(May 23, 2013) -- To alleviate the shortage of physicians in South Texas, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio this spring accepted the first students into a seven-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology degree and Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree program. It traditionally takes eight years to earn both degrees.
The first 20 students in the FAME (Facilitated Acceptance to Medical Education) Program will start at UTSA this fall and are expected to graduate from the UT Health Science Center in 2020 with their medical degrees. FAME will increase the effectiveness and relevance of pre-doctoral physician education, while shortening its duration and decreasing its cost.
Voelcker Scholar in first class
FAME inductee Brianna Bal, 18, will graduate this month from St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio. Three summers of scientific preparation as a Voelcker Scholar at the UT Health Science Center helped prepare her for this new chapter. The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund's Biomedical Research Academy provides an immersive biomedical research education and college preparatory program at the Health Science Center for high school students. As a Voelcker Scholar, Bal studied a compound called rapamycin and its effects on aging.
She exhibits a determination that is characteristic of FAME students. "The program will focus a lot of our classes on medical education, so instead of taking classes that won't really matter for becoming a doctor, we will go to classes that are specifically designed for students coming into medical school," Bal said. "There will even be classes that other students have not had before -- blended courses with professors from UTSA and UT Health Science Center teaching together."
She aspires to become an endocrinologist -- a physician who specializes in the body's glandular system, which controls functions such as blood sugar stabilization, bone growth and reproduction. "My goal is to practice endocrinology in the San Antonio area," Bal said.
One of Valley's own joins program
Nearly 300 miles to the south, Bobby Palmos of Harlingen also looks forward to getting started in FAME. "Being a part of the seven-year B.S. to M.D. program is extremely exciting to me," Palmos said. "I first became interested in medicine when I was about 11 or 12. People would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I would say, 'I want to be a doctor.'"
Palmos, soon to graduate from Early College High School, attended summer medical institutes in Harlingen starting as a ninth-grader and worked with medical students and physicians to help set up free clinics in poor border neighborhoods called colonias. He began shadowing physicians at Valley Baptist Health System in 2011. In the summer of 2012, he traveled to Guatemala with a medical mission team. "In four days our team completed 72 surgeries, and during that time all doubts of becoming a physician were erased," he said.
Palmos plans to return to the Rio Grande Valley after medical school to practice as a family physician, he said.
Statistics reflect state's need
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) State Physician Data Book, Texas in 2010:
The FAME program is designed to remove hurdles faced by South Texas students who, by the time of their high school graduation, have the interest and focus to enter such a program.
'We expect these students to become trailblazers'
"We are excited to welcome the outstanding group of students in our joint program with the Health Science Center," said George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. "We expect these students to become the trailblazers of this new UT System initiative, which will reduce the time and expense needed to earn a medical degree, increase the effectiveness of professional training, assist in the transformation of medical education and increase the number of practicing physicians serving the South Texas region. The lessons and new curriculum we develop will be transformative for other programs at UTSA."
"Addressing the physician shortage in Texas will take many forms and this program is an important one," said Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., 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."
Three years at UTSA, four at the Health Science Center
Students will hit the books at UTSA for three years to earn the B.S. degree in biology. Courses in biology, chemistry, genetics, physiology and other subjects will include medical school preparation specifically designed for FAME students. The College of Sciences and other UTSA colleges will offer this instruction.
FAME participants will begin 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. UTSA will award the students their B.S. degrees in biology after they complete their fourth year in the program.
It is estimated that 75 percent of the students who enroll in the pilot B.S.-M.D. program will complete it. 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.
Principal leaders in accomplishing the B.S.-M.D. seven-year program include David Henzi, Ed.D. in the Health Science Center School of Medicine; Hans Heidner, Ph.D., UTSA assistant chair of biology; and Alan Vince, Ph.D., director of the UTSA Health Professions Office.
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 National Institutes of Health funding. The university's schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 28,000 graduates. The $736 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways "We make lives better®," visit the Health Science Center website.
The University of Texas at San Antonio is an emerging Tier One research institution specializing in health, energy, security, sustainability, and human and social development. With nearly 31,000 students, it is the largest university in the San Antonio metropolitan region. UTSA advances knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. The university embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property -- for Texas, the nation and the world.
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