As an 18-year-old college freshman, Stratos Chriatianakis already has something that many other students can only dream about: guaranteed acceptance to medical school.
“I’ve heard from friends in their third year [of pre-med] who say, ‘you don’t know how lucky you are.’ But I’m kind of realizing that now,” he said.
Chriatianakis is one of 35 students participating in an innovative program that guarantees incoming freshmen acceptance to the USC School of Medicine as long as they meet certain grade point average and course requirements.
In the “Baccalaureate/MD Program,” participants receive real-world experience in public health and education, working in hospitals, and assisting in medical research, said Erin Quinn, director of the program.
“You learn the most when you’re out there and getting your fingers dirty. [Editor’s note: just a figure of speech, folks.] This gives them an opportunity to get into a hospital, or lab or healthcare center,” Quinn said.
Equally important, she added, is that the program strongly encourages students to explore disciplines apart from medicine and science.
The goal is “to allow very bright individuals the freedom to study all kinds of things-not just pre-med. We say, ‘okay you’re accepted to med school, just do well and do what you want to do.’ We want well rounded, interesting people because it brings so much to the study of medicine.”
The Baccalaureate/MD program was created in 1993 to provide highly-motivated students with an opportunity to study a range of disciplines that they might otherwise miss in a traditional pre-medical course. Having outside interests makes students grow into better doctors, Quinn said.
“We know that students who study humanities have a broad experience that makes them more capable of relating to other people. People who only study science have a disadvantage,” she said.
Students in the program are invariably from the top of their classes, with average SAT scores of 1450. Plus, “most of them knew they wanted to be a doctor by the time they were five,” Quinn said.
Lolita Alcocer, a 17-year-old freshman, said the program was a powerful incentive for her to attend USC.
“That’s what made my decision for colleges,” she said, adding that she chose USC over universities such as Stanford, Brown and Johns Hopkins, all of which accepted her.
Alcocer always knew she wanted to be a doctor, and she expects the program to make reaching that goal less stressful than it might otherwise be.
“It really lets a lot of pressure off of you. You explore other things and don’t have to worry about getting a 4.0. It lets me take challenging courses I know I’m probably not going to get an A in, but I take them because I really like them,” she said.
The program requires that students maintain a minimum 3.2 grade-point-average in science courses, a 3.0 grade-point-average overall, and achieve an MCAT score above the national mean. Also, for their first two years, students take a one-unit course called “Introduction to the Health Care Profession.”
The class requires 25 to 30 hours of work each semester and permits them to get hands-on experience in biomedical research, community health service and clinical practice, and public health and education. Students follow doctors on their rounds, make regular visits to the medical school and view firsthand other aspects of the health care profession.
Heather Hyun, 20, recently began working in an AIDS clinic, where she takes patients’ vital signs and sits in on examinations. Aside from reading and studying about the virus that causes AIDS, she has also been reviewing Spanish to improve her communication with patients, few of whom speak English, she said.
A junior from Hinsdale, Ill., Hyun said her experiences in the field have inspired her to enter the profession more than any lecture series could. More importantly, they underscored the importance of treating not only a patient’s problems, but also treating the patient with empathy and understanding.
She said she was grateful to be in a program emphasizes the science of medicine without ignoring the arts that improve communication with people she will eventually serve. When a students is denied those opportunities, “along the way you can forget the reasons you want to be a doctor.”