UTSA, Health Science Center tackle physician shortage with B.S.-M.D. degree program

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(June 9, 2011)--To address the shortage of primary care physicians in South Texas and to improve the preparation and training of those physicians, The University of Texas at San Antonio and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will offer jointly a unique pilot program starting in fall 2013 that will allow students to obtain their Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in biology and their Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from the institutions in seven years. The program's first students are expected to graduate in 2020 with their medical degrees.

The combined degree program is part of a UT System initiative to transform medical education. The new program will increase the effectiveness and relevance of pre-doctoral physician education while shortening its duration and decreasing its cost.

"It currently takes an aspiring physician eight years to earn a bachelor's degree and a medical degree, which does not include the medical residency," said George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. "In those eight years, the average student amasses more than $140,000 in medical school debt. Forty percent of those students also have undergraduate debt."

The combined degree program will include traditional science coursework, team-taught courses, innovative seminar courses, the medical school curriculum and a continuum throughout the program. Additionally, the curriculum will include instruction in humanities, patient safety and effectiveness, public health and evidence-based practice, philosophy, economics, and language and culture.

"Addressing the physician shortage in Texas will take many forms and this program is an important one," said Francisco Gonzalez-Scarano, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at the Health Science Center. "This type of program has been proven at other schools to be an excellent career path. It will be a valuable option for those students who are focused on medical school as they leave high school. Furthermore, if this program is eventually expanded, shortening the time required in order to become a physician will have an important effect on the physician shortage in Texas."

Students will study at UTSA for three years to earn the bachelor's degree in biology. Courses will include medical school preparation such as biology, chemistry, genetics, physiology and others offered by the UTSA College of Sciences and undergraduate courses required by Texas.

The pilot program also includes UTSA's "Exploring Health Professions" course, an introduction to a wide variety of health professions with a focus on the medical humanities and ethics, and thematic "Gateway to Health Care" courses, semester-long courses teaching students to examine public health issues through multiple lenses. Students in a gateway course on obesity, for example, would explore the issue from public health, economic, cultural, behavioral, humanistic, ethical, spiritual, relationship and medical perspectives. To matriculate to the Health Science Center, UTSA students would take the MCAT and earn a minimum score of 27.

Students will begin their studies at the Health Science Center in their fourth year. Upon matriculation, pilot program participants will be integrated with the Health Science Center's incoming medical school class. Moreover, they will have access to all available resources from theuUniversity's Office of Academic Enhancement. UTSA will award the students their Bachelor of Science degree in biology after they complete their fourth year in the program.

In addition to the prescribed medical curriculum, instruction at the Health Science Center will include the ethical and professional values of medicine such as empathy, excellence altruism and integrity. Students also will receive training in communication, leadership and health economics.

Additionally, community service learning will be central to the pilot combined degree program. Throughout the seven-year program, students will interact with diverse patient populations. Program partners will include the San Antonio Metro Ministries (SAMM) Shelter, Alpha Home, Seton Home, Haven for Hope and Ronald McDonald House.

To help students succeed, the program will include a mentorship component. Primary care role models and educators will meet regularly with students individually and in groups, in-person and online. The mentorships will help students develop their professional identities. Assessments will gauge each candidate's maturation, experiences and reflection.

It is estimated that 75 percent of the students who enroll in the pilot B.S.-M.D. program will complete it. Consequently, the program will include exit points that will allow the remaining students to pursue a variety of majors or pre-health professions with little to no loss of course credits. At the end of the program, the Health Science Center and UTSA will report a variety of measurements to the UT System including the reaction of the program's students, their learning, their performance and the impact of the program.

Principal leaders in accomplishing the B.S./M.D. seven-year program include David Henzi, director of academic enhancement, UT Health Science Center School of Medicine; Hans Heidner, UTSA professor and assistant chair of biology; and Alan Vince, director of the UTSA Health Professions Office.

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About The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country's leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university's schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg.

About The University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the fastest growing higher education institutions in Texas and one of nine academic universities and six health institutions in the UT System. As a multicultural institution, UTSA aims to be a national research university providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA serves more than 30,300 students in 130 degree programs in the colleges of architecture, business, education and human development, engineering, honors, liberal and fine arts, public policy, sciences and graduate school. Founded in 1969, UTSA is an intellectual and creative resource center and a socioeconomic development catalyst for Texas and beyond.