to establish a program that would attract students from diverse backgrounds. As a result, administrators created the BA/BS-MD program to track selected Colorado high school students through undergraduate studies at CU Denver to acceptance into the School of Medicine.

It’s the promise of a helping hand, but not of a guaranteed seat. Students in the BA/BS-MD program must make the grades and complete the courses that any other aspiring medical-school student would need.

“Our students are not guaranteed anything,” says Regina Richards, MSW, director of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the School of Medicine. “They are provided a structured program that helps them meet the requirements for admission to medical school.”

The program is highly competitive. There were 110 applications for the 10 slots that were offered for the class enrolling at CU Denver in fall 2010, Richards says.

By helping these students with aspirations of becoming physicians, CU Denver aims to increase the number of doctors serving underrepresented populations in Colorado.

“The data are clear—students return to their roots to practice,” Ferguson says. “This is especially true of ethnic minorities and rural students. They will be going into parts of Colorado where there currently are few, if any, physicians. They have the power to be agents of change in the community.”

Zane Sternberg, who grew up in La Veta, says he understands the important role a physician can play in a community.

“We had one family physician in town, so you can really see the need for doctors in a place like Huerfano County,” Sternberg says. “In the city, it’s harder to see the effects one physician can have. In rural Colorado, you appreciate the impact one physician can have.”

The seven students in the first class to progress to the School of Medicine say they feel prepared by the academic guidance and exposure to professional opportunities they’ve received as undergraduate students. The program offers cocurricular workshops, tutoring, internships, mentoring, career-development support, community-service opportunities and scholarships.

“It allows flexibility with your college education,” Leo Zukin says. “It prepared me for a medical career, but at the same time it allowed me to take classes outside the traditional sciences and math, so I took Spanish, computer programming and economics.”

Zukin’s family immigrated to the United States from Belarus when he was 18 months old. His father had been an engineer and he attended CU Denver’s School of Engineering and Applied Science after they arrived in Colorado.

“During college, I’ve had amazing clinical experiences serving refugees who face huge cultural and language gaps in health care,” Zukin says. “It was inspiring to help those in the same position my family was in years ago. Through these experiences, I worked with different clinics and organizations in Denver, and this has motivated me to practice medicine here in the future.”

See profiles of the seven students in the first BA/BS-MD class →

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