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Grant will help new CU eight-year medical-training track fill Colorado physician gaps

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Author Caitlin Jenney | Publish Date May 18, 2011


The University of Colorado established a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science-Doctor of Medicine (BA/BS-MD) program in 2010 to cultivate more physicians to serve Colorado’s underserved communities. This month, a $1.88 million Colorado Health Foundation grant gives the BA/BS-MD program a critical boost—providing funding for the eight-year curriculum track beginning with undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado Denver Campus, and concluding at the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

This grant, payable over three years, will inspire and enable exceptional Colorado high school students from rural and economically under-resourced backgrounds to pursue the rigorous BA/BS-MD program. The program focuses specifically on readying students for primary care practice.

“The BA/BS-MD program makes a primary care career more viable for young students who have seen firsthand the large and growing health care needs of their own communities,” says Jerry Wartgow, CU Denver chancellor. “The Colorado Health Foundation champions programs that fill Colorado’s health care gaps, and we’re thrilled that they are creating futures for our students.”

The Colorado Health Foundation grant is the largest gift to date for the BA/BS-MD program, a major priority for CU Denver and the state’s only accredited public medical school, the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The program is at the forefront of a growing number of baccalaureate/MD programs nationally that allow students to work toward a physician career from the moment they leave high school. CU Denver’s program is distinct in that it not only addresses student needs, but also the needs of Colorado communities.

Despite CU’s outstanding track record educating high-caliber physicians, medical school demographics here and nationwide do not mirror those of the broader population. Meanwhile, 13 of Colorado’s 64 counties have one or fewer practicing primary care physicians—forcing citizens to travel many miles for quality care. Even in Colorado’s more heavily populated communities, there are many medically underserved pockets due to economic and cultural constraints.

The BA/BS-MD program addresses this need by annually recruiting 10 graduating high school students from diverse Colorado communities, students whose interviews and achievements suggest exceptional enthusiasm and potential for physician careers. They are reserved admission to the School of Medicine pending four successful years on the CU Denver campus: students must maintain an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 or higher each year, participate in a range of program-related activities, and achieve an MCAT score that indicates preparedness for a medical school curriculum.

“The Colorado Health Foundation supports this effort as a result of the deep impact the program is likely to have in diversifying and strengthening Colorado’s future primary care physician workforce,” said Colleen Church, a program officer with the Colorado Health Foundation.

The close relationship between the Denver Campus and Anschutz Medical Campus makes the university an ideal base for the program—which incorporates an extensive undergraduate health careers advising program, and lab opportunities that give undergraduates hands-on access to medical research. The first BA/BS-MD cohort will enter the CU School of Medicine in 2014.

Zane Sternberg was selected as part of the initial 2010-11 cohort, and recently completed his freshmen year at CU Denver. “I have lived on a small ranch outside the rural town of La Veta my entire life,” he says. “Many people have asked me whether or not I was ready to ‘narrow down’ my career choices so early in life. But when I think of going into medicine, I feel as though more doors are being opened than closed: it is such a diverse field. I could teach, volunteer, work in a large hospital, or even practice in a small town—like my parents.”

The CU Foundation has embarked on a fundraising effort to bolster the BA/BS-MD program as part of Creating Futures—the University of Colorado’s $1.5 billion fundraising campaign, announced last month, to support teaching, research, outreach and health programs on CU’s four campuses. For information on the campaign or to support the BA/BS-MD program, visit www.cufund.org.

The Colorado Health Foundation works to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation by investing in grants and initiatives to health-related nonprofits that focus on increasing the number of Coloradans with health insurance, ensuring they have access to quality, coordinated care, and encouraging healthy living. For more information, visit www.coloradohealth.org.