On the B.A./M.D. fast track

A new program welcomes a diverse group of University freshmen bound for medical school
By Barbara Knox

With last fall’s launch of the new B.A./M.D. Scholars Program at the University of Minnesota, the pathway to medical school just got a lot more direct for 10 of Minnesota’s most promising future physicians.

“At the Medical School, we’re always asking ourselves, ‘What kind of programs can we create for learners in Minnesota to help get them where they want to go?’” says Dimple Patel, M.S., the Medical School’s associate dean of admissions. “This new program, a partnership with CLA [College of Liberal Arts], is a way for Minnesota to retain some of its best and brightest students from widely diverse backgrounds who will ultimately serve others as physicians.”

The new B.A./M.D. model is a so-called 3-4 program: Students spend three years in CLA majoring in one of the two available biological science degrees, then move directly into the four-year Medical School program.

To get in to this new program, students must be invited to apply. Here’s how it works: All freshmen admitted to the U’s College of Liberal Arts are considered for admission to this program. Standout candidates with a strong interest in science and medicine, and evidence of contributions to diversity and inclusion, are invited to apply to the new program. Ultimately, the U asked a select group of those students to come in for a day of interviews, and then accepted the 10 now enrolled in the program.

“Our wholistic review of candidates helped us identify these amazing students,” says Keri Risic, director of enrollment initiatives in the University’s undergraduate Office of Admissions. “Every student selected for this program is very competitive. They had many other college options. We’re delighted to have a program like this that attracts this caliber of student to the U of M.”

These 18- and 19-year-olds already understand what medicine is about and know they want to become doctors. But as Barbara Goodwin, CLA adviser to the students, says, the B.A./M.D. program is designed to offer support, guidance, mentorship, and all the richness of University resources to ensure that they not only get to medical school, but are prepared to step into leadership roles in the future.

“These students are part of the group that’s going to diversify the face of medicine in Minnesota,” she says, “to help solve the health disparity challenges we face.”

Taisha Mikell, M.B.A., M.S., director of pipeline programs for the Medical School, says the B.A./M.D. program shows students a pathway they might otherwise miss.

“These students don’t need a special program because they’re somehow lacking,” Mikell stresses. “They have incredible credentials. But the difference is that students from underrepresented backgrounds don’t always see the pathway. We want to make sure they can realize that dream of putting on the white coat and becoming a physician.”  

Meet the students

Portrait of student Amera Hassan

Amera Hassan

Hometown—Blaine, Minn.
School—Blaine High School
Major—Physiology

“Getting to learn one-on-one from doctors here is amazing. We shadow them, they give us advice and support … it’s everything I could have imagined.”

Ranita Tarchand

Hometown—Farmington, Minn.
School—Farmington High School
Major—Biology, society, and environment 
Minor—Public health

“I knew that I wanted to be a doctor, but I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t the right path. Maybe I’m aiming too high.’ And I think a lot of minority or diverse students have that same feeling because we never see ourselves — I had never met anybody of Caribbean descent who was a doctor. You can’t limit yourself just because you haven’t seen it.”

Portrait of Student Ranita Tarchand
Portrait of student Isaiah Reis

Isaiah Reis

Hometown—New Hope, Minn.
School—Fourth Baptist Christian School
Major—Physiology
Minors—Russian and psychology

“My family does foster care, and we had a few really intense medical foster babies. I helped out a lot with one of them when I was 11. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a doctor.”

Madeleine Berg

Hometown—Cottage Grove, Minn.
School—East Ridge High School
Major—Physiology

“We all want to lift each other up. That’s what this program is all about. That’s the best part for me.”

Portrait of student Madeleine Berg
Portrait of student Milki Gemeda

Milki Gemeda

Hometown—Brooklyn Park, Minn. 
School—Champlin Park High School
Major—Biology, society, and environment
Minor—Public health

“I think it’s pretty cool to brag about how you’re one of 10 people in this cohort. Everyone has their own interests. It’s not competitive at all, but at least I can look at what they’re doing, and say, ‘Dang, I need to start research now. I need to do different things.’ But I think it’s really motivating, and it’s really nice to have the support system.”

Rajiv Dharnipragada 

Hometown—Maple Grove, Minn.
School—Maple Grove High School
Major—Physiology
Minor—Neuroscience

“In this program, you have time to explore your own interests, go out and do service projects, conduct research in world-class facilities, and shadow amazing doctors. And, obviously, being part of this cohort, a community of future leaders of the medical world … there are no minuses.”

Portrait of student rajiv Dharnipragada
Portrait of student Miller Balley

Miller Balley

Hometown—St. Paul, Minn. 
School—DeLaSalle High School
Major—Biology, society, and environment
Minor—Spanish

“The resources in this program are just incredible. The shadowing, clinical experiences, research opportunities, the medical seminar … I wouldn’t have had access to this same quality of resources this early if I had taken the traditional route.”

Tatianna Silverness

Hometown—Duluth, Minn.
School—Duluth East High School
Major—Biology, society, and environment

“I’ve always had an interest in health sciences, and I had a rough idea of the path I wanted to take. I didn’t really understand what this program was all about until I got into it — and it was a life-changing decision. I’m so glad I did this.”

Portrait of student Tatianna Silverness
Portrait of student Alainna Cavin

Alainna Cavin

Hometown—Brooklyn Park, Minn.
School—Maranatha Christian Academy
Major—Biology, society, and environment
Minors—Sociology and Spanish

“It is kind of intimidating at times, being surrounded by so many smart people. But at the same time, it just drives you to be even better. And I think that’s a great preparation for medical school because that’s exactly how it’s going to be. … It makes you evaluate yourself. A lot. Constantly. But for the better.”

Victor Furman

Hometown—Minneapolis
School—South High School
Major—Physiology
Minor—Music

“I take classes in music, so that gives me a break from all of the rigorous science classes. It’s hard, but it’s a different kind of hard. It’s not as intellectually taxing, but it’s emotionally taxing.”

Portrait of student Victor Furman

Published on April 25, 2018

(Photos: Joel Morehouse)