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Colorado Undergraduate Summer Program brings students to the CU School of Medicine to learn about biomedical research and careers in the medical field.

Dean Reilly Welcomes Undergraduate Students Interested in Careers in Medicine to Campus

The 14 students are on campus as part of the annual Colorado Undergraduate Summer Program. 

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Written by Greg Glasgow on June 22, 2022

Fourteen undergraduate students interested in medicine from universities around the country got the chance Monday to sit down with University of Colorado School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly Jr. to talk about the future of medicine. 

The students are on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus this summer for the Colorado Undergraduate Summer Program (CUSP), an annual event, now in its 12th year, that brings college students — many from underrepresented backgrounds in medicine — to the CU School of Medicine to learn more about biomedical research and careers in the medical field. CUSP is hosting students again after taking a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The undergraduate students attend daily interactive conferences where they learn about conducting research, research ethics, statistics, publishing papers, grant preparation, professional school application, resume preparation, and careers in biomedical research, medicine, and health professions. The program also gives the students the opportunity to tour and learn about various campus departments, centers, programs, and hospital affiliates, including the Emergency Medicine Department, the Colorado Assessment Practitioner Center (CAPE), which includes robotic instruction and evaluation, the Visible Human Project, the neonatal intensive care units at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Radiology Teaching Unit, and the Colorado Career Counseling Center. 

“The idea was to bring in young people and give them an interest in medicine and medical research early in their careers,” said CUSP founder John E. Repine, MD, director of the Webb-Waring Center and professor of medicine. Repine underscored the importance of CUSP by noting that  “most people who end up being career scientists or physician-scientists started early on.” Repine has secured continuing funding from the NIH, some of the colleges, and generous donors to support CUSP. 

A long way to go 

Reilly shared with the students his own path to medicine, noting that science and patient care have improved greatly since 1981, when he was a pulmonology fellow in Boston treating AIDS patients. At that time, Reilly said, AIDS seemed like a plague that was going to devastate the world, but today, if AIDS patients take their medications, their life expectancy is normal. And while the dawn of personalized medicine and big data influence exciting advances in the world of medicine, he said, there is still much work to be done to ensure that everyone has equal access to health care. 

“In 2022 in the United States of America, your ZIP code is a better predictor of your health and life expectancy than your genetic code is,” he said. “We need to address that as a society.” 

Daniel Ridley, a senior at the University of Washington, said he appreciated hearing someone in a position like Reilly’s talk about the social determinants of health and what doctors can do to address them. 

“That's the stuff I'm really interested in. It's the big reason I wanted to go into medicine, and hearing [Dean Reilly] talk about it, it was like a hundred bucks just fell into my lap,” Ridley said. “I've always been really interested in the intersection of public health and politics and policy, and how we can improve that, and it was awesome to get to hear about that from somebody who does it as their bread and butter.” 

Value of research 

CUSP also assigns each participating student to a research mentor with whom they work on a project over the course of the 10-week program. At the end of the session, the students create a poster that explains their research program and its results. Students are assisting with research on conditions including acute respiratory distress syndrome, interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic kidney disease.  

“I have a great mentor, and being able to contribute to something bigger than myself is an amazing experience,” said Katie Berrian, a junior from Creighton University, adding that she was interested in CUSP because it gave her the opportunity to get more insight into the doctor-patient relationship. 

“Dr. Repine has been amazing at teaching us how to analyze patients from a doctor's perspective and how we can improve our care and build relationships and build trust,” she said.