Montana State University

Students in certificate program achieve 100 percent acceptance into med school

May 13, 2008 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service


Blythe Belzer, who completed MSU's post-baccalaureate pre-medical certificate program, will attend the University of Washington School of Medicine. Photo courtesy of Blythe Belzer.   High-Res Available

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After Blythe Belzer graduated from the University of Montana, she completed a public health internship in rural India and discovered she was interested in pursuing clinical medicine. Belzer had taken no science courses at UM, but heard about a post-baccalaureate program at Montana State University designed for individuals who know they want to go to medical school but who may not have taken many of the science courses and other prerequisites required for admission.

"When I found out MSU had a post-bac program, it felt like a perfect fit," she said.

In MSU's post-baccalaureate medical certificate program, adults who have completed a bachelor's degree may take the science courses traditionally required for application to medical schools, such as general and organic chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry, statistics and calculus. The program includes two summer sessions and a fall and spring semester. Students in the program also participate in a clinical rotation with all departments at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

MSU's program must be working: Belzer and her eight classmates in the first cohort of the program have all been accepted into medical school, program administrators announced recently.

The 100 percent acceptance rate is impressive, particularly given that only about 42 percent of all people who apply to medical school usually are admitted, said Frank Newman, MSU's interim director of Health Professions Advising. Among all MSU graduates -- not just those in the pre-medical certificate program -- the acceptance rate is generally about 65 percent to 70 percent, Newman added.

Schools to which the students were accepted included the University of Washington, University of Colorado, University of Minnesota and the University of Rochester. Many of the students were accepted at multiple schools, Newman said.

Belzer, 26, said the program was invaluable. She especially appreciated how it took much of the guesswork out of the lengthy and competitive medical school admissions process, she said.

"It's a big process to apply for school, so it's nice to have guidance," she said. "I felt very prepared. I felt like I had a good sense of how interviews would go."

Belzer, who is from Pocatello, Idaho, double-majored in Asian Studies and Liberal Studies while at UM. She said she developed an interest in working with underserved communities while in college, and considered going back to school for a master's degree in public health. But while traveling after graduation, Belzer discovered she was also drawn to clinical medicine.

Belzer is a good example of the type of student the medical certificate program targets. According to Linda Hyman, vice provost for health sciences and director of the Montana WWAMI Medical Education Program, the program was created to support the education of students who know they want to go to medical school but who may have made that decision later in life.

"We recognize there is a large cohort of students interested in medical school, but non-traditional in the sense that they don't have a science background," Hyman said.

Because the students are non-traditional, they have done other interesting and valuable things with their lives, she added, such as traveling, serving in the Peace Corps, holding down full-time jobs and starting families.

"The medical profession wins because we have attracted really talented individuals from all walks of life," Hyman said. The average age of a student in MSU's post-baccalaureate program is 27, Newman added, while the typical age of medical school applicants is about 23.

Applicants for MSU's program are required to have at least a 3.0 grade point average, and application materials include letters of recommendation, a personal statement and an interview.

"It's a rigorous admissions process," Hyman said, noting that the admissions committee really looks at the big picture.

The program has been growing in popularity since the first cohort was admitted in 2006. For the second class, 48 applications were submitted and 11 students were admitted. For the third class, 70 applications were submitted and 15 students were admitted.

According to Hyman and Newman, one of the advantages of the program is that students get to know their classmates and professors well. Students often benefit, for example, from hearing about others' interview experiences and studying for the Medical College Admission Test together. And being part of a small group of people who are working toward the same goal can create meaningful bonds among those in the group, Newman said.

Belzer agreed. With a broad range of undergraduate majors, it was comforting to be going through the program with a group of students who were all studying new things, she said.

"I liked being with a group of other students who were in the same situation," she said. "We were all studying something really different."

Belzer, who is currently living in Polson and working as a VISTA volunteer with the Domestic Violence Education Service Program, has decided to accept a spot in the University of Washington's School of Medicine, or WWAMI, program.

WWAMI is a cooperative program of the University of Washington School of Medicine and the state of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Students who enter the program are enrolled in the University of Washington School of Medicine, but they take their first year of medical school courses in their home state. One of the main goals of the program is to encourage graduates to choose careers in primary care medicine and to locate their practices in the non-metropolitan areas of the Northwest.

Belzer also had offers from several other schools, but said the WWAMI program fit in well with her desire to work with underserved communities and rural populations.

"I'm excited," she added.

Linda Hyman, 406-994-4411 or lhyman@montana.edu; Frank Newman, 406-994-7510 or fnewman@montana.edu