Fifteen graduates from The University of Texas-Pan American are headed to medical and dental school this fall - a 300 percent increase over last year's group and the largest in the history of the school.
The university can also boast the largest group of students applying for medical and dental school - 28 this year compared to nine last year - and an acceptance rate of more than 50 percent.
"What's most remarkable is the percentage of acceptance," said Dr. Scott Gunn, associate professor of biology and health professions advisor at UT Pan American. "The national average for acceptance to medical school is about 33 percent, and we're at over 50 percent. That is a very impressive number."
Graduates Noemi E. Adame of McAllen, Jose L. Campos of Edinburg, Natalie M. Ganceres of Brownsville, Dana M. Gonzalez of Alamo, Maria C. Madrid of Sebastian and Javier F. Martinez of Pharr are all headed to the UT Medical Branch at Galveston. Marissa I. Gomez of McAllen, Michael A. Gorena of Edinburg, and Lyssa N. Ochoa and Rafael Rosales Jr. of Mission will attend Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Eduardo Guzman of McAllen will attend the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, Joshua J. Murphy of Fontana, Wis., is going to Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine in New Orleans, Bibas Reddy of Weslaco will enroll at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, and Julio C. Regalado of Edinburg will attend the Texas Chiropractic College in Pasadena.
One graduate, Melissa Rivera of San Juan, will attend dental school at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas.
Four other students are on alternate lists and still might be admitted to medical school for the fall.
"We have an exceptional crop of students this year," Gunn said.
He cited two main reasons for the large number of students applying to professional schools - the Premedical Honors College Program with Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston's Hispanic Center of Excellence. Both programs provide a variety of support to students preparing for medical school.
"These programs are really coming to fruition," Gunn said. "Both of these programs are reaching a point where they are producing students. It has created a tremendous level of success, one that I envision continuing.
"This should just be the start. We should continue to see these types of numbers at least as long as these programs continue, and hopefully this will establish a strong trend that we can continue if these programs do end."
Gunn said the two programs provide a number of benefits to the students and the university.
"They provide a level of preparation that is beyond what we have normally been able to provide," he said. "They provide the students with summer experiences, MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) preparation, and experiences with local doctors. It has a tremendous effect on their preparedness.
"Secondly, it brings good students to our university. It's a good recruiting tool."
Gunn said often the most competitive Valley students plan to attend college outside the area.
"Now they see the success we have and the programs we have, and they have a reason to stay in the Valley. That's one of the whole concepts behind these programs; we want to give the students a reason to stay in the Valley, and not just for undergraduate school. Obviously they have to leave for professional school, but we want them to come back to the Valley because we are such an incredibly medically underserved area."
One major aid to students in preparing for the medical school application process is preparation for the MCAT. The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio's Hispanic Center of Excellence supports an MCAT Preparation Course that is offered in the Valley every summer, Gunn said.
"They take a large number of students," he said. "We have 26 signed up already for this summer."
Gunn credited Dr. Mario Ramirez, a medical doctor from Starr County and former regent with the UT System Board of Regents, with many of the benefits Valley students who wish to go to medical school are now receiving. Ramirez, who is now the vice president for the South Texas Border Initiatives for UTHSC-SA, administers the funds for the initiative's medical areas.
"He first pointed out some of the inequities of health care in this area, and he now administers the funds to try and bring this area up. He has done a tremendous amount of outreach in the high schools and even the junior high schools to get students started for medical school. There's no way you can even estimate the impact he's had on the people in this area."
The university has two "early entry" programs, in which students, if they continue to maintain their grades and meet other requirements, are guaranteed entry into health professional schools. One is the Premedical Honors College Program with Baylor College of Medicine, which has been in operation for four years and also provides tuition and fee scholarships for students while they are at UT Pan American and at Baylor. Between 15 and 20 students a year are accepted to the program.
The other early entry program is with the UTHSC-SA Dental School, which has been in operation for nine years and currently has six students involved in the program.
"It's fairly rigorous. It's a tough program," Gunn said of the dental program.
A third early entry program is expected to begin this fall. The Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP) through UTMB-Galveston will accept five students a year, Gunn said.
"So now we have three guaranteed entry programs on this campus, one in dentistry and two in medicine," he said. "And once students are accepted to medical school, they're competing with the top four or five percent of students in the nation."
Students interested in preparing to apply for medical or other health professional schools should contact Gunn at 381-3540.
"If they're in college and are just interested, or even if they're high school students and want to talk about their future, they can come and see me," he said.