Many college students enter their freshman year unsure of what they want to major in, let alone what they’ll do after they graduate. Then there are students like Hussna Yasini, who entered her first year of college at the University of Colorado Denver knowing she could earn a reserved spot at the CU School of Medicine after she completed her undergraduate studies.
Now a second-year medical student, Yasini came to CU as part of the BA/BS-MD degree program, a partnership between the CU Denver and CU Anschutz Medical campuses that aims to increase the diversity of professionals practicing medicine in Colorado. The pipeline program identifies promising high school students with an interest in medicine — many from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine — then enrolls them in a premedical curriculum at CU Denver, providing an academic learning community and comprehensive premedical counseling and resources along the way. Students can earn a reserved spot at the CU School of Medicine after graduation, provided they meet academic requirements and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
“The program does not guarantee admission to medical school at the time of starting undergraduate studies, but this is a rigorous pathway that gets them to a position where their chances of going to medical school are really good,” says Matthew Taylor, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and co-director of the BA/BS-MD degree program. “We recruit students who are academically performing very well and have an interest in health care, and we help them identify and cultivate the skills and qualities that are necessary to make them be successful.”
Set up for success
Through the pipeline program, students have access to boot camps, special lectures, journal clubs, research and leadership training, CU Anschutz campus visits, MCAT preparation courses, and more throughout their undergraduate career.
The goal is to set students in the program up for success once they start medical school and initiate a relationship with the Anschutz Medical Campus during their undergraduate years.
“We even were able to sit in on a couple of medical school lectures while we were still undergraduates,” Yasini says. “A lot of medical students are from out of state, and their interview process was during COVID, so they had never even seen the campus. But I knew where everything was on my first day. It was really great to get that early exposure to the campus and to medical school.”
A less traditional path
The BA/BS-MD program has its roots in a Colorado Health Foundation initiative aimed at training more primary care physicians who would remain in Colorado after their training. After that the program was founded with that initial funding, its focus expanded to include recruiting students from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds — including rural students, those with limited economic and educational resources, LGBTQ students, and racial and ethnic minorities — into careers in medicine.
“There's a clear recognition that the population of individuals who go to medical school nationally does not necessarily mirror the population of patients we aim to serve,” Taylor says. “If one or both of a student’s parents are professionals, if they are well off economically, if they live in a neighborhood that has lots of resources, if they go to an outstanding high school — if they want to go to medical school, they can go to medical school. We're looking for some students who have a variety of different stories and paths, including students who haven't considered a career in health care until high school.”
The program enrolls up to 10 new first-year college students each year, putting them through a rigorous application and interview process. Applicants must be Colorado residents and have an interest in serving the health care needs of Colorado when they become primary care physicians.
Students from the program’s first cohort are just now finishing their residencies, Taylor says, and he’s excited to see where their careers will go from here.
For Yasini, who just started a year of clinical training at Salud Family Health Center in Aurora, the BA/BS-MD program was an invaluable resource when it came to preparing for medical school, as well as her planned future medical career providing care for immigrants and refugees.
“The program focuses a lot on the things that I care about, and it set us up with a lot of opportunities to be exposed to those things and work with those patient populations,” she says. “A lot of the things they’re teaching us in medical school about diversity and inclusion, immigrant health and global health — you don't learn that in undergrad, unless you're in a structured program like this. It's been it's been very helpful in helping us become well-rounded physicians.”